If the mention of how deeply Slavery is interwoven into the Confederacy is a buzzkill for members of the
Republican Confederate Party as they celebrate Confederate History Month, just imagine what might happen if you bring up the Night Riders (AKA the KKK).
Talk about being a party pooper. And yet the Klan must be mentioned if any celebration of Confederate History Month is to be fully complete. I’m just trying to help out.
It is very hard to avoid the direct link between the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. Lee surrendered on April 9th. And a month later on May 9 one of his most radical Generals, Nathan Beford Forrest ‘surrendered’. He didn’t leave the field of battle for long. He went home to Tennessee and on December 24 in Pulaski Tennessee a group of Confederate Veterans met and formed the Ku Klux Klan. Whether or not Forester was at or involved with that meeting is lost to history, but by 1867 he was widely acknowledged as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. By 1868 he was bragging to newspapers that the KKK had 40,000 members in Tennessee and 550,000 across the South (I imagine that most were former Confederate getting back together with their units for a little camaraderie and domestic terrorism on the side).
The first wave of the KKK was during Reconstruction. In defeat the Confederate Party was without political power and so they quickly turned to terrorism. While Robert E Lee did not take to the woods to extend the conflict, his Generals like Forrest did and many of his troops followed this call to violence and terror as tools to score political victories that they could not win at the ballot box. And the tactic worked. By the 1890s the Night Riders had done their part, Jim Crow laws were firmly in place and the Confederate Party had a strong power base in the Democratic Party. No longer needed, the KKK began to fade away.
And then in the wake of World War I the Confederate Party felt threatened again. Not only were African-Americans organizing and fighting for their rights, some just back from the war were willing to fight back in the streets. And then their was the rise of Unions and these ethnic religious groups from Europe–especially those Romans and those Jews. In 1915 the Klan began their second act in America with a mass market media campaign through the propaganda film, Birth of a Nation (also known as The Clansman). It was a big hit and within a decade the ranks of the KKK swelled to 6 million.
Along the way race riots popped up all over America. These were your traditional American Race riots where mobs of angry whites hunted down and killed people of color. There were so many riots in 1919 that it was called “Red Summer”. In 1921 riots in Tulsa ethnically cleansed the black population from the town killing between 300 and 3,000–depending upon which reports one chooses to believe. And in 1923 the town of Rosewood, Florida was wiped off the map by white rioters. In addition to these riots the first and second iterations of the KKK led to an endless number of lynchings, beatings, rapes and other manifestations of terror.
This second awakening of the Klan is well documented. This pamphlet tries to put a loving face on the Klan and push back on the idea that it is all about hate. Here is a sample:
When jangling voices are hushed and the clamor of intolerant opposition is stilled, so that the Klan can have an uninterrupted hearing. Its true message will be heard and its true mission will be understood by those persons who –really desire to be informed. When rightly comprehended by those to whom it may rightfully make appeal, the Klan will win merited appreciation as a beneficent factor in the life of America. It will gain this approving appeasement because of its positive contribution to all that is right, and Just, and good, in all phases of American life. An evil association teaching a doctrine of hate, and addressing itself to the task of generating bigotry and strife has no place in America and should not be permitted to exist. If this were the message and mission of the Klan. it should be destroyed. And every true Klansman, who is a real Christian patriot, would aid in its destruction. But the mission of the Klan is harmony, and the message of the Klan is love.
Who knew that the Klan was all about “love” and “harmony”. Sounds like a regular Teaparty to me. And then there is this Klan Manual from 1925. With just a few revisions it could be a TeaParty manifesto:
OBJECTS AND PURPOSES ( ARTICLE II, THE CONSTITUTION )
This is its primary purpose: “To unite white male persons, native-born, Gentile citizens of the United States of America, who owe no allegiance of any nature or degree to any foreign government, nation, institution, sect, ruler, person, or people; whose morals are good; whose reputations and vocations are respectable; whose habits are exemplary; who are of sound minds and eighteen years or more of age, under a common oath into a brotherhood of strict regulations.”
The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is a movement devoting itself to the needed task of developing a genuine spirit of American patriotism. Klansmen are to be examples of pure patriotism. They are to organize the patriotic sentiment of native-born white, Protestant Americans for the defense of distinctively American institutions. Klansmen are dedicated to the principle that America shall be made American through the promulgation of American doctrines, the dissemination of American ideals, the creation of wholesome American sentiment, the preservation of American institutions.
The movement is designed to create a real brotherhood among men who are akin in race, belief, spirit, character, interest, and purpose. The teachings of the order indicate very clearly the attitude and conduct that make for real expression of brotherhood, or, “the practice of Klannishness.”
“To relieve the injured and the oppressed; to succor the suffering and unfortunate, especially widows and orphans.”
The supreme pattern for all true Klansmen is their Criterion of Character, Jesus Christ, “who went about doing good.” The movement accepts the full Christian program of unselfish helpfulness, and will seek to carry it on in the manner commanded by the one Master of Men, Christ Jesus.
I. The Home. “To shield the sanctity of the home.” The American home is fundamental to all that is best in life, in society, in church, and in the nation. It is the most sacred of human institutions. Its sanctity is to be preserved, its interests are to be safeguarded, and its well-being is to be promoted. Every influence that seeks to disrupt the home must itself be destroyed. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would protect the home by promoting whatever would make for its stability, its betterment, its safety, and its inviolability.
2. Womanhood. The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan declares that it is committed to “the sacred duty of protecting womanhood”; and announces that one of its purposes is “to shield . . . the chastity of womanhood.” The degradation of women is a violation of the sacredness of human personality, a sin against the race, a crime against society, a menace to our country, and a prostitution of all that is best, and noblest, and highest in life. No race, or society, or country, can rise higher than its womanhood.
3. The Helpless. “To protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal.” Children, the disabled, and other helpless ones are to know the protective, sheltering arms of the Klan.
4. American Interests. “To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the states and the people thereof from all invasion of their right from any source whatsoever.”
“To maintain forever white supremacy.” “To maintain forever the God- given supremacy of the white race.” Every Klansman has unqualifiedly affirmed that he will “faithfully strive for the eternal maintenance of white supremacy.”
Of course the modern
Republican Confederate Party will shy away from that last point, but many of the folks at the TeaParties do not. And yet, the Night Riders and their use of violence to win victories when the ballot box fails has been an ongoing part of the Confederacy Party for over 150 years. Their embrace of violence and domestic terrorism rises whenever they feel threatened.
In the wake of the Great Depression the Klan lost influence. They had their third great awakening in the 1970s and 1980s when the post Civil Rights era gave them agita. In the mid-eighties I lived in Georgia and it was common on any given weekend to see a Klan Rally on the road between Atlanta and Athens–I passed these dozens of of times. By the end of the eighties the Confederate Party had found a new political host in the Republican Party and the need to use the violence of the Klan to promote their agenda faded.
Now, a black man is President and their political power is fading. Already the number of hate groups is rising and the threats of violence are escalating. I will not be surprised if the
Republican Confederate Party is planning the fourth awakening of the Klan as part of their 2011 celebration of Confederate History Month.
I know bringing up the close ties between the Confederacy and the Klan is a buzzkill for some, but as Haley Barbour might say, it is a nit that needed to be diddled.