Ku Klux Klan
From The Colorado History Project
Ku Klux Klan (commonly abbreviated to KKK) refers to three entirely different movements in the United States. It refers to two influential organizations (in the 1860s and 1920s), as well as to small groups in recent years. The first KKK in the South in the late 1860s advocated white supremacy, and had a history of physically attacking or threatening its political opponents. In the 1920s the second KKK comprised thousands of local units that focused on opposition to crime, and often preached anti-Catholicism, nativism, and anti-Semitism. Today, the KKK, with operations in separated small local units, is considered an extreme hate group; the accusation that someone supports Klan programs results in highly negative attacks from mainstream media and political and religious leaders. The name, and many new terms, represented whimsical inventions of new words that sounded something like Greek words.
The Klan’s first incarnation began in late 1865 or early 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was founded as a local social club, but quickly its main purpose became to resist Reconstruction after the American Civil War. It focused on intimidating Freedmen using terror and violence, and was involved in a wave of killings of Republican voters in 1868. A rapid reaction set in, with the Klan’s leadership disowning the violence, and Southern elites blaming the Klan as an excuse for Federal troops to continue their activities in the South. The organization was in decline from 1868 to 1870, and was destroyed in the early 1870s by President Ulysses S. Grant’s vigorous action under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act). The first Klan was never well organized. As a secret or “invisible” group, it had no membership rosters, no dues, no newspapers, no spokesmen, no chapters, no local officers, no state or national officials. Its popularity came from its reputation, and that was greatly enhanced by its outlandish costumes and its theatricality. As historian Elaine Frantz Parsons discovered [Parsons p 816]:
“Lifting the Klan mask revealed a chaotic multitude of antiblack vigilante groups, disgruntled poor white farmers, wartime guerrilla bands, displaced Democratic politicians, illegal whiskey distillers, coercive moral reformers, bored young men, sadists, rapists, white workmen fearful of black competition, employers trying to enforce labor discipline, common thieves, neighbors with decades-old grudges, and even a few freedmen and white Republicans who allied with Democratic whites or had criminal agendas of their own. Indeed, all they had in common, besides being overwhelmingly white, southern, and Democratic, was that they called themselves, or were called, Klansmen.”
William Joseph Simmons founded the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. In 1915, William J. Simmons founded a totally new group using the same name and costumes. It did not grow until the early 1920s; it then had a huge nationwide boom in membership. By 1924, it was in retreat and, by 1928, had dwindled to less than 5% of its original membership. This second Klan fought to maintain the dominance of moralistic white Protestants over “sinners”–especially bootleggers, adulterers, Blacks, Catholics, and Jews. The second KKK operated openly, and at its peak, in the 1920s, claimed millions of members in the South and Midwest. Many politicians at all levels of government were members, and, at its height, opponents claimed that it had secretly influenced some state governments, including Oregon and Indiana. Multiple scandals involving sex, murder and violence destroyed its reputation, and by 1928 only scattered remants remained in isolated pockets.
The name “Ku Klux Klan” has since been used by many different unrelated groups, including many who opposed the civil rights movement and desegregation in the 1960s. Today, dozens of organizations with chapters across the United States and other countries use all or part of the name in their titles, but their total membership is estimated to be only a few thousand individuals.
The First Klan
The original Ku Klux Klan was created in an 1865 meeting in a law office by six Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was, at first, a humorous social club centering on practical jokes and hazing rituals. From 1866 to 1867, various local units began breaking up black prayer meetings and invading black homes at night to steal firearms. Some of these activities may have been modeled on previous Tennessee vigilante groups such as the Yellow Jackets and Redcaps. In an 1867 convention held in Nashville, the Klan was formalized as a national organization under a “Prescript” written by George Gordon, a former Confederate brigadier general. The Prescript states as the Klan’s purposes:
First: To protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs and outrages of the lawless, the violent and the brutal; to relieve the injured and oppressed; to succor the suffering and unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of the Confederate soldiers. Second: To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States… Third: To aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure, and from trial except by their peers in conformity with the laws of the land. In a word, the Klan’s purpose was to resist the Congressional Reconstruction. The word “oppressed,” for example, clearly refers to oppression by the Union Army, and “peers” implies that white Southern property holders should be protected from carpetbaggers, scalawags, and “uppity” freedmen. During Reconstruction, the South was undergoing drastic changes to its social and political life. Southern Whites saw this as a threat to their supremacy as a race and sought to end this process.
Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General; later, first Grand Wizard of the first Klan The Prescript also includes a list of questions to be asked of applicants for membership, which confirms the focus on resisting Reconstruction and the Republican Party. The applicant is to be asked whether he was a Republican, a Union Army veteran, or a member of the Loyal League; whether he is “opposed to Negro equality both social and political;” and whether he is in favor of “a white man’s government,” “maintaining the constitutional rights of the South,” “the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South, and the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights,” and “the inalienable right of self-preservation of the people against the exercise of arbitrary and unlicensed power.”
According to one oral report, Gordon went to former slave trader and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis and told him about the new organization, and, a few weeks later, Forrest was selected as Grand Wizard, the Klan’s national leader.
The Klan sought to control the political and social status of the freedmen. Specifically, it attempted to curb black education, economic advancement, voting rights, and the right to bear arms. However, the Klan’s focus was not limited to African Americans; Scalawags and Carpetbaggers (white Republicans) also became the target of intimidation tactics, and a wave of killing of hundreds of blacks in 1868, was primarily a political purge rather than a racial conflict. In some cases the violence achieved its purpose; in other counties the intimidation failed. The Republicans, organized Union Leagues, created their own armed defensive squads and fought back. Probably thousands were killed on both sides.
An 1868 proclamation by Gordon demonstrates several of the issues surrounding the Klan’s violent activities.
Many blacks were veterans of the Union Army, and were armed. From the beginning, one of the original Klan’s strongest focuses was on confiscating firearms from Blacks. In the proclamation, Gordon warned that the Klan had been “fired into three times,” and that if the Blacks “make war upon us they must abide by the awful retribution that will follow.” Gordon also stated that the Klan was a peaceful organization. Such claims were common ways for the Klan to attempt to protect itself from prosecution. Gordon warned that some people had been carrying out violent acts in the name of the Klan. It was true that many people who had not been formally inducted into the Klan found the Klan’s uniform to be a convenient way to hide their identities when carrying out acts of violence. However, it was also convenient for the higher levels of the organization to disclaim responsibility for such acts, and the secretive, decentralized nature of the Klan made membership fuzzy rather than clear-cut.
By this time, only two years after the Klan’s creation, its activity was already beginning to decrease and, as Gordon’s proclamation shows, to become less political and more simply a way of avoiding prosecution for violence. Many influential southern Democrats were beginning to see it as a liability, an excuse for the Federal government to retain its power over the South. Georgian B.H. Hill went so far as to claim “that some of these outrages were actually perpetrated by the political friends of the parties slain.”
Three Ku Klux Klan members arrested in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, September 1871, for the attempted murder of an entire family. In an 1868 newspaper interview, Forrest boasted that the Klan was a nationwide organization of 550,000 men, and that although he himself was not a member, he was “in sympathy” and would “cooperate” with them, and could himself muster 40,000 Klansmen with five days’ notice. He stated that the Klan did not see blacks as its enemy as much as the Loyal Leagues, Republican state governments like Tennessee governor Brownlow’s, and other carpetbaggers and scalawags. There was an element of truth to this claim, since the Klan did go after white members of these groups, especially the schoolteachers brought south by the Freedmen’s Bureau, many of whom had before the war been abolitionists or active in the underground railroad. Many white southerners believed, for example, that blacks were voting for the Republican Party only because they had been hoodwinked by the Loyal Leagues. Black members of the Loyal Leagues were also the frequent targets of Klan raids. One Alabama newspaper editor declared that “The League is nothing more than a nigger Ku Klux Klan.”
