Sunday, August 22, 2010

Origins & History of The Ku Klux Klan

MSSPI does not condone or support the activities or beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan and we provide this information for research and information purposes only.
research compiled by Angela L MSSPI

The Ku Klux Klan has struck fear in the hearts of thousands of people since it's formation on December 24, 1865. Many sources site that the organization was originally formed by Confederate Officers as a social club and to help support the widows and orphans of the Civil War. However, other sources dispute this as being a cover for it's original intention which is said to have been political and racist in nature. The original six founders of the Ku Klux Klan were Confederate Veterans of the Civil War,  Capt. John C. Lester, Maj. James.R.Crowe ,Adj. Calvin Jones, Capt. John B. Kennedy, Frank O. McCord and Richard Reed.

Capt. Lester suggested forming the club. Capt. Kennedy mentioned kuklos as part of the new club's name. Maj. Crowe suggested changing it to "ku klux". Lester, then suggested adding "clan" to the name. John Kennedy repeated it and became the first man to speak the words "Ku Klux Klan". Crowe suggested using costumes to make the club more mysterious.

Capt. John C. Lester, born, 1834, Giles County, TN. Died Dec. 4, 1901, Hartsville, TN. Buried in Maplewood Cemetery, Pulaski, TN. Served in the 3rd Tenn. Infantry. He practiced law for a while, never married, and was a Christian (denomination not presently known).

Maj. James R. Crowe, born Jan. 29, 1838, Pulaski, TN. Died July 14, 1911. Buried in Maplewood Cemetery. Served in the Marion Rifles, Co. G, 4th Alabama Infantry, later served with the 35th Tenn. Infantry. He attended Marion Military Institute and was a prominent factor in business and political life in Tennessee. A Free Mason, he attained the rank of Most Illustrious Grand Master of the Grand Council of TN. in 1866. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian.

Adj. Calvin E. Jones, son of Judge Thomas M. Jones, Born 1839. Died 1872, Pulaski, TN. Served as adjutant of the 32th Tenn. Infantry. He was a lawyer and a member of the Episcopal Church.

Capt. John B. Kennedy, born Nov. 6, 1841, Wales, Giles County, TN. Died Feb. 13, 1913, Lawrenceberg, TN. Buried in Monroe Cemetery, Lawrenceberg. Served in the 3rd Tenn infantry. His widow was present in Pulaski, TN. on May 21, 1917, when, amid much fan fare, the plaque, commemorating the law office where the KKK was founded, was placed on the outside wall of the building. Officiating at the ceremony was Mrs. Grace Neufield, former Tennessee state historian of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Kennedy attended Center College, Danville KY.

Frank O. McCord, born Jan. 14, 1839, Giles County, TN. Died Aug. 19, 1895, Fayetteville, TN. Buried Rosehill Cemetery, Fayetteville. Served as a private in the Confederate Army and later became editor of the Pulaski Citizen. He was a member of the Methodist Church South.

Richard Reed, was a lawyer in Pulaski, TN. and served in the 3rd Tenn. Infantry. He was a Presbyterian.

The Ku Klux Klan was formerly recognized in May of 1867 near Nashville, Tn. and it was at this time that General Nathan Bedford Forrest was elected Grand Wizard. Groups of the Klan began to form all over the South. However, it was soon to be recognized as a society of terror as racist violence began to escalate by klansmen.

Ku Klux Klan Costumes, 1868, The KKK's hooded costumes were meant to protect the anonymity of its members and promote fear of an "unknown" terror among blacks. The costumes were also crucial to the KKK's desire to invoke the rituals and traditions of secret white, male brotherhoods of the past. Source: Stanley Horn, Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan, 1861-1877 (1964).

Other sources say that they had adopted the wardrobe of a spook or ghost as a scare tactic to frighten superstitious freedmen and it was said that this idea was attributed to being the ghosts and spirits of the Confederates soldiers who had died during the Civil War, come back to seek their revenge. Some sources say that this scare tactic was intended to deter newly freedmen from exorcising their new rights to vote and to run the Republican Party out of the offices of the Southern States.

KKK Violence

In 1868 the State of Alabama Congress documented 109 murders by Grand Wizard John Morgan's Knights. Klansmen also burned the County Courthouse in Greene County and 3 African American schools.

Georgia in the same year reported 31 killed, 43 shot, 5 stabbings, 55 whippings and 8 floggings of 300 to 500 lashes given to individuals alone. In Camellia Ga, 7 dead and 30 injured.

