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Racism And The Ku Klux Klan 2

Essay, Research Paper

Since the early development of society in the United States,

racism has always been a divisive issue faced by communities on a

political level. Our country was built from the immigration of people

from an international array of backgrounds. However, multitudes of

white supremacists blame their personal as well as economic

misfortunes on an abundance of ethnic groups. African-Americans, Jews

and Catholics are only some of the of groups tormented by these white

supremacists. As the amount of ethnic diversity gradually increased in

the political systems of Louisiana and the United States,

organizations rapidly formed to challenge the new ethnic variation in

government. The Ku Klux Klan is one of these groups that were formed

by people who were angered by the increase of diversity in political

office and in the workplace. Local and state officials that were

members of the Klan aided in providing influence, money, and

information to the racist organization. As the civil rights movement

became accepted, it seemed as if the power of racist organizations

deteriorated. However, with the Klan demanding freedom of speech, with

political figures related to the Ku Klux Klan still bringing prejudice

to politics throughout the country, and with multitudes of

African-American churches being burned to the ground, it seems as if

the Ku Klux Klan is still a threat to the citizens of this country.

The Ku Klux Klan has played a major role in United States

history. As the south was undergoing the era of Reconstruction after

the Civil War, the votes of newly emancipated black Southerners put

the Republicans in power throughout the state. White Southerners

resorted to brute force to preserve the white supremacy they once had.

The Klan was originally arranged into secret societies that terrorized

local white and black Republican leaders. They also threatened all

African Americans who violated the old ideas of black inferiority.

Sworn to secrecy, its members wore white robes and masks and adopted

the burning cross as their symbol. The Klan members seemed to be most

active during election campaigns, when they would either scare people

into voting for their candidate or get rid their opponents entirely.

They were noticed for their horrible acts of violence that they called

nighttime rides. These attacks included murder, rape, beatings, and

warnings and were designed to overcome Republican majorities in the

south. Due to the fear of a race war, state officials were unable to

suppress the violence. Law enforcement officials were Klan members

themselves and even when the law officers were legitimate, Klan

members also sat on juries where criminally accused members were often


The Klan was popularized through literature and film in the

early nineteenth century. Its influence spread with help from Thomas

B. Dixon’s The Clansman (1905) and D.W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of

a Nation (1915). (Harrel, 85) Harrel felt that this eventually “led to

the establishment of a new Ku Klux Klan, which spread throughout the

nation and preached anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black,

antisocialist, and anti-labor-union Americanism” (87). Harrel stated

that the Klan’s two million adherents exercised great political power,

“often taking the law into their own hands, mobs of white-robed,

white-hooded men punished immorality and terrorized un-American

elements” (88).

The Klan erupted as a secret organization employing its

secrecy to mislead the public and inquiring newspapers. Therefore,

they were labeled the invisible empire. Harrel urges the idea that in

certain regions the Klan did not have enough influence to become

politically triumphant (307).

“But where it was strong the Invisible Empire elected scores

of local officials, state legislators, a few governors, several

national representatives, including Earle B. Mayfield of

Texas, William J. Harris of Georgia, and Hugo Black of

Alabama, to the United States Senate.” (Harrel, 307)

The Klan was extremely hungry for political gain. The best way

to promote the growth of an organization of this sort would be the

expansion of a network with prominent political and investment


“The limitation of immigration, maintenance of national

prohibition, restriction of the political influence of the

Catholic Church and minority groups, clean government,

and maintenance of community morals, were goals

which violence and intimidation alone could not achieve.”

(Harrel, 305)

It is seemed necessary that in order to have a prosperous

organization, the Klan would have to infiltrate the political offices

held by the liberals. This is a task easier said than done.

“The Invisible Empire excluded from membership, and

thus insulted, Catholics, Jews, Negroes, and the

foreign born, groups which totaled forty per cent of

America’s population during the twenties…

Despite the fact that Klansmen looked upon the

groups they excluded from membership as ’second

class citizens,’ America’s minority groups together

constituted a potentially powerful voting bloc which

could grind the Klan under if sufficiently aroused.”

(Harrel, 305)

An effort to enlist officials with both local and state

authority was adopted in this state of Louisiana from successful

attempts in Atlanta. “They first enrolled the Adjutant General of the

State of Louisiana, L.A. Toombs, and then inducted several members

of the state legislature, a number of local and district judges,

sheriffs, district attorneys, and police officers.” (Harrel, 309)

The idea of public officials having involvement in the Ku Klux

Klan is frightening, and still today it is present. In the early

decades of the nineteenth century people were not sensible in their

views of society as they are now. In present time people are more open

minded, racism does exist, but it is totally unacceptable for society

to tolerate bigotry from a political figure. A native of Louisiana,

David Duke has been a considerably active politician. As Duke

introduces a broad political campaign he does not leave behind his

ties to bigotry. Still affiliated with white supremacist groups Duke

has been “convicted of inciting to riot..” (”Lousisiana’s… 27). His

history has linked him to a variety of neo-nazi organizations. “As a

member of the KKK at Louisiana State University, where he received his

BA in history in 1974, he became an enthusiastic admirer of Adolph

Hitler, and by 1975, he had risen to grand wizard of the Louisiana Ku

Klux Klan” (Mackenzie, 40). Duke was always searching for a different

approach to express his ideas. Methods of the Klan were no longer

effective in stopping civil rights as they were in the sixties

(Mackenzie,40). “Duke quit the Klan in 1980, and founded the National

Association for the Advancement of White People” (Mackenzie,40). Duke

broke into the national spotlight in 1987, when he was elected to the

Louisiana House of Representatives, from the district of Jefferson

Parish. While serving his term as a state legislator, “he was caught

selling Nazi books from his legislative office. One of them, “Did Six

Million Really Die?” attempts to discredit the Holocaust” (Turque 53).

