Here are some crucial dates that may help readers make sense of the early Ku Klux Klan organization as it appears in “Yankee Reconstructed.”
Winter 1865 –1866: The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Pulaski, TN, by a group of six Confederate veterans. Its original intent was as a purely social organization or a secret fraternity. Its name was taken from the Greek word for “circle” combined with the Scottish idea of “clan.” Its early members wore masks of various sorts to conceal their real identities.
Summer, 1867: They held a convention in Nashville. The presiding officer was Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was given the title of the “Grand Wizard.” This meeting defined the role of the organization as “The Invisible Empire of the South.”
1868: During the presidential election of 1868, Klan members unanimously supported the Democratic candidate, Horatio Seymour, who favored a return to white supremacy. They, along with other such quasi-military organizations, began a campaign of violence to keep black Republicans from voting for Ulysses S. Grant. Their goals included the destruction of congressional acts of Reconstruction and the re-establishment of white supremacy. Their methods included intimidation, beatings, lynchings, and murder. They failed to win the election, but they had effectively become the terrorist branch of the Democratic party.
1869: The organization began to spread throughout the southern states, attracting former Confederate soldiers, judges, cotton magnates, and others who wished for a return to the pre-war old South. Grant’s administration reacted by supporting the 15th Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed harsher restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new governments.
1870-1871: The Republican-dominated Congress passed the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime for anyone to attempt to prevent a black man from registering to vote, casting his vote, holding an elected office, or serving on a jury.
1871: Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which gave the federal government the power to act against terrorist organizations. Under its provisions, several thousand Klansmen were arrested and tried. Although it proved to be hard to get convictions, the publicity effectively put a stop to many of the Klan activities and scared off those who did not want their membership revealed.
1872. Congress declared the KKK Act unconstitutional, but by then the organization was effectively destroyed. Their goals remained unchanged, but they would find new ways to bring them about.
1915: William J. Simmons, a former Methodist preacher, organized a new Klan in Stone Mountain, Georgia as a patriotic, fraternal society. This new Klan directed its activity against not just blacks, but immigrants, Jews, and Roman Catholics. It is this second organization that most people think of today, when they hear the term Ku Klux Klan.