In the year 1866 just after the Civil War, still considered the bloodiest war in American history, an organization was formed by Nathan Bedford Forrest in the heart of the old Confederacy. That organization’s name was the Ku Klux Klan (Gladding, 1999; Wright, 1995).
Context of the Problem
The original Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was very prosperous at its start, dominated by white plantation owners, in the occupied Confederacy. The KKK was a way for Southerns to fight the invading “carpet baggers” (northern investors that moved into the south during Reconstruction) even after the war had ended, it was like a “Reconstruction-era terrorist militia” (Weisenburger, 2005, pp. 167-189). The white supremacist members terrorized the newly freed African American slaves, and even sympathizers to their freedom, by wearing white hooded costumes to hide their faces to remain anonymous and add to their terror. The KKK used horrifically violent methods including church bombings (Ku klux klan, 1965, 17 March 2006), cross burning (Gladding, 1999), and most notoriously lynching, which grew over time to incorporate torture, hanging, burning, mutilation, and castration (Williams, 2002). In the last 20 years of the 19th century there were an astonishing 3,000 recorded lynchings (Wright 1995), with a countless amount that were not reported. However, eventually the KKK began to diminish from a prominent place in American Society.
In Atlanta in 1915 William J. Simmons led a revival movement of the KKK in response to two events, the first of which was the release of the film The Birth of a Nation. The film The Birth of a Nation promotes white supremacist ideals and shows the KKK as saviors of a young white girl Elsie Stoneman and as heroes that prosecute and execute a newly freed African American slave Gus who raped a southern virgin Marion Lenoir (Weisenburger, 2005; Williams, 2002). The original play followed two novels written by Thomas Dixon, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan and The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden. The 1915 film version followed The Clansman because it was more “tightly focused” (Williams, 2002, p. 101) on the Anti-Tom Movement. Both Dixon novels were written in response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Williams, 2002), a book written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, to expose racism in the south and promote the change of Jim Crow Laws. These laws required the segregation of all public areas and violated African Americans’ equal rights as citizens of the United States of America. Dixon, being a white supremacist, was against changing these laws.
The second event that prompted the KKK revival in 1915 was the Leo Frank trial. The defendant was a Jewish man convicted of a rape and murder of another innocent white woman, Mary Phagan, who soon turned to a martyr for the cause. People of the Jewish faith had been facing Anti-Semitism in the US for a long time due to there non-Christian immigrant status this court case only strengthened the white supremacist scrutiny against them. The new order of the KKK was established in October 1915, just two months after Leo Frank was kidnapped from his jail cell and lynched. The newly revised “Simmons” version of the KKK not only included brutal discrimination of African Americans but also people of the Jewish faith, immigrant workers from Mexico, and immigrants from Europe and Asia (Weisenburger, 2005).
The brutal discrimination of African Americans is the oldest and most well known characteristic of the KKK. In the Reconstruction-era, racism was abundant even with non-Klan members of society. Slavery was prominent in the south and was a staple of the cotton and other agricultural industries. With the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which became the 13th Amendment in 1865 after the war ended, many plantation owners feared losing their wealth and prominence when their slaves left to either travel north or to work the land only when paid (Wright, 1995). In addition to this the white plantation owners did not even see their slaves as people, so most definitely they would not accept that African Americans should be free, treated with respect, and given rights as American citizens.
However, in the post World War era of 1915 there was a new reason for white supremacists, like Simmons, to hate African Americans enough to revive the Klan. There was a large amount of “restive blacks” (Weisenburger, 2005, pp. 167-189) that fought in the World War and upon their return to the United States wanted respect as soldiers in the United States Military, and rights as citizens of their country, state, and most importantly community.
The new KKK also included Jews in their realm of hate, mostly in response to the Leo Frank trial, but the issue is rooted in the Protestant ideals that the KKK was founded to uphold. The basic separation of the Jewish religion from that of Christianity, and therefore also Protestantism, makes up most of the resentment that the KKK holds towards Jews. The KKK judges anyone that believes in a different religion, and even different sects of Christianity; they look at them as wrong and evil (Weisenburger, 2005).
Since the United States economy was still in a bear market (a declining economy) at the end of the world war immigrant workers from foreign countries like Mexico were looked despised when they took jobs for less pay than white workers would (Weisenburger, 2005). This, in addition to their racial variation and Catholic beliefs, made the white supremacists not only anxious about them but hostile. They went against both the white and Protestant aspects of the KKK. While the European and Asian immigrant workers either brought their own “despicable” native religions or just even more competition for jobs and housing (Weisenburger, 2005).
The new Klan was named the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and was “elaborately expanded” (Weisenburger, 2005, pp. 167-189) in the novel size handbook titled The Kloran. The Kloran is an extension to the previous “Prescript” of the Tennessee founded KKK and includes “a detailed hierarchy of officers” (Weisenburger, 2005, pp. 167-189) and extremely thorough Klan rituals complete with a drawn out map of ceremonial events.
