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"Invisible Empire of the South"

Updated on July 9, 2011

Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was born soon after the Civil War in 1865. In actuality, it was the first true American terrorist group and since its beginning, has been an organization of hate and violence.

The KKK originally began as a social club by a group of Confederate Army veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee. Their name, Ku Klux Klan comes from the Greek "kyklos," meaning circle, and the English word clan. In 1867, the Klan became known as the "Invisible Empire of the South" at a convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Klan is classified by many as a racist, anti-Semitic, group movement using extreme violence to achieve racial segregation and white supremacy. Of all the types of right-wing hate groups in the United States, the Klan has the most national and local organizations. There are over 40 different Klan groups, many having multiple chapters, or “klaverns.” Numbering over 100.

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest is believed to have been the first Grand Wizard, the title for the head of the organization. Their white costumes consisted of robes, masks, and conical hats designed to be bizarre and frightening and to hide their identities from occupying Federal troops.

Secret Vigilante Group

Their initial goal was to wipe out Congressional Reconstruction by murdering blacks and whites suspected of supporting the Republican party or educating black children. In effect, they became a secret vigilante group.

Klansmen burned houses sometimes with families still inside. They drove black farmers from their land and suppressed black voting. More than 2,000 persons were killed or wounded in Louisiana within several weeks preceding the Presidential election of November 1868.

Shortly after the turn of the century in 1915 a former Methodist preacher, William J. Simmons, formed a new Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia, supposedly a patriotic Protestant fraternal organization. This time however, the Klan expanded to include immigrants, Jews and Roman Catholics. Their membership grew rapidly to over 2 million by the mid 1920’s.

About that time a movie was produced titled “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Klan and dehumanized blacks. At the official premier in Atlanta, members of the Klan rode up and down the street. The action proved to be a viable recruiting tool. Thus, the organization also became a powerful political faction having many public officials as members.

The film included extensive quotations from Woodrow Wilson's “History of the American People,” in an attempt to convince the public he favored the production. After seeing the film Wilson allegedly said, "It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." His statement was immediately taken as support for the film and sparked major controversy. Wilson tried to remain detached from the situation, but finally, on April 30, he issued a statement denying any support.

However, dissension among the leaders and public outcry over their violent tactics, which included cross burning, torture and murder, weakened their infrastructure. By 1944 the Klan had lost most of its membership.

It emerged again in smaller numbers during the civil rights era of the 1960’s. They continue to hold demonstrations advocating white supremacy and fundamental Christianity.

Klan history has been divided into 3 distinct eras. The first was in the South during the 1860’s which faded out around the early 1870’s. The second flourished nationally in the mid 1920s, They kept the same costumes and code words but introduced cross burnings. It became a symbol of intimidation. The third era began after WW11. Their notoriety became more publicized during the civil rights era of the 1960’s.

After a relatively quiet period, Klan activity surged upwards in 2006 and added few more groups to their enemy list. They attempted to take advantage of fears over gay marriage, perceived assaults on Christianity, crime and specifically immigration.

In most cases, these “enemies” were minority groups. These minorities had begun to come into direct economic competition with lower working-class whites that made up a majority of Klan membership.

During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Neo-Nazi eclipsed the Klan taking the public spotlight. But their time in the limelight was short lived with many groups collapsing. This collapse brought about a new breed of racists called “Skin Heads.”

Also during this time a large number of immigrants, mostly Hispanics, began streaming into American communities. Once again, the Klan took advantage of the situation by beginning a movement opposing Hispanic immigration Their anti immigrant sentiments fanned the fear and anxieties of many Americans attracting more recruits and publicity.

The Klan was also essentially a military force aiding the interests of the Democratic Party and others desiring a restoration of white supremacy. Its purposes became political aiming to reverse changes sweeping the South during Reconstruction and to destroy the Republican Party’s infrastructure. The mission was to reestablish control of the black labor force and restore racial subordination.

The number of indictments across the South was large but the number of prosecutions was small. The overloaded federal courts could simply not handle such a tremendous number of cases.

The modern KKK is not one organization. It is composed of small, independent chapters, which has made it difficult to infiltrate, and hard to estimate their numbers. Many groups have formed alliances with other white supremacist groups, such as neo-Nazis.


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    • profile image

      Joseph Cotillo 

      7 years ago

      I'm 78 years old, served in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, traveled and lived all over the world. I consider the actions of the Klan to be similar to tactics of the Left Wing Bomb throwing Russian Revolutionaries. Most of the Left Wing Socialist countries I lived in, Yugoslavia 1968, and etc., had a Secret Empire to stay in business. All over the world the Socialists TAKE power if they can't legally get voted in. They assume that their way is the only way to save the world.

    • grayghost profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a very interesting, balanced, and informative hub about a dark and ugly piece of America's history and culture.

      I'm glad that you didn't go with the "extreme right wing group" descriptive that is so often used by today's media to describe this group (actually essentially organized by Democrat Party supporters of the era), or the Nazi's of Germany (not "right wing" but rather, Socialists). The incorrect "right wing" characterization of these groups is not used accidentally by much of today's media, rather, it is deliberate and intended to link them to our political right (Republicans, Conservatives, Tea Party advocates, etc) somehow as bedfellows to such hatred.

      Well researched and well written!

    • U Neek profile image

      U Neek 

      8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      My finding this is very timely as our GA history class has been studying the period just after the Civil War and there was mention of the KKK but not much detail. Thank you for a very informative article on the KKK.

    • safiq ali patel profile image

      safiq ali patel 

      8 years ago from United States Of America

      Racism and extremism is never pleasant. White supremacy, neo nazism and the KKK are never the less a part of American history. This hub presents some interesting facts about our socio-political history. Racism is never pleasant but the struggle for equality and civil rights does always make interesting reading. A useful hub with some new data.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      8 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I couldn't have said it better myself.

    • SpanStar profile image


      8 years ago

      It is unfortunate the KKK has been instrumental in racial division in America. Their bias, murderous and torturous techniques to bring about an unrealistic superior race has made for long-term distrust, racial conflicts between the races. The idea of looking down on another race as if someone or some group could in fact be superior to the other when all are made exactly the same as everyone else, is a sickness of the mind.

      Selfish hate groups such as these backwards thinking people has no place in or among humanity!

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      There's a sucker born every minute a wise man once said.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 

      9 years ago from Corona, California.

      Hi JY, interesting hub. I have always been interested in the KKK. Only because I don't like them. Be it KKK, Neo-Nazi or Skin Heads, they are all terrorists. My interest is in how people can be so weak minded to let themselves be twisted into their phoney beliefs. As in my hub, "Followers Instead of Leaders", people let themselves be led instead of thinking for themselves. I like your hub and hate intimidation and bullying, whether it's one person or a group. Good job. Greg


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