Michael Fisher

                                                 The Ku Klux Klan

I) Abstract

         The Ku Klux Klan is composed entirely of white, Anglo-saxon, Christian American citizens, both male and female, who believe that their race and religion are superior to those of people of other colors and religions. The Ku Klux Klan has mostly targeted African-Americans in the past due to the freeing of the slaves by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It was therefore at the time just after the end of the war between the states that the Ku Klux Klan was formed by ex-Confederate soldiers. Southerners at this time saw their way of life before the war completely turned upside down and took out their frustration on recently freed blacks. Lynching and other assaults on blacks were commonly committed by Klansmen who were not punished by the government for their crimes. In fact, as depicted in the film “Birth of a Nation”, the Ku Klux Klan was viewed as a group of brave white heroes who gallantly saved whites from aggressive blacks in the early twentieth century. As time has gone by, the KKK has also been known to heavily discriminate against people of Jewish faith. Bombing of synagogues has been a common act of violence against Jews by the Klan in the past. In addition, the Ku Klux Klan has helped with Mexican border control and claims that when the Klan is on patrol on the border, Mexican illegal aliens are too afraid to come across.[1]  It is acts such as this that Klan used to intimidate its opponents into succumbing to its wants. The KKK uses words from the Holy Bible and teachings from Protestant Reverends to support its cause and justify its actions.

 

II. Scope and Purpose of the System

           The Ku Klux Klan is a group of American white supremacists who believe that all non-Caucasian peoples are inferior and that they have no place in the United States which is only truly home to white Christians. All members of the Ku Klux Klan must be one hundred percent white and Christian. These people feel that they must unite and create “white power” to defend the white race from other races found in America. They also claim that whites must maintain control of the United States and keep all people of other races and religions from gaining power. Klansmen feel a strong sense of hate towards anyone who is not of their race and religion. They discriminate against these people, and have been known to use acts of violence to intimidate and hold down other races. Traditionally, the Ku Klux Klan has focused the majority of its hate on African-Americans and Jews. Members of the Klan however, are very helpful to one another and look out for the well being of fellow members.
          The Ku Klux Klan, though hardly influential today, has been found in operation all over the nation in the past as recently as the late 1980’s. A majority of its members lived in the South where the group began. However, as the Klan grew it spread all throughout the North, and the western United States. The group was especially active in the South due to the fact that slave-owners resented the emancipation of black slaves after the loss of the Civil War, and were frustrated with the horrible condition of the South during reconstruction.  

 

III. Authority Structure
          The number one source of knowledge for the Ku Klux Klan is the Holy Bible. Members of the Klan believe in the literal truth of the Bible. One KKK member once wrote, “the Klansmen pins his faith to the Bible as the revealed will of GOD.” In fact many active Klansmen were ordained ministers. In addition, the majority of the members belong to some Protestant church.[2] The religious ideals of the group could be found in ceremonies such as the Klan baptism of an eight-week-old child in 1924 by a gathering of hooded members.[3]  In the early 1980’s, new religious fundamentalists used very similar rhetoric about Christian supremacy. The Reverend Bailey Smith, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention announces in 1980, “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” He continued by adding the fact that God can’t possibly hear the prayer of someone who does not believe Jesus Christ is the true Messiah.[4] The Klan takes direct action against those who do not share its beliefs or those who it simply views as inferior based on its readings of the Bible.  Klansmen recognize the differences of other groups and translate them into justification for hate.
         Rituals and ceremonies are also very important and commonly used by the Ku Klux Klan. For example, an elaborate initiation ritual is carried out for new members, and the custom of wearing white robes and hoods sets the members apart from other citizens and provides for them a special identity. Cross burning is a very common practice among members of the Klan. This ritual is used mainly as a form of intimidation against those people hated by the Klan. Often the burning cross is driven into the ground and left standing where the targeted group can see it. This ritual has also been called “cross lighting”, a term used by David Duke and other Klansmen in the 1970’s to illustrate that “Christ is the light of the world.”[5]   
          In the Klan, rituals and ceremonies are held which help instill Klan values and beliefs in the members. However, most members already have a strong sense of white supremacist thought in their heads before they join the Klan. Ordained ministers in the Klan preach the Christian aspect of the Ku Klux Klan to members. These clergymen have been trained in the Church and added their own views to their religion to create an interpretation of the Bible that fits the creed of the Ku-Klux Klan. Important figures such as leaders like Imperial Wizards lead the Klan and mobilize its efforts into structured political fights. For example marches through streets like Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. were common when the Klan was more active. These marches are generally to protest something the Klan does not agree with such as Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, or Gay rights.