It was this revived Klan that received national recognition due mostly to the organizational skills of Simmons and his publicist for the Klan, Edward Clarke. The team could exploit the fears of the white supremacists and used all forms of propaganda to convince more to join their cause (Weisenburger, 2005). This propaganda is the main focus of Professor of Sociology at Ferris State University, David Pilgrim, who founded the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia to document how racism was used as propaganda in the Reconstruction-era south and up to current day America, and to analyze how it succeeded so greatly. The collection ranges from racist advertisements to games like Alabama Coon and new replicas of old racist images by major US companies like Meijer. Pilgrim shows through his racist artifacts how racism was not only present in this way during the beginning of the Klan’s reign but also that it fuels racism and maintains the ideals of the Klan (Miller, 2005).
Simmons and Clarke also used propaganda in their drafts of The KloranÃ?Â¸ later subtitled the White-Book as it is generally referred to. In each new draft the book more anxiety is transferred from the white Protestant males, concerning American society and business, to racial, ethnic and religious minorities (Weisenburger, 2005). With this new twist even places without a high African American population could accept and incorporate the tenets of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. So instead of just areas in the south like Texas (Hate crimes, 1999, 17 March 2006), and Georgia (Gladding, 1999) the new KKK infiltrated places in both the north, like Michigan (Peters, 2005; Cooper, 2006; Olander, 2006; Miller, 2005), as well as the west like California (Rhomberg, 1998) and Washington (Weisenburger, 2005).
Even with the separation of the national Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Inc, because of disputes concerning which realm had more control over the other, the Klan and its principles still exists today however they are just held in smaller sects. For example, when the Klan No. 9 of Oakland California began to have problems with the “Atlanta-based national Klan” (Rhomberg, 1998) they transferred their funds, so that they would not lose them in the legal battles with the organization. The funds were transferred to an association called the East Bay Club and the members continued to carry out their campaign. Other groups from Klan No. 9 formed the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Cross Clan, and Oakland Clan No. 9 (Rhomberg, 1998). So even though the Atlanta based Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has lost chapters, the “Klan” has not grown any smaller.
This division of the former Knights of the Ku Klux Klan that Simmons founded in Atlanta in 1915 did not truly minimize the Klan or their racist acts. In the 1920’s, when Simmons’ Klan was beginning to break, an organization called the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was formed and Klans dedicated solely to things like drill teams and marching bands were formed (Rhomberg, 1998). Because of the split the Klan was not damaged, it is now just harder to prosecute. Due to the fact that no ties are held across state borders the Klan can not be prosecuted in federal court, in addition many Klans are even kept within individual cities. In cities like Oakland California that hold large Klan populations, made mostly of white collar or skilled workers (middle class), it is very common to see Klan members in positions like city police, county sheriff, and even city commissioner (Rhomberg, 1998), making prosecution virtually impossible. For all these reasons, the KKK or Klan has been in and out of power in American society since 1866, yet it violates the basic founding principles of the United States constitution, it should finally be put to an end by the government under which it falsely claims protection.
Review of the Literature
There have been several proposals during the long dominion of the Klan of how best to alleviate the problem. Edward A. Delgado-Romero, a scholar of multicultural psychology, suggests that to be able to fight racism an individual has to fully understand what it is to be racist and where a racist is coming from. To do this a person has to take “a fearless look at oneself” (Delgado-Romero, 1999, p. 25) and determine the level of racism that they hold themselves. The idea that he advances is to not fight against others’ racism out of spite but to first fight racism within oneself to be able to understand how to fight racism the best in others.
Even though the idea behind Delgado-Romero’s proposal is logical, to force people to dredge up old racist handicaps, that most of the time are not consciously constructed, is unreasonable because it does not move anyone towards equality. All that would come from this fearless look would be guilt for thinking or feeling in away that can be portrayed as racist, or, even worse, outcome the loss of the desire to change American society because the evilness of racism has infiltrated everything. The proposal is psychologically sound; an individual must first rid themselves of emotional obstacles before they can fully dedicate themselves to a cause. However, in this case, racism and the KKK has been taught since childhood and trying to find why those ideals are there in the first place would cause a lot more harm then good. This is there for not a viable solution.
Samuel T. Gladding, a counselor and humanitarian, was exposed to the Klan as a child in Decatur Georgia where he grew up. Since the Klan rally that he witnessed, with “people in hoods, Confederate battle flags, and the screaming of words that were offensive” (Gladding, 1999, p. 182), Gladding has been working to fight inequality and the “faceless” nature of the Klan racism. He believes that to fight racism one must look at it from two perspectives; awareness and action (Gladding, 1999). Once a person is aware of the Klan and the racism behind it they will be moved to action. However small this action is it is bound to increase their general awareness of the situation, which will in turn increase action (Gladding, 1999). With enough people moving towards ending the Klan all of their actions combined will be a force too great to stop.