Decline and Suppression
Forrest’s national organization, in fact, had little control over the local Klans, which were highly autonomous. One Klan official complained that his own “so-called ‘Chief’-ship was purely nominal, I having not the least authority over the reckless young country boys who were most active in ‘night-riding’, whipping, etc., all of which was outside of the intent and constitution of the Klan…” Forrest ordered the Klan to disband in 1869, stating that it was “being perverted from its original honorable and patriotic purposes, becoming injurious instead of subservient to the public peace.” Due to the national organization’s lack of control, this proclamation was more a symptom of the Klan’s decline than a cause of it. Historian Stanley Horn writes that “generally speaking, the Klan’s end was more in the form of spotty, slow, and gradual disintegration than a formal and decisive disbandment.” A reporter in Georgia wrote in January 1870 that “A true statement of the case is not that the Ku Klux are an organized band of licensed criminals, but that men who commit crimes call themselves Ku Klux.”
Gov. William Holden of North Carolina attempted to use the state militia against the Klan, and was voted out of office. Although the Klan was being used more and more often as a mask for nonpolitical crimes, state and local governments seldom acted against it. In lynching cases, whites were almost never indicted by all-white coroner’s juries, and even when there was an indictment, all-white trial juries were extremely unlikely to vote for conviction. In many states, there were fears that the use of black militiamen would ignite a race war.When Republican Governor Holden of North Carolina called out the militia against the Klan in 1870, the result was a backlash that lost him the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, many Democrats at the national level were questioning whether the Klan even existed, or had been imagined by nervous Republican governors in the South. In January 1871, Pennsylvania Republican senator John Scott convened a committee which took testimony from 52 witnesses about Klan atrocities. Many Southern states had already passed anti-Klan legislation, and in February former Union general Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts (who was widely reviled by Southern whites) introduced federal legislation modeled on it. The tide was turned in favor of the bill by the governor of South Carolina’s appeal for federal troops, and by reports of a riot and massacre in a Meridian, Mississippi, courthouse, which a black state representative escaped only by taking to the woods.
In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant signed Butler’s legislation, the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was used, along with the 1870 Force Act, to enforce the civil rights provisions of the constitution. Under the Klan Act, Federal troops were used rather than state militias, and Klansmen were prosecuted in Federal court, where juries were often predominantly black. Hundreds of Klan members were fined or imprisoned, and habeas corpus was suspended in nine counties in South Carolina. These efforts were so successful that the Klan was destroyed in South Carolina and decimated throughout the rest of the country, where it had already been in decline for several years. Prosecutions were led by Attorney General Amos Tappan Ackerman. The tapering off of the Federal government’s actions under the Klan Act, ca. 1871–74, went along with the final extinction of the Klan, although in some areas similar activities, including intimidation and murder of black voters, continued under the auspices of local organizations such the White League, Red Shirts, saber clubs, and rifle clubs. Even though the Klan no longer existed, it had achieved many of its goals, such as denying voting rights to Southern blacks.
In 1882, long after the end of the first Klan, the Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Harris that the Klan Act was partially unconstitutional, saying that Congress’s power under the fourteenth amendment did not extend to private conspiracies. However, the Force Act and the Klan Act have been invoked in later civil rights conflicts, including the 1964 murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner; the 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo; and Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 1991, which became an issue in the 2005 debate on the confirmation of John G. Roberts, Jr.’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
The Second Klan
Most historians identify the Second KKK with the 1920s, but some go back a few years. In 1915 the film The Birth of a Nation glorified the first Klan and made some of its costumes and rituals common knowledge.
The new KKK was a small operation with fewer than 2000 members until 1920, when it devised a new strategy of growth in which organizers would form chapters and collect large initiation fees that they shared with state and national headquarters. In keeping with its origins in the Leo Frank lynching, the reorganized Klan had a new anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant slant. This was consistent with the new Klan’s greater success at recruiting in the Midwestern United States than in the South. The second KKK also preached moral regeneration and purification, attacking foreign elements for degrading American morality. The Klan was successful in recruiting throughout the country and in Canada, but the membership turned over rapidly, and since the Klan was a secret society, it is difficult to determine accurate membership numbers.