 

IV. History
         The original Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee during Reconstruction sometime between December 1865 and August 1866. The exact date is unknown due to varying reports of the time as well as conflicting accounts of the event by the principals involved. On June 5, 1867, Klansmen celebrated the group’s first anniversary with a gala parade. The name was adapted from the Greek work “kuklos” meaning circle. Clan was added at the end but spelled with a “K” for visual effect. The six founders of the Klan were John Lester, James Crowe, John Kennedy, Calvin Jones, Richard Reed, and Frank McCord. Each of these men was a Confederate veteran. They were all also well educated and from wealthy families. The original Klan as created by these men was intended as a social organization with “fun and frolic” in mind.[6] At the time of the Klan’s birth, in Pulaski, Tennessee, there were no jobs available, and the state was under tight military control. The six founders of the Klan, like many residents of Pulaski, had nothing to do and had grown restless. For this reason they decided to create their own club.
           The actions of the early Ku Klux Klan were intended merely as a source of entertainment. Nightly activities consisted of posing as ghosts of Confederate dead to tease and scare black freedmen. The Klansmen also played practical jokes on blacks, though perhaps without any sinister motivation. Post Civil War reconstruction of the South, changed this playful attitude. Diehard Confederates gravitated toward the Klan as a way to defeat black suffrage, continue white supremacy, and restore Democratic party rule to the South. In the spring of 1867, at Nashville’s Maxwell House Hotel, a secret reorganizational meeting was held. Klansmen here endorsed a new constitution, planned a four-year guerrilla war against the federal government in Washington. Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Confederate cavalry leader and slave trader, was chosen as the grand wizard of the KKK. With the next three years, KKK members and allies like the Knights of the White Camellia committed over 2,000 murders and many floggings, rapes, castrations, brandings, and shootings. In 1869, Forrest issued a ban on masked violence, and urged Klansmen to keep a low profile and save ammunition for legitimate emergencies. In the early 1870’s the Klan gradually faded out as it successfully terrorized black voters, drove carpetbaggers out, and maintained Democratic party rule in the South.

          The Klan of the twentieth century was born in November 1915 by Imperial Wizard William J. Simmons. After a period of relative inactivity, Simmons revived the Klan. He recruited publicists to spice up the group’s image. Using modern salesmanship and “old-fashioned bigotry, he built a large empire. Hiram Evans, a Texas dentist, replaced Simmons in 1922 and led the Klan until June 1939 when the Great Depression caused many to leave the group as its reputation of violence and corruption gave it a negative image. James Colescott succeeded Evans but failed to fully revive the Klan. From this time up until today, many local “splinter groups” survived or have been created, though the Klan has never reached the size it had prior to 1939.[7]  Not nearly as powerful or noticeable today, the KKK still exists and can send messages easily via the internet. Although anyone interested can access these websites, and many people do, violent acts committed by the KKK today are basically unheard of.

 

V. Representative Examples of Argumentation
          Today the White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan use quotes from the Bible as well as examples from world history to support their beliefs. As this group attempts to define Christian identity they give reasons why white Christians are a superior people. They state that “it is the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Scandinavian people that has created great nations and civilizations. Through our laws and technology we have helped raise the standard of living for all the people on earth. Through our great knowledge in farming and agriculture we have helped feed the world and have taught others how to feed themselves.“ This belief provides for the Klansman his sense of racial superiority.
          The Camelia Knights state that they look to Christ’s own words to defend their opinions. They quote Jesus as saying to the Jews in John 10:24-27: “ye are not of my sheep…My sheep here my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The Knights add that there is only one group of people that has always followed Christ and they are White Anglo-Saxon Christians. They discuss how Christians have spread their religion all over the world using missionaries so that people across the world “could live a more productive and stable and moral life here on earth.” However, the Knights also believe that one of the worst violations of the Heavenly Father’s law is the mingling of their (white race’s) seed with that of the other peoples of the earth. For this reason the Klan opposes racial mixing.[8]  

 

VI. Suggested Position in Comparative Scales (1-10 scale)
        A) The Ku Klux Klan upholds God and Jesus Christ as the major authorities that all Klansmen should praise. They feel that what they do is God’s will and follows the word of Christ. By interpreting the Bible so that it parallels with their agenda of hate and racial discrimination the Klan sees itself as a group of good, moral, and responsible Christian American citizens. On a one to ten scale, where one is emphasis on traditional authority and ten is the testimony of experience, the KKK gets a five. This is because they believe in traditional Christian authority, but also judge people as they observe them in social situations. 