Duke then made an attempt to unseat J. Bennett Johnston from his

position in the United States Senate in 1990. He gave Johnston quite a

scare, forcing a run off election and receiving almost forty percent

of the vote in that election. Encouraged by that performance, Duke

gave up his House seat to run for governor. Even though his strategy

was hardly original, he managed to rally an entire campaign around the

folklore that welfare spending was responsible for high taxes and

blacks were taking away jobs from whites. Yet, in reality, the total

outlay on aid to families with dependent children amounted to less

than two percent of the entire state budget. He received thirty-two

percent of the primary vote, which was enough to knock-off incumbent

Buddy Roemer, who received twenty-nine percent, and get in a run-off

with Edwin Edwards, who led with thirty-five percent. During this

runoff, Duke received most of his media attention as he appeared

numerous times on CNN and other political shows. Duke still lost the

runoff to Edwards in 1991, yet he decided he would shoot for the White

House the following year. But when Pat Buchannan entered the election,

Duke lost the ultra-conservative, angry white male vote he was to

capitalize on. Racism in the United States is outlined in elections of

characters like David Duke. “The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson recently

condemned former Ku Klux Klan Wizard David Duke’s election to the

Louisiana House of Representatives, calling it the result of a

national problem of racism and one “the entire nation has to deal

with” (”Duke election…” 7). It is the cooperation of leaders nation

wide that use basis of moral understanding in striving to erase bias

especially in politics.

Today, the Ku Klux Klan does not just threaten minority groups

on the political level. Nearly 100 African-American churches have been

burned to the ground in the past year in a half. While some arrests

made have not linked the Klan with the fires, many have. Two South

Carolina Klan members have been arrested for burglarizing and setting

ablaze two churches, the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal of

Greeleyville and the Macedonia Baptist church of Bloomville. The two

men, Timothy Welch and Gary Cox, had attended a Klan meeting only

weeks before the fires. Welch was arrested with his Ku Klux Klan

identification card in his wallet. The other, Gary Cox, lived with

another Klan member in a trailer. When a local newspaper asked Welch’s

mother to comment on what her son did, she replied, “Those boys felt

the blessing of the Klan…They take these young country boys who

don’t really know a lot and have never been out in the world, and they

corrupt them” (Fields, 30 June 1996). The two men were not only

charged with theft and arson, but were also charged with the beating

and stabbing of a mentally handicapped black man who was waiting for a

bus outside of a Wal-Mart.

There is also Ernest Pierce and Brian Tackett. Pierce, an

Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and farmer, was convicted and

sentenced to 51 months in a federal prison for ordering Tackett to

incinerate the Barren River Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Tackett, a younger member of the Klan, was sentenced to 115 months for

conspiracy, arson, as well as auto theft, for stealing the car he used

for his night’s act. The African-American church arsons is the largest

investigation the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, and Firearms is

conducting; even larger than that of the TWA Flight 800 investigation.

President Clinton signed a bill giving 12 million dollars to the ATF

to investigate the fires. It also happens to be the FBI’s largest

civil rights investigation under way. (Fields, 7 Aug. 1996)

The Ku Klux Klan is not only a threat politically and

physically, but they also incite riots. In June of last year in

Greenville, Texas, the Klan held a rally in which they “waived

Confederate flags and complained about the U.S. government” (Taylor).

Michael Lowe a leader in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was stated in

saying, “It ain’t about hate, it’s about white pride” (Taylor).

Another member was quoted in saying, “It ain’t the white people, it’s

the damned government, the Jews, whose bringing this country down. It

ain’t the white people” (Taylor). Over 150 state and local policemen

were present to control the crowd of anti-KKK as well as different KKK

factions. Some policemen were dressed in riot gear, some were on

horseback as they tried to control the mobs behind the barricades set

up along the small town’s street.

The United States is known as the melting pot. Since its

beginnings as small settlements, this country has always been a haven

to those who need it. When many think of America they think of the

land of opportunity, the land of the American dream. Where one can, no

matter who they are or where they are from can make it rich. The Ku

Klux Klan is everything the American dream is not. They are a sign of

bigotry and hatred. They have strived for over a hundred years to

shatter the dreams of so many people. Many believe that since the

civil rights movement the KKK is no longer a danger. But, we must not

forget racism and bigotry does not die with an amendment to the

Constitution. There are still people like David Duke in office. There

are still people like Gary Cox setting fires to churches. And there

are still people like Michael Lowe who believe it is the Jews who

bring this country down. We must not forget that the KKK is still

alive, and we, as Americans, should do everything in our power to

protect the American dream.