Lesson Plan 10 | Ku Klux Klan


Much of our American history was altered or changed to reflect a political ideology. Democrats have attempted to bury their sordid history of repression, segregation, murder, and violence towards blacks while blaming Republicans for unfounded racist policies. Since its formation, the Republican Party has fought the roots of racism planted by the Democratic Party. The Republican Party is the party of civil rights and equality for blacks, this emphasis on racial justice was the primary reason for its formation.

David Barton wrote in December 2008, “The rewriting of history in any area is possible only if: (1) the public does not know enough about specific events to object when a wrong view is introduced; or (2) the discovery of previously unknown historical material brings to light new facts that require a correction of the previous view. However, historical revisionism – the rewriting “of an accepted, usually long-standing view… especially a revision of historical events and movements” – is successful only through the first means.” https://wallbuilders.com/confronting-civil-war-revisionism-south-went-war/

Facts do count and are the antidote to historical revisionism. Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan as a backlash to Confederate defeat in the Civil War. It was founded in 1865 and quickly became a powerful secret vigilante group throughout the South. Its primary purpose was to break down the Republican government by intimidation, violence, assassinations, and lynching to regain control in elections.

Today, the Democrats bring up the KKK, but they are the party that was responsible for it.


To Understand Why the KKK Was Formed and How Their Violent Tactics Worked
Discuss the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Effects on Blacks
1860 Census Report and How the Black Population Affected the South
To Develop Discussion Through Guiding Questions
Political Cartoon Analysis as Primary Source
To Analyze Speeches of Black Congressional Leaders for Historical Evidence
Educate students Concerning the Injustice of Historical Revisionism

Time: This Lesson Plan is designed to span two class periods.


  • Descriptions and images from Harper’s Weekly for important 19th century perspective on how blacks were disenfranchised and denied other civil rights
  • Photographs of historical leaders from the 19th century
  • Copies of speeches by black Congressional leaders on the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871 (see pdf links below)
  • Guiding questions
  • Congressional Documents

Background Information:
Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest, founded KKK (Ku Klux comes from the Greek “Kuklos” which means circle, and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan” was added later.)

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forest, founded KKK (Ku Klux comes from the Greek “Kuklos” which means circle, and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan” was added later.)

During Reconstruction, Congress enacted into the Constitution fundamental civil right for black Americans with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The Federal government required all states to ratify them in the North and in the former Confederate States. 

A political reaction developed across the South with intimidation and physical violence against black and white Republicans alike; they were beaten, threatened, shot, and murdered.  The vehicles for those strong-arm tactics were paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, Red Shirts, Knights of the White Camelia, and the White Brotherhood.   These organizations had a unity of purpose serving as military forces of the Democratic Party, the planter class, of the South.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866, in Tennessee, as a social club by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and quickly spread to nearly every Southern state.  Ku Klux Klan curtailed the political influence of the Republican Party in the black community, and its sole purpose was to break down the Republican government and pave the way for Democrats to regain control in the elections with a platform of white racial superiority.  The Klan only offered relief if individuals promised not to vote for Republican tickets or stayed away from the polls altogether. 

The Passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments: (Known collectively as the Reconstruction Amendments)

13th Amendment (1865): This amendment explicitly banned slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. An exception made for punishment of a crime. 

14th Amendment (1868): This amendment set the definitions and rights of citizenship in the United States. Anyone born or naturalized in the U.S. is a citizen of the U.S. and the state in which they live. It also confirmed the right for due process, life, liberty, and property. It banned any person who had engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S. from holding civil or military office. Finally, it declared the United States would assume no debt undertaken by the Confederacy.  (This overturned the Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) Supreme Court ruling that stated that black people were not eligible for citizenship).

15th Amendment (1870): This amendment prohibited governments from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote based on race, color, or past servitude. There were other methods used to block blacks from voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. These methods undermined the Civil War Amendments and set the stage for Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement.

1860 Census Report:

This 1860 Census Report is considered a primary source that was an invaluable collection of information about population, agriculture, taxation, religion, and crime. This document submitted to Congress included population comparisons from the past and for the year, 1860.  It reported that 225,849 blacks lived in the Northern States; 3,953,760 slaves, plus 487,970 free blacks, lived in the Southern States for a total of 4,441,730. The total population in the United States in 1860, was 31,443,790.    https://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/1860a-02.pdf

Examining Political Cartoons: 

Political cartoons are an invaluable multifaceted source of evidence, and these cartoons give us a look at black history as a primary source of information.  Harper’s Weekly was a leading 19th-century newspaper, and cartoonists, such as Thomas Nast, Frank Bellow, James A. Wales, and A.B. Frost, used their talents to shape opinion on a variety of subject matter. They used symbolism, frightening imagery and controversial subject matter to help Harper’s Weekly capture the lion’s share of the national newspaper audience.

This is a White Man’s Government” by Thomas Nast, 1868
Caption on the bottom of cartoon reads: “We regard the Reconstruction Acts (so called) of Congress as usurpations and unconstitutional, revolutionary and void.”-Democratic Platform
Caption on the bottom of cartoon reads: “We regard the Reconstruction Acts (so called) of Congress as usurpations and unconstitutional, revolutionary and void.”-Democratic Platform

In this well-known cartoon, Thomas Nast is criticizing Democrat opposition to Reconstruction legislature. The sketch represents the three wings of the Democratic party crushing a black Union veteran who is reaching for a ballot box. The man on the left is a caricature of an Irish-American, working class, holding a club in his hand and a bottle in his pocket. He is represented apelike; a common way Irish were depicted in the 19th century and holds a club with the caption, “a vote.”  His hat reads “5 points,” referring to the New York City Irish residents, who were often configured as a mob. The man in the middle is Nathan Bedford Forest who represents the Confederate influence and was the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Forest’s belt buckle, CSA referrers to Confederate States of America and he holds a knife that says, “the lost cause.” The figure on the right is August Belmont, a rich upperclassman from 5th Avenue in New York who holding wallet “capital for votes,” used to purchase votes. 

