The War Between The Union States
The war between the Union States and the States of the Confederacy led to extreme tension during post-war reconstruction. Southerners cities, plantations, and farms were ruined. They were impoverished, their land was occupied by an army, and reconstruction governments threatened to end the traditional white ruling authority. African-Americans won freedom from slavery, and congress passed reconstruction acts which divided the south into five military districts. New elections were to be held in each state with freed black men being able to vote. Fear of government corruption and anger over equality led white southerners to create a group called the Ku Klux Klan. This secret organization was composed of and supported largely by Democratic ex-Confederate veterans, poor white farmers, and white Southerners sympathetic to white supremacy. The emergence of the Klu Klux Klan during the reconstruction was mainly due to socio-economic tension.
Conditions of the reconstruction led to the steady rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The first branch of the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was a small organization founded by six ex-confederate veterans dedicated to restoring white supremacy by instilling terror in newly freed blacks. They decided to dress in white sheets and cover their faces with white masks. These ex-soldiers would ride through the town, act reckless, and create fear and confusion. Some say the white sheets and masks made former black slaves believe that the ghosts of the Confederate dead had risen to reclaim their land. In a bid to reclaim white supremacy, many Southerners began to join the Klan and attempt to scare or harm former black slaves. Soon these night rides turned into violent night rides and so began the terror of the Ku Klux Klan. Their system sought to influence power relations, which included ending Reconstruction, controlling the Southern black population, and reinstating the ideology of white supremacy in the South. Members terrorized freed blacks by engaging in guerrilla tactics, such as whippings, beatings, and arson. Once the Klan began to rise, General Nathan Bedford Forrest became the leader of this invisible empire. The goal to prevent government corruption by African Americans was effective. They used their terror and patronized blacks to keep them away from the voting polls(ABC-Clio). However, the Ku Klux Klan declaration states:
“We, the members of this order, desiring to promote patriotism toward our civil government; honorable peace among men and nations; protection for and happiness in the homes of our people; manhood, brotherhood, and love among ourselves, and liberty, justice and fraternity among all mankind; believing we can best accomplish these noble purposes through a mystic, social, patriotic, benevolent association, having a perfected lodge system, with an exalted ritualistic form of work and an effective form of government, not for selfish profit, but for the mutual betterment, benefit and protection of our oath-bound associates, and their loved ones; do physically, socially, morally and vocationally” (Gale)
The KKK believes they stand for patriotism, peace, and protection. They do not see themselves as terrorists but rather people protecting their beliefs. But since their actions were not mirroring their beliefs, the Klan was coming under increased attack by Congress and the Reconstruction state governments. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Klan and Enforcement Act. The Klan became an illegal terrorist group and force was used to suppress the organization’s activities. In 1882 the Klan Act was declared unconstitutional which led to the KKK having the reputation of being a terrorist group that could overpower the law.
Economic factors due to the poor economy of the post-war south led to high tensions. “This situation has been aggravated by labor’s struggle to retain wartime economic gains and by industry’s struggle to rid itself of government controls. The conflict on this and other fronts between those who yearn for a return of former conditions and who fear economic and social change and those who see a need for far-reaching readjustments has contributed to a general state of tension. “ (CQ Researcher) The KKK’s goal was to resist government efforts to gain political and economic equality for recently freed slaves during the early years of Reconstruction. White men were pressured to make money and support their family in such a difficult time, leaving them to resort to terrorism in order to keep newly freed blacks from possible job opportunities. Financial stress pushed more men to join the KKK, helping the group gain ground in political and social differences.
*(this paragraph maybe at the end??? Comes in the 1950’s and is much later than the reconstruction)
*In addition to Reconstruction, the rise of communism allowed the Klan to gain support as it fed off the increasing fear and suspicion of foreigners. The rise of single-party communist dictatorships led to the “Red Scare” in America. The Red Scare was heightened suspicion of communists, especially the fear of widespread infiltration of communists in the U.S. government and their influence on American society. This fear allowed the KKK to gain support to target people such as union members and intellectuals, as well as feed their original hatred of blacks and other minority groups. By 1924, the KKK had grown to 4.5 million members. Together, they scared immigrants and anyone they believed supported communism in order to gain supremacy once again. The rise of communism helped the KKK gain power once again and became an effective force using terrorism.