Mississippi's Grand Dragon James George, targeted African American schools and carpetbag teachers. The Meridian Riots of 1871 started at the County Courthouse, killing one judge and 8 African American witnesses. Texas klansmen collaborated with the Knights of the White Camellia and the Knights of the Rising Sun. Union General John Reynolds found murders of freedmen in Texas " so common as to render it impossible to keep an accurate record of them.

Kentucky klansmen burned Shaker homes at Bowling Green and spent much of their time defending moonshine stills. At Herrodsburg alone, there were 25 murders and over 100 floggings.

South Carolina klansmen killed 12 Republicans in the Lauren Riots of 1870 on the eve of the State elections. York County klansmen killed at least 11 people and flogged 600, burning 5 schools and churches.

In Columbia County Arkansas, under the direction of Grand Dragon Robert Shaver, 10 were reported dead in a 3 week time span. Lafayette County Ga, saw 20 murders in one month.

In Louisiana the numbers were staggering with 1,081 murders, 135 shot or wounded and 507 assaulted. In Jackson County Florida, 179 murdered including 2 Republican Clerks and the Klan's first Jewish target, liberal merchant Samuel Fleshman.

Some sources say that Grand Wizard Nathan B. Forrest disapproved of these violent activities and attempted to disban the society in 1868, however, their nightly raids of terror continued.

Much of the Klan violence was targeted at African Americans who attempted to vote and Republican's seeking election. It did not matter what race you were, if you assisted these groups or supported them in any way, you were a target, white or black.

Steps were taken to curb this violece with the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution which promised a vote to former slaves. Congress next passed a series of Enforcement Acts, first in 1870, which applied stiff penalties to anyone convicted of conspiring to deprive any US citizen of sufferage or any other civil rights. The 2nd Act enacted 9 months later placed federal authorities in charge of voter registration and balloting in Congressional Elections. In April 1871, the Ku Klux Act defined Klan violence as rebellion against the US permitting the President to declare martial law in troubled areas.

Ulysses S. Grant launched a campaigne which indicted 1849 persons in South Carolina, 1180 persons in North Carolina and 930 persons in Mississippi. Lesser numbers were indicted in 4 other states. But in Tennessee, only one person was ever convicted, 14 faced trial in Florida with only one conviction . Alabama and Georgia together faced 160 Klan indictments in 1871, but none of them ever went to trial. 262 were convicted in Mississippi including 28 who plead guilty to murder. All of them recieved suspended prison sentences after promising to quit the Klan. 57 were imprisioned in South Carolina's York County but 162 of those indicted for serious crimes were never tried.

In 1872, there were 65 Klanmen in Federal Prisons and all of them were paroled or pardoned by 1875.

In 1873, although the group had been formerly disbanded, scattered Klan violence continued by various groups. In Colfax Louisiana, the courthouse was burned and more than 60 were slaughtered. In 1874 60 Republicans were massacred at Coushatta. In New Orleans 27 murdered, 105 wounded. In August of 1874, 16 were lynched in Tennessee and in December of that same year 75 Republicans were massacred at Vicksburg.

Between 1883 and 1915, over 3200 were lynched. Not a single indictment was returned during this time against killers, who often boasted of their crimes and posed for photographs with their victims.

Between 1913 and 1915 Hollywood would play a hand in the regrouping of the Klan. The Birth of A Nation would hit the silver screen. This 12 reel film , directed by David W. Griffin and based on the book The Clansmen by Thomas Dixon, was first exhibited in 1915. It opened to the public at New York Liberty Theatre on March 3 and became one of the biggest money makers in film history. The apparent racist tone of the film along with the sympathetic treatment of the Ku Klux Klan would be strongly protested by African American Leaders and Northern Liberals. Along with the influence of the movie, other events would also bring a rise to Klan activities.

In 1913, Mary Phagan, a thirteen year old girl, was murdered in Atlanta at the pencil factory where she worked for Leo Frank. Leo Frank was a Jewish businessman from New York. An African American man was originally suspected of the crime. But he saved himself from lynching by incriminating Leo Frank.

Frank was spared from the gallows by flimsy evidence, but Georgia's Governer commanded his sentence to life in prison. In August 1915, Leo Frank was lynched by a mob who called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan. Lynching of Leo Frank at Right.

On September 2 1915, Thomas Watson called for a new KKK in Georgia. the Knights of Mary Phagan climbed to the top of Stone Mountain in Ga and lit America's first fiery cross. But the honors for the rebirth of the Klan would be given to William Joseph Simmons 10 days after the cross burning on Stone Mountian.

