If the United States Civil War is seen as our nation’s great crucible, and if liberty, freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness are seen as paramount among our nation’s founding principles, then the Ku Klux Klan can be regarded as our nation’s great (if obviously repulsive) homegrown terrorist secret society.
The South (Confederacy) in 1865 had lost the Civil War–and thus the argument for slavery (Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5, Luke 12:47-48, 1 Timothy 6:1-2)–and with that, the Klan grew like a virulent weed. As its founders would have wished, it has hovered ever since in the public imagination, a perpetual nightmare. Fundamentally a right-wing white Protestant secret society given foremost to intimidation and occasionally to violence, it has added other grievances to its menu over time: anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anti-communism.
American citizens have suffered three distinct episodes of the KKK. The first episode perished in 1877. It was formed as a white supremacist terrorist organization in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by veterans of the Confederate Army, who chose the Greek word kyklos (circle) to signify their devotion. Confederate Army major general Nathan Bedford Forrest was a co-founder of the Ku Klux Klan and served as its leader from 1866 to 1869. Klan groups spread throughout the South in a disorganized fashion, united principally by their shared dress: white robes, conical hats and masks. Although somewhat of a mangy movement, it grew to have a branch in nearly every southern state, with Klansmen engaging in criminal mischief, including murder, to restore what they saw as rightful white supremacy (The Bible’s curse of Ham). In 1870-1871, the federal government fought back with the Enforcement Acts, and the Klan was suppressed. But smaller operations such as the White League and the Red Shirts carried on the Klan’s mission.
William Joseph Simmons (1880-1945) was responsible for the Klan’s second resurgence after 1915. The Ku Klux Klan was resurrected and grew stronger than ever: more than four million members by 1925. This Klan lasted until World War 2. It has been succeeded, since the 1950s, by Klan 3.0, which might today number five thousand subscribers.
There were and are some women in the Klan’s auxiliary: The Dixie Protestant Women’s Political League. “We (Ku Klux Klan) are not dangerous, but Atlanta and Georgia and the country will hear much from us from now on,” said Mrs. E.N. Gibbs in 1922. On May 28, 2011, a journalist took a photograph of: two female members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan don robes and hoods before the start of a cross-burning ceremony on private property near Powhatan, Virginia.
But not all Klansmen have hid behind a mask, and a few ex-Klansmen have been U.S. civil servants of undeniable eminence. Justice Hugo Black, a former Democratic senator from Alabama who was named to the Supreme Court by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937 and became one of the most influential judges of the twentieth century. Black is remembered today as a strong supporter of civil liberties and liberal policies. But in the 1920s, when Black was a politician, he gave anti-Catholic speeches, joined the Klan and let every voter in Alabama know he was a Klansman. Black later said, with regret, “I would have joined any group if it helped me get votes.” Democratic governor Roy Barnes finally removed the dishonorable Confederate flag from the Georgia state capitol in 2001. THE END