          B) There is also a centralization of authority within the Klan itself.  On the scale, if one is centralized authority and ten is decentralized, the Klan scores a one. There is a set chain of command in which an Emperor or Spiritual Head is at the top. Below him are the Imperial Wizard or Chief Executive, Imperial Kleagle or Chief Treasurer, a Grand Goblin or Section Chief, a King Kleagle or Head of Provisional State, and below these are more positions of lesser stature. Less responsibility rests on positions as they go down the ladder of Klan ranks.[9]  
         C) The Klan also combines a strong emphasis on invisible and spiritual or heavenly realities along with material, earthly ones as well. The Ku Klux Klan believes whole heartedly in the Heavenly Father, GOD and also in Jesus Christ. The Bible is held very dear and its teachings used in Klan thoughts and ideas. After all, being a Christian is basically necessary for one to become a member of the Ku Klux Klan. As for material realities, the Klan focuses much attention on the physical differences between races and ethnicities. Certain groups of people are discriminated by the Klan simply because they look different. Black people are a good example of this because many of them are Christian but are still labeled as part of an inferior race by the Klan. The Klan also uses its elaborate robes and hooded white outfits as a way to hide one’s identity while also separating members from other ordinary citizens.  The Klan scores a five with one being invisible realities and ten being material because it uses some of both.
         D) The objective of the Klan is to help the White Anglo-Saxon Christian people thrive and be superior to all other races. They believe in helping one another in order to keep their people strong as a united race. With one being moral or spiritual objectives and ten being pragmatic, the Klan scores a one because it believes that white Christians are morally and spiritually superior.

           E) The power recognized by the Klan does not seem to be strictly reserved for a divine being such as God. The Klansmen instead feel that God’s power is in every white Christian individual and can be realized by a Klan member. If one is power held by a divine being and ten is power held by individuals, the Klan scores a five because it holds the power of God and Jesus high, but also believes in the power of each of its members. Together these individuals create what the Klan refers to as “white power”.
                                                 

Bibliography

 

Primary Source:


White Camelia Knights. Website: www.wckkkk.com, 2001-2002. Date accessed: March 13, 2003.


-A very extensive website several links. I used mainly the Christian Identity page with states exactly what being a Christian and Klan member really means. It tells why Christianity and the white race are so important to the Klan. This site provides information on almost every aspect of the Klan. It even tells one how to go about joining the Klan. Clearly this website is updated often and worked on very hard by current members. This really gave me an insight about exactly what Klansmen really think about themselves. It was more helpful than a history book because the words on this site come straight from Klan members themselves. This gives a direct impression of what the Klan is doing today and what it believes.

 

Secondary Sources:


Maclean, Nancy. Behind the Mask of Chivalry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.


-This book was very helpful and gives lots of information on the history of the Ku Klux Klan in the 20th century. Many diagrams and pictures are provided to give a visual idea of what the Klan is. Real photographs with captions are given as well. Overall a great source which I found useful.


Newton, Michael. The Ku Klux Klan: An Encyclopedia. London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991.


-An excellent source for quick references. Contains lengthy information on almost all terms related to the Klan. Very easy to use and search for certain keywords. I used it to gather most of my research.


Wade, Wyn Craig. The Fiery Cross. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.


-A very good source with in depth information on Klan activities and religious beliefs. Also filled with real photographs of Klan scenes. An interesting and helpful account of the Ku Klux Klan and what it really is.

 



[1] Wade- The Fiery Cross

[2] MacLean- Behind the Mask of Chivalry

[3] Wade- The Fiery Cross

[4] Wade- The Fiery Cross

[5] Newton- The KKK: An Encyclopedia

[6] Newton- The KKK: An Encyclopedia

[7] Newton- The KKK: An Encyclopedia

[8] White Camelia Knights Website

[9] Wade- The Fiery Cross