Simmons and 34 others including two of the original Klansmen and 7 of the Knights of Mary Phagen would answer the call to regroup. On Thanksgiving day 1915, Simmons was sworn in as Imperial Wizard by the original founders of the KKK who were present.
                                     Ku Klux Klan Activity in Brunswick, Maine

Most Americans think of the Ku Klux Klan as a Southern institution, mainly targeting African-Americans. However, in the years following the First World War, the Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a nationwide revival wielding considerable influence in the North and Midwest, as well as the South. This so-called "Second Klan" aimed its propaganda not only at African-Americans, but also at Catholics, Jews and "foreigners." In 1920s Maine, the African-American and Jewish populations were quite small, where they existed at all. There can be little doubt that the Klan's main focus in Maine was Catholic "foreigners," the vast majority of whom were the relative newcomers from Qu├ębec.

The Second Klan was part of a wider Nativist movement representing a backlash against the wave of immigration, much of it from southern and eastern Europe, which was perceived as a threat to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant character of the United States. The Second Klan was also largely an opportunistic money-making scheme perpetuated by shrewed businesspeople exploiting the mood of a country seeking a return to "normalcy" following an unprecedented World War.

In 1923, Dr Hiram W Evans, a dentist, is said to have tricked Simmons out of his seat as the Imperial Wizard. He would rule the Klan for 16 years, stepping down in 1939. Under his leadership the Klan reached its height and would also begin it's decline.

From 1939 to 1944 the Klan would be run by Dr. James A Colescott, a veterinarian, who increased the Klan membership, added many reforms and some say could have maintained the Klan as a legitimate fraternal order. However being unable to pay alledged back taxes, he ordered the Klan's disbandment.

 Dr. Samuel Green, an obstetrician, revived the KKK on Stone Mountain, Ga. in 1944. He restructured the Klan as to avoid any claims the IRS might make concerning the more then quarter million dollars the Klan allegedly owed. He did this by claiming the Klans in each state were independent and only connected as Klans of association. To back this up Green took the title of Grand Dragon (a state leader) instead of the national title of Imperial (or Grand) Wizard and he named his revived Klan the Associations of Georgia Klans. But, he was the recognized head of the Klan's third incarnation.

Police Chief Samuel Roper, a former Atlanta policeman and head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, became leader of the Klan when Dr. Green died in 1949. His reign was the shortest passing the leadership position on to Eldon Edwards in 1950.( photo right)

Eldon Edwards, an Atlanta auto worker (paint sprayer), ruled the KKK until his death in 1960. He reorganized the KKK again and named it, the US Klans. By 1957, Edwards'' Klan had 50,000 members. The seven other existing Klans at the time totaled 50,000 members combined. So, by 1957, there were 100,000 Klan members. During his reign people began to realize that when the Klan lost all their copyrights after its 1944 disbandment there was no longer any legal protection on the name of the Ku Klux Klan, its emblems, or regalia. Everything had gone into public domain and anyone could now use whatever they chose. Thus, totally unconnected independent Klan groups began to appear. The "Ku Klux Klan Movement" has never been united ever since. These separate Klans were often bitter rivals of each other. With no unifying national control these various Klans went in many different directions, some continued on as fraternal orders, others became more political, but with the 1950's advent of the Civil Rights movement, some Klan groups became murderously savage groups which did much to destroy the Klan's reputation as a whole and to lead to its eventual near destruction by the end of the 1960's. Edwards' death in 1960, launched a power struggle in the Klan.

Robert M. Shelton, a used car salesman, emerged the victor when in 1960, he managed to unite most of the Klan factions into the United Klans of America. He ruled his Klan until its forced disbandment in 1987, after it lost a 7 million dollar lawsuit. To combat the Civil Rights laws of the 1960's his Klan actually tried to take on the federal government in some ways and committed many acts of law breaking and violence. After the violent 1960's, Shelton's UKA, like all other Klans, was pounded to a pulp by the numerous federal crack downs and its once proud membership had shrunk to around 2,000. A figure they managed to keep, more or less, until the end in 1987.

James R. Venable, an attorney, was a personal friend of Col. Simmons and Dr. Green. His family owned Stone Mountain, the scene of the Klan's two revivals. The Klan group he eventually founded was called the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which he ran until his death in the 1990's . To his credit, he ran his Klan much like the Simmons Klan with its regalia, emblems, degrees, and Klankraft virtually intact. Being an attorney, he also kept his Klan relatively out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, his Klan also went into decline as a result of the bad image the violent Klans had given to all Klan organizations. After the general decline of the late 1960's, Venable's Klan settled down into a private fraternal social club Klan.
When he died his family folded the National Knights. Since then the name of the National Knights has been picked up and is being used by others.

