Imagine living in a society in which friends, family and neighbors are murdered simply because of the color of their skin. What did they do wrong? They existed. This is the life of an African-American living in the southern United States throughout much of America’s history. The formation of the Ku Klux Klan was one of the major contributing factors to the long bloody struggle that was racism in America. The Klan is classified as a hate group, and throughout three summits in history forced blacks and other minorities to live in a fear that they did not deserve.
The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 by a group of men including John D. Kennedy, Captain John C. Lester and Frank O. McCord, among others, in Pulaski, Tennessee. “The name was derived from the Greek word kylos, meaning ‘circle’. ‘Klan was added for the purpose of alliteration” (“Ku Klux Klan”). The infamous burning-cross icon became a symbol of the KKK in the 1920’s, which was one of many tactics used for intimidation. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Klan members were the white robes they wore along with cone shaped hats that covered their faces. These costumes accomplished their goal of making them look more outlandish and terrifying, and for the intimidation of their victims (Smith). The Klan was pretty selective in accepting members, contrary to popular belief, only WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) could become members. These members possessed the ideology of white supremacy to all other races and ethnic divisions, similar to the concept of Neo-Nazism, however they claim to have based their beliefs on Christian values and nativism. It is often thought that the KKK only hated African-Americans, but many other groups acquired hatred from the Klan, such as Jews, Catholics (for a short time), homosexuals and various immigrant groups. (Anti-Defamination League).
Many people wonder why any group of people would posses such a hatred for certain groups of people. While there is no legitimate justification, one factor contributing to their hate was the rapid economic progression in the North, and the stagnant economy of the South. This may have been what angered the white southerners so much that they put blame onto the black population, along with leftover racial disputes from the times of slavery (Trueman). People of today also wonder how society could permit such destruction of life, and also support it. Back then, the Klan had many sources of income including membership fees, funds acquired from various events and sales of Klan propaganda, as well as free will donations. “This income made the Klan’s many forms of media and strategy possible, such as mass mailings, pamphlets and public events and protests. They also did community service projects such as ‘adopt a highway’ programs to make themselves look good in the eyes of their communities” (Anti-Defamanation League). The members of the Ku Klux Klan did everything in their power to prevent the black community from exercising their newly acquired rights, which was often done during massive events. During a typical KKK event, they dressed in robes symbolizing their rank, then went on nighttime raids, during which they would whip and murder blacks and any of their supporters (“Ku Klux Klan”). These events, unfortunately, were extremely effective. “In 1960, 47% of the total population was black, but only 2% of which were registered to vote” (Simkin). This lack of a political presence is what allowed the Klan to exist for such a long period of time.
What most people don’t know about the Ku Klux Klan is that there have been three different Klans over the course of history, each with slightly different beliefs and tactics. The ‘First’ KKK existed from the initial founding until around 1870, “when congress passed the KKK act which allowed authorities to end such activities by force and penalize anyone who affiliated with terrorist organizations” (“Ku Klux Klan”). At this time, blacks were the only targets of the KKK, for the most part. In 1920, the group was rekindled due to a northward migration of the blacks. This is also when other groups were added to the Klan’s harassment agenda. During this period, the group spread northward for the first time, and made Ohio one of its major strongholds, with over 50 thousand members. The ‘Second’ Klan had around three million members total at its peak (Smith). Again, things settled down until after World War II, when the ‘Third’ Klan assembled to oppose various civil rights movements. Recently, with the election of President Barack Obama, we have seen a small spike in activity with the few remaining Klan members (Daniels). Could there be a fourth Klan yet to come?
Today, there are still some isolated incidents that are thought to be linked to the KKK, but they are few and far between. The remaining 5,000 members have joined forces with Neo-Nazis and other far-right extremist groups (“Ku Klux Klan”). “The Klan of today has fragmented into more than 40 separate factions of varying sizes. There is no ‘one’ KKK” (Anti-Defamanation League). The Klan has a rather high association with unlawful activity such as hate crimes and domestic terrorism, which defeats their original intentions of keeping a good public image. This seems to prove that the Klan’s days are limited, and the age of hate is slowly coming to an end.
The blacks and other minorities of America’s southern regions were only recently able to live their lives without the fear of being a victim of a hate crime. This is a right that everyone, no matter race, gender, orientation or mental capacity should be able to enjoy. With every new generation of the human race, people are becoming more tolerant of social and physical differences in their fellow beings. Ideally, someday this will be a hate free world. This means less conflict, less war and more happiness and prosperity, which is our ultimate goal as the human race. So congrats to humanity, it’s moving in the right direction.
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