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Ku Klux Klan

(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)


This is a picture showing the sight of an 1899 lynching. Used with permission from Harvard University.

The reason this organizations description is included on the Chesnutt home page is because Charles Chesnutt mentions the Ku Klux Klan in "Marrow Of Tradition". The Klan was also involved in several lynchings of black men and women in the 1800's which was obviously a concern to Chesnutt, being a black man during this time.


The Klan was started in 1866 by six ex-Confederate soldiers. The Ku Klux Klan was created as a social club which was called Kuklos. The phrase Kuklos in Greek means circle. The Kuklos was not started because of racial animosity nor did they have any political motivation, they just dressed in their white sheets and pillow covers and played pranks during the night.

In 1867, the Kuklos began to focus on racism. It was at this time that Nathan Bedford Forest took charge and was named the first Imperial Wizard. Under the leadership of Forest, the Klan began terrorizing the South, with their prime target being African Americans and black supporters. They also targeted white Southern Republicans and the school teachers who worked with African Americans.

In 1869, Forest disbanded the Klan because of threats of governmental punishment. Even though the organization itself was disbanded, several Klansmen refused to give up. These men kept blacks from the election polls and protested black universities.

In 1915, William J. Simmons reorganized the Klan and by 1924 they became the strongest they had ever been. William J Simmons, a Alabama native, was a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He was also a practicing physician. Simmons was the man who brought the symbol of the burning cross to the Klan during his first meeting as Imperial Wizard on Thanksgiving day of 1915. The burning cross is claimed by the Klansmen as a symbol of Jesus Christ being the light of the world. Simmons' Klan had a different focus than the earlier Klan, their focus was not solely on black people but communists, Jewish people, catholics and even labor union organizers. Simmons also organized two other white supremacy groups in 1915. These two groups were called the Knights of the Flaming Sword and the Caucasian Crusade. These groups, unlike the Ku Klux Klan, died within a matter of years.

Since 1866 the Ku Klux Klan has gone by several names: they have called themselves the White Patriot Party, the National Association of White People, the White Aryan Resistance Party, the Knights of the Rising Sun, and even the Black Calvary of Alabama.

This party that has been known for some of the most brutal lynchings in the history of African Americans is still around today. However, today they focus more on intimidation than they do on violence. I guess one can say that is a step toward equality. The only way true equality will be reached is if every man, woman, and child can and will walk together as friends no matter what their skin color is.


Information compiled from: Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: 1989. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, North Carolina . WWW. Harvard-magazine.com/nd96/right.lynch.html. Dictionary of American Biogrphy 1973. Supliment 3 Charles Scribner's Sons. New York, New York. American National Biography. 1999. Oxford University Press. New York, New York. Lhalmers, David: Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan. 1996: New York, New York.