This Klan was operated as a profit-making venture by its leaders, and participated in the boom in fraternal organizations at the time. Organizers signed up hundreds of new members, who paid initiation fees and bought KKK costumes. The organizer kept half the money and sent the rest to state or national officials. When the organizer was done with an area, he organized a huge rally, often with burning crosses and perhaps a ceremonial presentation of a Bible to a local Protestant minister. He left town with all the money. The local units operated like many fraternal organizations, occasionally bringing in speakers. The state and national officials had little or no control over the locals and rarely or never attempted to forge them into political activist groups. In Alabama, Feldman has shown that the KKK was not a mere hate group; it showed a genuine desire for political and social reform. Alabama Klansmen were among the foremost advocates of better public schools, effective prohibition enforcement, expanded road construction, and other “progressive” measures. By 1925 the Klan was a powerful political force in the state, as powerful figures like J. Thomas Heflin, David Bibb Graves, and Hugo Black manipulated the KKK membership against the power of the “Big Mule” industrialists and Black Belt planters who had long dominated the state. In 1926 Bibb Graves, a former chapter head, won the governor’s office with KKK members’ support. He led one of the most progressive administrations in the state’s history, pushing for increased education funding, better public health, new highway construction, and pro-labor legislation. At the same time KKK vigilantes—thinking they enjoyed governmental protection–launched a wave of physical terror across Alabama in 1927, targeting both blacks and whites. The conservative elite counterattacked. The major newspapers kept up a steady, loud attack on the Klan as violent and unAmerican. Sheriffs cracked down on Klan violence. The counterattack worked; the state voted for Al Smith in 1928, and the Klan’s official membership plunged to under six thousand by 1930.
In 1922 Hiram Wesley Evans (1881-1966) of Texas took control of the national organization as “imperial wizard” and kept it until 1939. The second Ku Klux Klan rose to great prominence and spread from the South into the Midwest region and Northern states and even into Canada. At its peak, Klan membership may have been in the millions, but the numbers were always exaggerated by both Klan leaders and opponents. The Klan claimed that President Warren Harding had joined, but historical research has raised doubts about the claim. A number of notable figures in national politics were Klan members in their youth, including Supreme Court justice Hugo Black. As discussed in Notable Ku Klux Klan members in national politics, Harry S. Truman admitted to paying the $10 membership fee to join the Klan, but then backed out. In the 1920s the Klan claimed credit for electing many people, but in many cases there is no clearcut evidence either way. Senator Earl Mayfield of Texas, for example, was claimed by the Klan, but he always avoided the issue.
The first Klan was Democratic and Southern, but this Klan, while it still boasted members from the Democratic Party, was Democratic in the South but more Republican in the North. It was popular throughout the country and in parts of Canada, particularly in Saskatchewan where it played a crucial role in bringing to power the Conservative government of James Anderson. However, no prominent national politician in Canada or the US acknowledged membership in the Klan.
Some historians, as well as the Klan itself, state that the Klan had vast influence in many state governments, including Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon in addition to some of the Southern legislatures. However, it may often be impossible to reach clear conclusions, since Klan membership was typically secret, and even in cases where known Klansmen were in government, there is no way to prove whether or not a particular action was taken at the behest of the Klan.
Klan influence was particularly strong in Indiana, where Republican Klansman Edward Jackson was elected governor in 1924. By then, more than 40 percent of the native-born white males in Indianapolis claimed membership in the Klan. Klan-backed candidates took over the City Council, the Board of School Commissioners, and the Board of County Commissioners.
However, some historians are skeptical of the level of Klan control, and in many cases it may be difficult to prove anything beyond the fact that a large number of state or local elected officials were Klansmen. In one well-known example, the Klan decided to make Anaheim, California, into a model Klan city. In 1924, the Klan secretly managed to get four of its members elected to the five-member Board of Trustees. Nine of the ten members of the police force were also Klansmen. The four Klan trustees served for nearly a year, until they were publicly exposed, and voted out in a recall election in which 95% of the population participated.
