The Ku Klux Klan's long history of violence grew out of the anger and hatred many white Southerners felt after the Civil War. Blacks, having won the struggle for freedom from slavery, were now faced with a new struggle against widespread racism and the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite what many might like to think, the KKK is still active today.
The bare facts about the birth of the Ku Klux Klan and its revival half a century later are baffling to most people today. Little more than a year after it was founded, the secret society moved across the South, bringing a reign of violence that lasted three or four years. Then, as rapidly as it had spread, the Klan faded away. After World War I a new version of the Klan surfaced. Then, having grown to be a major force for the second time, the Klan again receded into the background. This time it never quite disappeared, but it never again gathered such widespread support.
A more obvious explanation of the South's acceptance of the KKK is found in slavery. Freedom for slaves represented for many white Southerners a sour defeat. It is speculated that it was a defeat not only of their armies, but of their economic and social way of life. It was an incredible widespread culture-shock for the South when the slaves were freed. Every way of life was affected for them.
The beginning idea for the KKK came from a number of slave revolts in Virginia and other parts of the South that led to night patrols. These night patrols were white men out on the roads for the specific purpose of enforcing the curfew for slaves, looking for runaways, and guarding rural areas against black uprisings. They were given permission by law to give a specific number of lashes to anyone who broke these rules. The idea of these legal night riders and their whips was still in the minds of the defeated Southerners and freed blacks when the first Klansmen took to those same roads in 1866.
The origin of the Ku Klux Klan was a secret for years, although there were many thoughts and theories to explain its beginnings. One idea was that the Ku Klux Klan was originally a secret order of Chinese drug smugglers. Another claimed it was begun by Confederate prisoners during the war. The most ridiculous theory was about an ancient Jewish document referring to the Hebrews enslaved by Egyptian pharaohs. In fact, the beginning of the KKK wasn’t as complex as many made it seem. It was just six young Confederate veterans in a small town with nothing better to do than to gather around a fireplace one December evening in 1865 and form a social club. The place was Pulaski, Tennessee, near Alabama’s northern border. When they got together a week later, the six young men were full of ideas for their new club. It would be secret, to make it more amusing, and the titles for the officers were to have names as crazy-sounding as possible, partly for the fun of it and partly to avoid any military or political involvement. The head of the group was...