Samuel H. Bowers, a saw mill owner, ran a major Klan group, the White Knights of Mississippi, but its power and membership were mostly limited to the state of Mississippi. Bowers commanded tremendous power in his home state and literally launched a murderous reign of terror against the Civil Rights movement there. He took on the full power of the federal government doing irreversible damage to the reputation of all Klans as a result.
William M. Chaney, a one time deputy sheriff and constable, split from the UKA and founded the Confederation of Independent Orders, Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan which began growing to reasonable size. He ran his Klan as a republic with each state having considerable autonomy. Unfortunately for him, his Klan went defunct when he lost a court appeal in 1977, concerning a bombing incident.

William Wilkinson, ex-submariner, founded his Invisible Empire, Knights of the KKK in 1975. He was often described as a media slick southerner. He was later repudiated as an FBI informer. During the 1970's and early 1980's, his Klan was among the four largest. When Wilkinson stepped down in 1983, his Klan went defunct from fragmentation and incredibly corrupt bad leadership.

1975-1979 David Duke, who holds a degree in history and is a writer and lecturer, founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He did his best to present a polished professional image for himself and his Klan and was successful to a considerable extent. In 1979, he stepped down to found his National Association for the Advancement of White People and to go into politics. (Duke on left)

Don Black succeeded Duke as Grand Wizard and promptly went to prison when he attempted to take over the government of a small island country in the Caribbean Sea. His Klan had a brief success when they won the hotly disputed Gulf Shrimp Boat Crisis, but he proved to be a hot headed leader. While in prison, his trusted seconds in command ousted him.

Stanley McCollum then took over the Knights of the KKK group and held it together for eight years. Under his leadership it went into great decline and faded away. By the 1980's, all but three of the Klans that existed up to and during the 1960's had vanished. As in the 1950's and 1960's, new Klan groups came and went in the 1970's. Some didn't last long enough to get noticed outside of their local areas. The same continued throughout the 80's, 90's, and to this day.

Contrary to modern myth the KKK was never a bunch of ignorant rednecks. Many sophisticated famous, prominent, and historically significant men  and even women ( pictured left) joined the Ku Klux Klan and became its leaders. Some of the prominent men who were members of the original KKK were: General Robert E. Lee, whose statement: "My support for your organization must remain completely invisible." inspired the Klan's nickname: "Invisible Empire.", General John C. Brown, Captain John W. Morton ,who became Secretary of State of Tennessee, Ryland Randolph ,editor of the Independent Monitor, General George W. Gordon, General John B. Gordon ,Grand Dragon of Georgia and author of the Prescripts of the KKK, General W.J. Hardee, author of many of the warnings and oaths of the KKK, Colonel Joseph Fussell, General Albert Pike chief judicial officer of the original KKK and a major figure in Scottish Rite Masonry, and Edward White, Supreme Court Justice under the Wilson administration, he was a member of the original KKK, Air Force General Nathan Bedford Forrest III ,Grandson of Grand Wizard Forrest and Grand Dragon of Georgia for the revival Klan, he was killed by the nazis during World War II.
Other notable men were: President Warren G. Harding. He was sworn into the Ku Klux Klan in the Green Room of the White House by Imperial Wizard Simmons.

President Woodrow Wilson and President McKinley. Little is known of their Klan membership.  McKinley was a Union officer, but many Union men joined or affiliated with the original Klan during the Radical Republican's anti-white Reconstruction Era. Wilson would have been a member of the Klan under Simmons.

President Calvin Coolidge. He allowed cross lightings on the Capitol steps and reviewed the giant Klan parades of 1925 & 26.

President Harry S. Truman was a minor ordinary Klansman from 1920-22. His membership was not notable. He later had a major falling out with the KKK over his desire to appoint Catholics to key political positions; something the KKK opposed at the time. He severed all ties with the KKK and openly repudiated them.  His family has tired to deny his KKK membership ever since.

Supreme Court Justice, Hugo Black, his robes (with his name in them) were found in an old Klan Hall in the 1960's. Under political pressure, he superficially repudiated the Klan during its period of scandals.
Senator Robert Byrd, West Virginia, Democrat, was a Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops as a young man. He spoke favorably of the Klan during his political career.

Gutzon Borglum, who carved Mt. Rushmore, Stone Mountain, and did work on the base of the Statue of Liberty was a prominent life member of the KKK. He sat on the Imperial Koncilium in 1923, which transferred leadership of the KKK from Col. Simmons to Hiram Evans. Under media pressure he superficially repudiated the KKK.