Some historians believe the state Klan leaders were primarily interested in collecting money from the organizing drives. The opponents of the Klan consistently argued that they were politically dangerous. Some historians studying the state-by-state situations conclude that the Klan exerted little or no influence on state legislation, with the possible exception of laws in Oregon designed to banish Catholic parochial schools. No major newspaper supported the Klan; indeed, most newspapers strongly opposed it as hostile to American values of an open, democratic society. During the 1920s, no major national politician acknowledged he was a member of the Klan. (Some young men who later became national figures did belong briefly, such as Hugo Black.)
The Ku Klux Klan supported prohibition. Alcohol was viewed as an “un-American” vice practiced by immigrants, many of whom belonged to the Catholic Church and other religions.
In 1923, “Bloody Williamson” in southern Illinois was the scene of pitched battles between rum-running gangsters and Klansmen. The Klan essentially took over Williamson County, Illinois, forcing elected government officials out of office, to be replaced by unelected “Kluxers”, as they were called in Illinois. Federal officials apparently deputized the Klan. Large mobs went door to door, searching houses for stocks of bootleg alcohol. This led to the “Klan War” in which local gangsters eventually overpowered the Klan and allowed the restoration of lawfully elected government (Charles Birger and Shelton Brothers Gang) that they controlled.
The Klan was an issue at the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York City with many Democrats demanding the party adopt a platform plank condemning the Ku Klux Klan. The convention initially pitted California Senator William McAdoo, a dry (supporter of prohibition) against New York Governor Al Smith, a Catholic and outspoken wet (opponent of prohibition). The issue was a resolution denouncing the Klan by name, versus a generic denunciation of un-American activities. No leading delegate claimed Klan membership but the resulting fight tore the convention apart and after days of bitter wrangling over the issue, the platform plank denouncing the Klan lost by a single vote. After days of stalemate both candidates withdrew in favor of a compromise candidate and the plank condemning the Klan by name lost only by a very close vote.
In many cases, the second Klan’s efforts at the local level had only short-lived effects, the organizers left town when their main drive was completed. During this period, the Klan was also left with almost no infrastructure or budget. The final collapse took place in different states at different times. The most spectacular episode was a scandal involving David Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of Indiana and fourteen other states, who was convicted of the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer in a sensational trial in 1925. The Klan had promoted itself as the enforcer of morality, so the scandals permanently destroyed its main attraction to people.
As a result of these scandals, the Klan withered away. Grand Wizard Hiram Evans sold the organization in 1939 to James Colescott, an Indiana veterinarian, and Samuel Green, an Atlanta doctor, but they were unable to staunch the exodus of members. The Klan’s image was further damaged by Colescott’s association with Nazi-sympathizer organizations, the Klan’s involvement with the 1943 Detroit Race Riot, and efforts to disrupt the American war effort during World War II. In 1944, the IRS filed a lien for $685,000 in back taxes against the Klan, and Colescott was forced to dissolve the organization in 1944. The name Ku Klux Klan then began to be used by a number of independent groups. The following table shows the decline in the Klan’s estimated membership over time. (The years given in the table represent approximate time periods; years after 1944 represent the total for all groups using the Klan name.)
Year membership 1920 4,000,000 1930 30,000 1970 2,000 2000 3,000
Folklorist and author Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Klan after World War II and provided information, including secret code words, to the writers of the Superman radio program, resulting in a series of four episodes in which Superman took on the Klan. Kennedy intended to strip away the Klan’s mystique, and the trivialization of the Klan’s rituals and code words likely did have a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.
Later Ku Klux Klans
Following the demise of the second era KKK, there were three periods of resurgence, dubbed by some scholars and Klan participants as the third through sixth era Klans.