While awareness does often lead to action as Gladding states, however, it usually only occurs in the strong willed; the people who have a desire and a reason to fight. Awareness of the Klan is ingrained in the American mindset. With Gladding’s concept that would mean that the general public not involved in the Klan, or any of their sympathizers, would be moved to action to fight against their tyranny. Nevertheless, this is not the case. Most Americans do express a range of dislike to hatred when the Klan is mentioned, but very few are moved to action, which is why this proposal would be unsuccessful.
In addition to proposals of how to deal with the Klan, many attempts have been made to try and stop the Klan. Originally were the individual attempts to stop lynchings and violence during the rein of the KKK in the Reconstruction-era. The KKK was not as vastly organized as the later 1915 version of the Klan, and these small attempts did have an effect on the community.
Nonetheless, the KKK grew and the anti-Klan population diminished and feared to speak out because of the violence that they faced from the KKK. Once the KKK reached a bulk of the population in the south, the amount of lynchings that were stopped decreased because the KKK had begun to seep into the southern law system. Many of the prominent office holders in the south, like sheriffs, majors, and even congressmen, were members of the KKK. This meant that any lynchings were not reported as crimes, and people trying to stop the lynchings were not safe; they would consequently become targets themselves. So, the first battle against the KKK was lost.
Another battle between the KKK and the rest of the American population was in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Most notable was an encounter on March 7, 1965 in Selma Alabama. Referred to as Bloody Sunday, it was the day that 600 civil rights marchers met armed Alabama State Troopers on their 50 mile march to Montgomery, the capital, to protest to the governor the enormous amount of civil rights violations. The troopers released dogs and tear gas grenades on the unarmed crowed (Weisenburger, 2005). The “unprovoked fury of the officers” (Weisenburger, 2005, p. 167-189) broadcast over national television by ABC News is what made the day so infamous. This was a battle against the racist oppression of the US Government, a government affected so greatly by the Klan and the racism that it forces on the population, that voting rights were denied to African Americans in the south despite both the 14th and 15th amendments. Until this day the denial of voting rights to African Americans is hailed as a victory of the Klan in the south, a testament to their control.
Post Bloody Sunday the Voting Rights Act was pushed through joint congressional sessions by President Lyndon B. Johnson in only eight days (Weisenburger, 2005). While this was a victory for the SCLC and SNCC, civil rights groups both present at Bloody Sunday’s march, the long term oppression of the Klan was not changed. The march changed the government, and the attitude of most American citizens concerning the idea of civil rights, but still few sought to fight the Klan further. No one will deny the effect of the Klan on the oppression of African Americans in the south and the denial of their right to vote. However, it took the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to have enough courage to fight them in the open.
In 1965 the FBI formally investigated the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for evidence that they violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Ku klux klan, 1965, 17 March 2006). The area in which the FBI made the most progress was in finding evidence of “other criminal activity” (Ku klux klan, 1965, 17 March 2006) that the Klan took part in, like lynchings, church bombings, and arson (cross burning). However, the only evidence for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came from trivial records like the National States Rights Party (NSRP) of Louisiana and Mississippi illegally campaigning and allocating funds to against “racial mixers” (Ku klux klan, 1965, 17 March 2006).
Due both to the secretiveness of the Klan and the willingness of the southern public to protect its members, the FBI investigation was mostly without a positive outcome. The FBI achieved some progress but not enough to hurt the Klan. In fact, a full scale FBI investigation that failed actually makes the Klan seem invincible, as if they are above the law, and it only adds to their mysticism.
Hypothesis and Rationale
In order to alleviate the Klan it will be necessary for the US government to declare the Klan as a terrorist organization so that they are not protected under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and to start teaching children, at the youngest age possible, what hate is and why it is wrong.
In the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights the US assures the right for all organizations to assemble and the right to free speech. It is under this amendment that the Klan falsely claims protection; the claim the right to freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. However in reality, the Klan is a domestic terrorist organization because they are not a peaceful organization, which is all the first amendment protects. According to the Patriot Act of 2001 if the Klan was declared a domestic terrorist organization then the FBI could prosecute them as a terrorist organization. Meaning that they could use wiretapping on suspected members, search their house without a warrant, and hold them for up to six months without bail (The USA Patriot act & government actions that threaten our civil liberties, 2001). This would make prosecution of Klan members and officials much easier because information and evidence would be effortless to collect.
In addition, if the history of the KKK and the Klan was taught to students at a young age, and they were told that the Klan was still active, then awareness of the Klan as a functioning organization would be started earlier, promoting the desire to abolish the Klan. Children are not inherent to hate, so if they were taught what hate was, and how to recognize it, then they would not become victims if its propaganda.
Teaching children not to accept hatred would, on a political stance, be wildly accepted. The US, as a whole, tends to believe in the concept that “all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence, 1776, April 25, 2006) so any cost or amount of time that this would take would be accepted; along the premises that the problem of the Klan would be lessened. Still, the time, cost, and labor of such a project would be minimal. Teachers are already employed and paid by the US government making the proposal an ideal way to alleviate the presence of the Klan in American society.