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The Atrocities of the Ku Klux Klan

Ross T. Crooks

November 14, 2000

From the early years of American civilization, a racial tension has existed between Whites and African Americans. These feelings of hatred are most likely rooted in the practice of slavery in the 1800?s. Many extremist groups have been formed, holding strong opinions regarding these racial issues. The Ku Klux Klan is the largest of these racist organizations. Their purpose is to create a society where the White Aryan population is superior and dominant. They feel that the rights of White Christians are being oppressed in order to give opportunities to other races. They also feel that minorities as a whole in America are draining our resources but not providing for our society in a positive way (Pendergraft 1). The Ku Klux Klan intends to create a sense of pride in American Heritage at the expense of the racial minorities. Throughout history, they have used numerous violent and threatening methods to enforce their position. The Ku Klux Klan members have committed an uncountable number of human rights violations over the years and it is the responsibility of American citizens to speak out in order to stop these violent and hateful acts.

The Ku Klux Klan began innocently in the years following the Civil War. It was founded in the office of Judge Thomas M. Jones in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866. The six original members, Captain John C. Lester, Major James R. Crowe, John B. Kennedy, Calvin Jones, Richard Reed and Frank O. McCord, were Confederate veterans searching for amusement in the dull post-war era (Trelease 3). The name ?Ku Klux Klan? was chosen for its mysterious, alliterate sound; and it is derived from the Greek word ?kuklos? meaning band or circle (4). The Klan was founded purely for the amusement of the members, and their early activities were completely irrelevant to the violent and intimidating acts to come. The early Klan members were merely considered ?pranksters? who dressed up in odd attire and made public appearances as a group. There is no evidence of hateful motives in the founding of the group (5).

About a year after the Klan?s founding, the activities became violent and hateful. Threats and other cruel acts were made against blacks in the South, much to the founder?s dismay. In a letter to the press, written in April of 1868, one of the six original members of the Klan stated:

It is to be lamented that the simple object of the original Ku-Kluxes should be so perverted as to become political and pernicious in its demonstrations. If it has to become a regular organization, with guerilla and ?lynch-law? attributes, then better the Ku Klux had never been heard of, and the sooner such an organization is dissolved the better for the country at large?especially for the South. ?and every good man and sensible patriot should persistently express his disapprobation of them (6).

The Klan?s evolution towards racist violence began in 1867 with the appointment of Nathan Bedford Forest as the first Imperial Wizard, the highest ranking in the hierarchy of Klansmen. The Klan focused their hatred on African Americans as well as black supporters in the southern states. During this time, many lynchings took place, mostly involving African Americans. Two years later, the Ku Klux Klan disbanded due to governmental pressure and threats of persecution. However, many Klansmen continued their racist campaign on a smaller scale (www.berea.edu). Between the years of 1882 an 1968, 4,743 people were killed by means of lynching; 3,446 of those were African Americans (Zangrando). The man responsible for much of this violence is William J. Simmons, who reorganized the Klan in 1915. He focused their attention not only on blacks, but communists, Jews and labor union advocates as well. Under his leadership, the Klan became as powerful as it had ever been (www.berea.edu).

There are currently many different divisions of the Ku Klux Klan. These include the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Knights and the Confederate Knights of America. Just as there are many different organizations related to the Klan, there are also many differing views offered by these groups. Some are more radical in their beliefs, holding strong anti-black perspectives. Others claim to be peaceful organizations, merely striving for a stronger nation. For example, Jeff Berry, an imperial wizard of the American Knights, argues that blacks are not the only focus of their group. He states:

Our opinion of a nigger, no matter what color they are, is a dirty, lowdown person who takes and takes and takes from society and does not give anything back. So therefore, my definition of a nigger shouldn?t offend somebody because of their color. There?s sitting out there, you know, different Klans. Different Klans have different views. Even in my organization, there is a few people?if they see a black person?that is a nigger, there is hate. ?me, if I see a black person, my theory is?do not judge a book by its cover (Weller 76).

Berry still insists that he is color-blind in regards to his activism. For example, he speaks reverently of the Honorable Ellis Reid, an African American Judge in Cook County. Berry says, ?Now this is one of the finest men I?ve ever met. Now, he is black, but he?s no nigger (Weller 77).?

Although almost every white supremacy group claims to be peaceful in its activism, many race related hate crimes are still taking place in our modern society. Terri Langford, a journalist for the Associated Press, writes about a trial in Jasper, Texas involving the brutal murder of an African American man. James Byrd Jr. was picked up on the side of the road by three white supremacists. They chained him to the rear bumper of the pick-up truck and dragged him for three miles. His body was torn into several pieces. Although the accused men were not members of the Ku Klux Klan, they were attempting to gain the respect of such racist groups, the prosecutor stated.

The Ku Klux Klan, as well as other extremist groups, have the right to spread their message in America. It is the responsibility of each individual to exercise his or her right to free speech as well. We must spread the message of unity and equality in order to counteract the negative views expressed by this hate group. Due to free speech, it is impossible to pass laws leading to the extermination of the Ku Klux Klan. As long as their message is not threatening to any certain group of individuals, they will be allowed to share it. Therefore, people who do not believe in the white supremacist ideals of the Ku Klux Klan must take action. A positive message must be spread on an individual level, excluding government involvement. Public marches and parades can be organized to promote peace and equality among all races. It is up to each individual to take an active role in fighting hateful and racist behavior. So we must decide what type of country we wish to live in, one separated by violence and racial tension, or one that operates peacefully with equality for all people.

1. Trelease, Allen W. ?White Terror? Harper & Row 1971: pgs. 3-6

2. Weller, Worth. ?Under the Hood: Unmasking the Modern Ku Klux Klan? DeWitt Books 1999: pgs. 76-77

3. Langford, Terri. Associated Press Article, September 15, 1999.

4. Pendergraft, Rachel. welcome address

5. Zangrando, Robert L. www.english.uiuc.edu

6. No Author. www.berea.edu

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