After World War II, the Klan’s victims began to fight back. In a 1958 North Carolina incident, the Klan burned crosses at the homes of two Lumbee Native Americans who had associated with white people, and then held a nighttime rally nearby, only to find themselves surrounded by hundreds of armed Lumbees. Gunfire was exchanged, and the Klan was routed in what is known as The Battle of Hayes Pond.
In 1966, Stokely Carmichael was preaching Black Power methods to African American communities across Mississippi. He stated that the only way to end terror by whites, such as the Klan, was to meet them with armed resistance. As a result, several Blacks had their guns ready when the Klan came to harass their communities, and that caused the Klan to leave some communities once and for all.
A new focus of the postwar Conservative Klan was to resist the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In 1963, two Klan members carried out the bombing of a church in Alabama that had been used as a meeting place for civil rights organizers. Four young girls were killed, and outrage over the bombing helped to build momentum for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Klan used threats, intimidation, and murder to disrupt voter registration drives in the South, and to prevent registered black voters from voting. The Klan was involved in the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Mississippi, and also murdered Viola Liuzzo, a Southern-raised white mother of five who was visiting the South from her home in Detroit to attend a civil rights march.
In 1964, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program began attempts to infiltrate and disrupt the Klan. COINTELPRO occupied a curiously ambiguous position in the civil rights movement, since it used its tactics of infiltration, disinformation, and violence against violent far-left and far-right groups such as the Klan and the Weathermen, but simultaneously against peaceful organizations such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This ambivalence was shown dramatically in the case of the murder of Liuzzo, who was shot on the road by four Klansmen in a car, of whom one was an FBI informant. After she was murdered, the FBI spread false rumors that she was a communist, and that she had abandoned her children in order to have sex with black civil rights workers. Regardless of the FBI’s ambivalence, Jerry Thompson, a newspaper reporter who infiltrated in the Klan in 1979, reported that COINTELPRO’s efforts had been highly successful in disrupting the Klan; rival Klan factions both accused each other’s leaders of being FBI informants, and one leader, Bill Wilkinson of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was, in fact, later revealed to have been working for the FBI.
Once the century-long struggle over black voting rights in the South had ended, the Klans shifted their focus to other issues, including affirmative action, immigration, and especially busing ordered by the courts in order to desegregate schools. In 1971, Klansmen used bombs to destroy ten school buses in Pontiac, Michigan, and charismatic Klansman David Duke was active in South Boston during the school busing crisis of 1974. Duke also made efforts to update its image, urging Klansmen to “get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms.” Duke was leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from 1974 until he resigned from the Klan in 1978. In 1980, he formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People, a far-right white nationalist political organization. He was elected to the Louisiana State House of Representatives in 1989 as a Republican, even though the party threw its support to a different Republican candidate. In 1979, the Greensboro Massacre occurred in which five members of the Communist Workers Party were shot and killed while participating in an anti-Klan demonstration. The CWP had been active trying to organize black workers in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In this period, resistance to the Klan became more common. Jerry Thompson reported that in his brief membership in the Klan, his truck was shot at, he was yelled at by black children, and a Klan rally that he attended turned into a riot when black soldiers on an adjacent military base taunted the Klansmen. Attempts by the Klan to march were often met with counter protests, and violence sometimes ensued.
Vulnerability to lawsuits has encouraged the trend away from central organization, as when, for example, the lynching of Michael Donald in 1981 led to a civil suit that bankrupted one Klan group, the United Klans of America. Thompson related how many Klan leaders who appeared indifferent to the threat of arrest showed great concern about a series of multimillion-dollar lawsuits brought against them as individuals by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a result of a shootout between Klansmen and a group of African Americans, and curtailed their activities in order to conserve money for defense against the suits. Lawsuits were also used as tools by the Klan, however, and the paperback publication of Thompson’s book, My Life in the Klan, was canceled because of a libel suit brought by the Klan.
Klan activity has also been diverted into other racist groups and movements, such as Christian Identity, neo-Nazi groups, and racist subgroups of the skinheads.
“Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” has been part of the title of at least ten organizations patterned on the original KKK. The most prominent of these was the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Inc., which was founded in November 1915 by William J. Simmons and disbanded in 1944 by James Colescott. At its peak, this organization had around three to five million members.
The most militant Klan group was “The White Knights of Mississippi” led by Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers. Though not the largest, they were by far the most violent. They were responsible for many bombings, church burnings, beatings, and murders, including the killing of three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, along with Edgar Ray Killen, Wayne Roberts of Meridian, Mississippi and several other members of the Klan, murdered the three young men, who were all members of C.O.R.E, (Congress Of Racial Equality) by shooting them and burying their bodies in a dam outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of these murders in 2005, 40 years after they occurred. Price and Roberts are now deceased.
In 1989, The White Knights of Mississippi went national, and appointed Professional Wrestler Johnny Lee Clary, who was also known as Johnny Angel as its new national Imperial Wizard, to succeed Sam Bowers. Clary appeared on many talk shows including Oprah and Morton Downey Jr., in an effort to build a new modern image for the Ku Klux Klan. It was thought that Clary could build membership in the Klan due to his celebrity status as a professional wrestler. Clary tried to unify the various chapters of the Klan in a meeting held in the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, Pulaski, Tennessee, only to have it fall apart by infighting which occurred when the Klan came together. Clary’s girlfriend was revealed to be an F.B.I informant, which resulted in mistrust of Clary among the different Klan members. Clary resigned from the Klan and later became a born again Christian and a civil rights activist.
The KKK Today
In 2005, a little tiny group of less than 100 members called the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Knights Party) was headed by National Director Pastor Thom Robb, and based in Zinc, Arkansas.For a complete history of Robb, go to the following link:
Robb’s group is one of the smallest Klan organization in America today but Robb has a big enough mouth to make a lot of noise by telling lies to the media to make them think he is a major player and has a large Klan when he does not. Robb never was a legitimate leader among the White power movement although in his own mind he is. He has for many years been considered a joke among the White Power movement. He actually crowned himself a self-proclaimed Klan “leader” when Grand Wizard Don Black wnrt to prison for trying to overthrow the Dominican Republic. Black was the genuine successor to David Duke, who turned over the Knights Of The Ku Klux Klan to Black in order to run for office and create a sister organization without the name of the Ku Klux Klan to contend with. The sixth era Klan continues to be a racist group, for example.
Klan units have adopted neo-Nazism or Christian Identity as core ideological beliefs.
Today the only known former member of the Klan to hold a Federal office in the United States is Senator Robert Byrd, (D-WV), who says he “deeply regrets” his roles as “Exalted Cyclops” and “Kleagle,” or recruiter, for his local Klan in the 1940’s. During his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1958, when Byrd was 41 years old, Byrd defended the Klan. He argued that the KKK had been incorrectly blamed for much of the violence in the South.
Californian musical sisters Prussian Blue also perform at modern Ku Klux Klan rallies.
Some of the larger KKK organizations currently in operation include:
Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Klans of America Knights of the White Kamelia There are a vast number of smaller organizations.
In 2005, there were an estimated 3,000 Klan members, divided among 158 chapters of a variety of splinter organizations, about two-thirds of which were in former Confederate states. The other third were primarily in the Midwestern United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union has provided legal support to various factions of the KKK in defense of their First Amendment rights to hold public rallies, parades, and marches, and their right to field political candidates.
In a July 2005 incident, a Hispanic man’s house was burned down in Hamilton, Ohio, after accusations that he sexually assaulted a nine-year-old white girl. Klan members in Klan robes showed up afterward to distribute pamphlets.
Since the election of Barack Obama the KKK is now enjoying a huge surge in membership, and there are at least 1000 white power organizations operating in the USA either under the name of the Ku Klux Klan or under other names with the exact same agenda and beliefs. FBI, SPLC, and ADL puts support and membership at an all-time alarming rate. In Feb. of 2010 a Klan rally was held in Georgia where several hundred people attended in support of the KKK.
“Evil prevails when good people do nothing.” Edmund Burk
More to be added later