The first KKK was founded in 1865 as a charitable organization to help widows and orphans. It turned to violence in 1870 and was dismantled in 1871 by law. A second organization by the same name was founded in 1915 and yet a third incarnation surfaced during World War II.
- 1964: three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were ambushed and shot to death with the assistance of the local police, in Meridien Mississippi.
- 1963: Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four girls were killed in the bombing. The bombing helped prompt President Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- 1963: Assassination of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers
Organization and Membership:
The first Klan was created by six men from Pulaski Tennessee, in the image of other secret societies of the day. The hierarchical organization with local chapters housed under a national umbressa structure. The officer structure was accompanied by an elaborate title structure, as laid out in the 1868 document, Organization and Priniciples of the Ku Klux Klan:
The officers of this Order shall consist of a Grand Wizard of the Empire and his ten Genii; a Grand Dragon of the Realm and his eight Hydras; a Grand Titan of the Dominion and his six Furies; a Grand Giant of the Province and his four Goblins; a Grand Cyclops of the Den and his two Night Hawks; a Grand Magi, a Grand Monk, a Grand Scribe, a Grand Exchequer, a Grand Turk, and a Grand Sentinel.
The Klan is organized as a brotherhood, and has state and national organization. Some believe it has as many as 8,000 members today in about 150 Klan chapters, although estimates range from around 2,500 - 6,000 possible members.
History and context:
The first KKK was formed in the American South at the end of the civil war, when the victorious Union government imposed a version of martial law on the south and began to enforce laws designed to end segregation against black citizens. When a constitutional amendment granted black men the right to vote in 1870, the group turned to intimidation and violence to try to halt de-segregation.
They used a variety of tactics to harass and intimidate blacks and sympathetic whites including putting burning crosses on the lawns of individuals, arson, riding in groups by horseback near communities they wanted to frighten, and beating, rape and lynching (hanging).
The group was outlawed in 1871 by Congress. It was revived again in 1915 as a paramilitary group. In the 1920s, the Klan had substantial political power, especially in the south. It is believed to have had as many as 5 million members in this period. This group also collapsed for a variety of reasons.
In World War II, the group was again revived. In the 1960s, it committed a number of high profile acts to protest civil rights advances. Local groups continue to hold meetings and rallies today. Its rallies, web sites and other expressions of its views are protected by the 1st Amendment right to free speech, as long as that speech is not intended to intimidate. A 2002 Supreme Court case established that cross burning is designed to intimidate and is therefore not protected expression.
The KKK is distinguished by its unusual costume of long robes and tall, pointy white hats. These were adopted by the first KKK and meant to represent Klansmen as ghosts of angry Confederates. These costumes are still worn today and serve as an intimidating symbol that recalls the violent history of the organization.