Masaryk university in brno faculty of education

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Department of English Language and Literature

A Comparison of the Ideology of the Ku Klux Klan in Civil Rights Era and in Present Days

Bachelor Thesis

Brno 2009

Supervisor: Written by:

Michael George, M.A. Klára Kováčová

I would like to express my thanks to Michael George, M.A. who kindly helped with my research and brought in many useful comments as the supervisor of this bachelor thesis. I also thank him for providing many materials for my research.


I declare that I wrote up this bachelor thesis on my own and used only the sources listed in the bibliography.


Klára Kováčová

1. Introduction 6

2. History of the Ku Klux Klan 7

2.1 Creation and the 1st era of Ku Klux Klan 7

2.2 New Klan and 2nd period 8

2.3 Civil Right Movement and 3rd era of KKK 10

2.4 Forth Era of Ku Klux Klan 11

2.5 Ku Klux Klan now- 5th era 12

2.6 Symbols of Ku Klux Klan 13

3. Ku Klux Klan in 50’s and 60’s 14

3.1 The Civil Rights Movement 14

3.2 A Personality of a Klansman 19

3.3 Ku Klux Klan of 50’s and 60’ in general 22

3.4 The Cases of Violence 23

3.4.1. Emmett Till 23

3.4.2. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing 25

3.4.3 Viola Liuzzo 26

4. The Ku Klux Klan in present days 28

4.1 The Klan presenting itself 28

4.2 The Ku Klux Klan presented by Civil Rights Organizations 32

4.3 The Cases of Violence of Today’s Klan 36

5. Conclusion 38

6. Resume 39

7. Bibliography 40

7.1 Printed materials 40

7.2 Online Sources 41

1. Introduction

This thesis is dealing with the history and activities of the most known and biggest racist organization in the United States - the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization believing in the superiority of the white race. The Klan fight against Blacks, immigrants, homosexuals and all other races and nationalities. The members of the Klan call themselves Christians and are convinced that Jesus Christ died for a white nation.

The Klan was established after the Civil War and since then, it still exist, in some periods of the time more active and in some periods less.

The first chapter briefly introduces the history of the Klan, since its creation in 1865.

In the second chapter, the activity of the Klan during the Civil Rights Movement in USA in 50s and 60s is described. This period is very important part for US history and especially for African- Americans who were fighting for their equality and the right be treated the same way as whites. America is the land of freedom and equality, where everyone has the right for the “pursuit of happiness”. Therefore the position of African- Americans in that time was very surprising in the light of the basic American values. It is very important to focus on this topic, not only on the Civil Rights Movement activity but also on the Ku Klux Klan and the enemy of the Movement and the equality in general.

The third chapter describes the Klan working and functioning now. There are two points of view on this topic. The first, as the Klan is presenting itself on its web sites (where focused on the explanation and reasons of Klan’s beliefs) and the second where there are the opinions of various organizations fighting against racism and supporting Black equality. I presented both attitudes to give the reader the opportunity to decide.

In conclusion, I compare the general characteristic and activities of the Klan in both periods of time, the Civil Right Movements and now. I put similarities and differences to see the development of thinking the members of the Klan and the situation in the States in general.

2. History of the Ku Klux Klan

Jessica McElrath, African- American History expert and author of many books about Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, declares that: “The Ku Klux Klan is a secret white supremacist organization that has sprung up in different times in American history.”1 It is possible to divide the activities of the Ku Klux Klan into 5 Periods. The original Ku Klux Klan was established during the Reconstruction period. The second rise of the KKK came in 1915 and lasted until the end of the Second World War. In the 60‘s, during the Civil Rights Movement, the Ku Klux Klan appeared again and in the 80’s, the Klan took some neo- Nazi and skinheads’ ideas and fought against African- Americans, Jews and immigrants. The fifth period of the KKK lasts from the 80’s until nowadays.

2.1 Creation and the 1st era of Ku Klux Klan

After the Civil War in USA (1861 – 1865), former slaves were free and they could settle or move north but southern inhabitants did not agree with the abolition of slavery and were afraid of moving African- Americans north and loss of cheap manpower.

On 24th December 1865 former Confederate Army Veterans and slave owners met in the house of Thomas M. Jones in Pulaski, Tennessee and decided to establish a secret organization fighting for the rights of white inhabitants and against the Black socialization. The founders were Captain John C. Lester, Captain John B. Kennedy, Frank O. McCord, Calvin E. Jones, Richard R. Reed, and James R. Crowe.2

“The Ku Klux Klan derived from the Greek word Kuklos, meaning a circle with no beginning or end. The Klan came from the Scottish word Clan referring to a family or a likened group of believers. They added KU to make the name ‘flow on the tongue’ when pronounced.”3

J. R. Crowe suggested that the word should be changed a bit to make it more secret and private. It was also agreed that the abbreviation KKK will be used. The members had to take an oath not to reveal anything about the Klan, even the names of other members.

Although the Ku Klux Klan was officially established in December 1865, it did not start its attacks until May 1866. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest was elected the first leader (Grand Wizard) in that time and the Ku Klux Klan went in touch with the Knights of White Camellia, a racist organization with the same beliefs as KKK and they became one group. Their attacks were very brutal and cruel. “Members dressed up in hoods and robes made of bed sheets, riding at night on horseback to "scare" local folks, especially freed slaves. Slaves thought of them as "Ghosts" of Confederate War dead.”4 They hunt former slaves and used on them various ways of torturing (lynching, castration, shooting, hanging, whipping, ripping of pregnant women, quartering by horses and burning). Violence of the Klan became so unbearable that President Ulysses S. Grant was forced by the government to send army troops to the south and in the year 1871 Force Bill legally forbid the activities of the Ku Klux Klan. Many members of KKK were sent to prison and finally, the power of violence was weakened. Some of the members, who were not in prison, did not want to give up and admit that “the golden age” of the Klan is over, so they continued in violent crimes, murdering and stealing. After few months Forrest saw that original beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan are not followed and he let the Ku Klux Klan officially disband.

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