It is also a misconception that the KKK used the Confederate flag as one of it's symbols after the Civil War. It was not until the mid 1960's that the Confederate flag was taken into use by some of the KKK Chapters. Since the creation of the Ku Klux Klan the American Flag has always been displayed at Klan functions.

The present day KKK is not one organized group but is composed of many independant chapters across the US. Some of these groups have adopted the the look and emblems of neo -Nazis and white skin head groups. On Nov 14, 2008, an all white jury of seven men and seven women awarded $1.5 million dollars in compensatory damages and $1 million in punative damages to plaintiff Jordan Gruver, against the Imperial Klans of America. After he was savagely beaten at the age of 16 at a Kentucky county fair in 2006.

This is just a small amount of history of the Ku Klux Klan. However there are many books and websites that contain a more detailed history of this group and the atrocitries that have been committed by its members since it began.

Further Reading and Source Materials.
The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies & Fraternal Orders by Alan Axelrod 1997.
Hooded Americanism: the History of the Ku Klux Klan by David M Chalmers 1987.
Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan by Stanley F Horn 1939.
The Ku Klux Klan: History, Organization, Language, Influence and Activities of America's Most Notorious Secret Society by Michael Newton 1957
The Modern Ku Klux Klan by Henry P Fry
The Fiery Cross, Ku Klux Klan in America by Wyn Craig Wade
Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan by Susan Lawrence Davis 1924
Truths of History by Mildred Lewis Rutherford
Secret Societies of the South During the Period of Reconstructions by Walter Hernry Cook
The Great South Carolina KKK Trials of 1871 & 1872 The Mississippi Quarterly 1997 by Raymond Arsenault.
Attack on Terror, The FBI vs The KKK in Mississippi by D. Whitehead
The Ku Klux Klan Study of the American Mind by John Moffat Mecklin
Webster's Guide To American History, Encyclopedia Britannica 1971 pgs 253, 262, 291,377,382,414,593,596,616 & 845


  1. It looks like the original kkk was a legitemate freternal order. It also sounds like the kkk became corrupt because of leaders like Shelton, Bowers and others. I love the KKK's Secret symbols, Handshakes, Robes, Etc. I DO NOT like the bombings, Lynchings And violence.

  2. The original KKK was begun as a fraternal order, but that phase only lasted for a year, according to "Origin, Growth, and Disbandment." It became absolutely necessary to be come vigilantes i the best sense of the word, protected all decent folk, whatever their race or religion, from ravaging mobs (there were many; deserters from both sides, freed Blacks who had no idea what to do, etc.) and very genuine Union oppression. Much of the violence attributed to the KKK was committed by others; the White Camellia was much larger, the Red Shirts were prominent, and there were probably a million other little, local groups -- plus the problem of individual thugs who saw a great opportunity to lay the blame for their crimes elsewhere. The original KKK did not tolerate random violence against anyone, and even hanged one of their own members, a guy named Bill German, for shooting an innocent Black man that was known and liked by all. This article gets a lot wrong. Look up the original sources: "The Ku Klux Klan: It's Origin, Growth, and Disbandment" and Susan Davis' "The Invisible Empire" for starters. Everything listed on this site is merely anti-Klan propaganda. Those two are "from the horse's mouth."

  3. The original KKK was begun as a fraternal order, but that phase only lasted for a year, according to "Origin, Growth, and Disbandment." It became absolutely necessary to be come vigilantes i the best sense of the word, protected all decent folk, whatever their race or religion, from ravaging mobs (there were many; deserters from both sides, freed Blacks who had no idea what to do, etc.) and very genuine Union oppression. Much of the violence attributed to the KKK was committed by others; the White Camellia was much larger, the Red Shirts were prominent, and there were probably a million other little, local groups -- plus the problem of individual thugs who saw a great opportunity to lay the blame for their crimes elsewhere. The original KKK did not tolerate random violence against anyone, and even hanged one of their own members, a guy named Bill German, for shooting an innocent Black man that was known and liked by all. This article gets a lot wrong. Look up the original sources: "The Ku Klux Klan: It's Origin, Growth, and Disbandment" and Susan Davis' "The Invisible Empire" for starters. Everything listed on this site is merely anti-Klan propaganda. Those two are "from the horse's mouth."

  4. The Klan of today is totally different from what it was born from. NON-VIOLENT! As opposed to Black Lives Matter of which they do get out of hand from time to time. The Klan I know supports white owned establishments and supports white people's rights, just as BLM supports their rights. But the Klan can't be as vocal or as visibly seen as BLM. If the Klan is as open as they are, they are persecuted without end. The only minority in the U.S. are white people. That's just my opinion!