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Kkk, the Rise and Fall

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Essay title: Kkk, the Rise and Fall

KKK, the Rise and Fall

The original Ku Klux Klan was created after the end of the American Civil War on December 24, 1865, by educated, middle-class Confederate veterans from Tennessee. The name was constructed by combining the Greek name for “circle” (kyklos) with “clan.” It was, at first, a humorous social club, with practical jokes and hazing rituals. From 1866 to 1867, the Klan began breaking up black prayer meetings and invading black homes at night to steal firearms.

In an 1867 meeting in Nashville an effort was made to create an organization with local chapters reporting to county leaders, counties reporting to districts, districts reporting to state, and states reporting to a national headquarters. The proposals, in a document called the "Prescript," were written by George Gordon, a former Confederate brigadier general. The Prescript included goals of the Klan along with a list of questions to be asked of applicants for membership, which focused on resisting Reconstruction and the Republican Party. The applicant was to be asked whether he was a Republican, a Union Army veteran, or a member of the Loyal League; whether he was "opposed to Negro equality both social and political" and whether he was in favor of "a white man's government," "maintaining the constitutional rights of the South," "the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South, and the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights," and "the inalienable right of self-preservation of the people against the exercise of arbitrary and unlicensed power."

Despite the work that came out of the 1867 meeting, the Prescript was never accepted by any of the local units. They continued to operate , but there never were county, district or state headquarters.

According to one oral report, Gordon went to former slave trader and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis and told him about the new organization, to which Forrest replied, "That's a good thing; that's a damn good thing. We can use that to keep the niggers in their place." A few weeks later, Forrest was selected as Grand Wizard, the Klan's national leader.

The Klan sought to control the political and social status of the freed slaves. Specifically, it attempted to curb black education, economic advancement, voting rights, and the right to bear arms. However, the Klan's focus was not limited to African Americans; white Republicans also became the target of vicious intimidation tactics. Klan outrages were often targeted at schoolteachers and operatives of the federal Freedmen's Bureau. For example, Miss Allen of Illinois, whose school was at Cotton Gin Port in Monroe County, was visited one night in March, 1871 by about fifty men mounted on horses disguised in white robes, with their faces covered by a loose mask with scarlet stripes. She was ordered to get up and dress which she did at once and then admitted to her room the captain and lieutenant who in addition to the usual disguise had long horns on their heads and a sort of device in front. The lieutenant had a pistol in his hand and he and the captain sat down while eight or ten men stood inside the door and the porch was full. They treated her "gentlemanly and quietly" but complained of the heavy school-tax, said she must stop teaching and go away and warned her that they never gave a second notice. She heeded the warning and left the county.

The first Klan was never well organized. As a secret or "invisible" group, it had no membership rosters, no dues, no newspapers, no spokesmen, no chapters, no local officers, no state or national officials. Its popularity came from its reputation, which was greatly helped by its extreme costumes and its wild and threatening manner. As historian Elaine Frantz Parsons discovered:

"Lifting the Klan mask revealed a chaotic multitude of antiblack vigilante groups, disgruntled poor white farmers, wartime guerrilla bands, displaced Democratic politicians, illegal whiskey distillers, coercive moral reformers, bored young men, sadists, rapists, white workmen fearful of black competition, employers trying to enforce labor discipline, common thieves, neighbors with decades-old grudges, and even a few freedmen and white Republicans who allied with Democratic whites or had criminal agendas of their own. Indeed, all they had in common, besides being overwhelmingly white, southern, and Democratic, was that they called themselves, or were called, Klansmen."

Forrest's national organization had little control over the local Klans, which often operated under their own power. One Klan official complained that his own "so-called 'Chief'-ship was purely for

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