In the background, a “Colored Orphan Asylum” and a “southern school” are in flames; showing black children lynched near the burning buildings. All the symbolism in the Nast cartoon is to illustrate the victimizing of blacks and the attacks that made upon the rights of blacks and advocates of the Republican party.

Guiding Questions:

  • Why did Southern Democrats support states’ rights over federal law? What was their motive?
  • How did the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments change the rights of black slaves? How were free slaves treated in the Democratic South?
  • How would four million freed slaves change the political control in the Democratic South? Can you understand why paramilitary groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, wanted to suppress and disenfranchise blacks?
  • What do you think the symbolism of the objects that Nathan Bedford Forest has in his pocket and his hand mean?
  • These three are trampling on a black Union soldier and the American flag. What is the symbolism of the men depicted in this political cartoon?
  • What do you see in the background that might further illustrate what the Democrats did to terrorize the South?

 Document A: “One Less Vote,” by Thomas Nast, 1868
 “One Less Vote,” by Thomas Nast, 1868
The 14th Amendment gave slaves, the right to vote and it threatened the Southerners’ political power. The stone reads, “Negroe Killed, Seymour Ratification, KKK.”  Within the speech addressing the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871, black Congressman Robert B. Elliott entered testimony of Joshua Wardlaw into the Congressional record about the means of voter intimidation used against him.   Wardlaw went into detail about his experiences with KKK’s terror, family members that were beaten and killed, and a friend’s business burned. See http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/ElliotR.pdf  pages 6 – 7 for the testimony. 

Document B: “Visit of the Ku-Klux,” by Frank Bellow, 1872
The Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South, and no one was safe – not even inside the interior of the former slave’s cabin.

Document C: “The Union as It Was by Thomas Nast, 1874
The “union” refers to a band of young men, the White League, and the KKK, that terrorized and were the governing power in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky.

The “union” refers to a band of young men, the White League, and the KKK, that terrorized and were the governing power in Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky. Democratic candidates for office financed them. If blacks denounced them or told their stories about Republicans who were shot, blacks themselves were killed.  The Republicans had the majority by 20,000 in Louisiana, but these bands of assassins carried the last election.  http://blackhistory.harpweek.com/

Guiding Questions:

  • How did Southern whites avoid following federal law? What did paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan do?
  • What were the tactics used by Democrats illustrated in Documents A, B, and C?
  • What does Frank Bellow want you to feel about this family in Document A? What do you think their story was?
  • What can you tell about this family by looking at Document A illustration?
  • In Thomas Nast cartoon, Document C, what do you think the caption means, Worse Than Slavery?  What clues can you find in the cartoon about the plight of blacks in the South?
  • Why do you think the press was afraid to denounce these murderers and violators of the laws? 

     Document D: “Everything Points to a Democratic Victory This Fall by James A. Wales, 1874

Document F: “Of Course, He Wants to Vote for the Democratic Ticket,” by A. B. Frost, 1876
Caption on the bottom of the political cartoon says, “You’re as free as air, ain’t you? Say you are, or I'll blow yer black head off!”
Caption on the bottom of the political cartoon says, “You’re as free as air, ain’t you? Say you are, or I'll blow yer black head off!

Guiding Questions:
  • In Document D, what do you think about the title, “Everything Points to a Democratic Victory this Fall.” What does it mean?
  • What kind of demeaner would you say the black man has as compared to the white man sitting at the desk? What clues do you see?
  • Why are there two different lines to vote? Explain. Describe the different groups. Who was the White League?
  • In Document F, read the small box on the bottom left of the A.B. Frost cartoon. What was a radical negro? Why did southerners want to hunt them down?
  • What was meant by, "The Democrats have determined to withdraw all employment from their enemies?"
  • What were the Democrats trying to achieve? What can you surmise from this political cartoon? 
  • How important do you think political cartoons are in shaping the opinions of the American people?

Speeches of Black Representatives Addressing the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871:

After the defeat of the South in the Civil War, Reconstruction orchestrated by Radical Republicans, produced the nation’s most remarkable experiment in interracial democracy.  More than 1500 local black officeholding leaders became elected in the new Southern governments. In the United States Congress, sixteen blacks served during Reconstruction. 

These speeches by Republican Congressional leaders, Joseph H. Rainey (SC), Robert B. Elliott (SC), and Robert C. De Large (MS), will enrich your perspective on the history and actions of Ku Klux Klan, and how these eloquent speakers helped to pass the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871. These forgotten voices are part of the 42nd Congressional Record. A link is provided to download the entire original speeches.

Joseph H. Rainey, speaking on April 1, 1871, to explain how the Ku Klux Klan’s actions limit black participation in the political process. 

“Mr. Speaker, in approaching the subject now under consideration I do so with a deep sense of magnitude and importance, and in full recognition of the fact that a remedy is needed to meet the evil now existing in most of the southern States….The enormity of the crimes constantly perpetrated there finds no parallel in the history of this Republic in her very darkest days…Even now, sir, after the great conflict between slavery and freedom, after the triumph achieved at such a cost, we can yet see the traces of the disastrous strife and the remains of the disease in the body-politic of the South…The prevailing spirit of the Southron is either to rule or to ruin. Voters must perforce succumb to their wishes or else risk life itself in the attempt to maintain a simple right of common manhood…renewed defiance, cruel and cowardly, fearing the light of day, hiding itself under the shadow of the night as more befitting its bloody and accursed work…the murderous deeds committed both in North and South Carolina. It has been asserted that protection for the colored people only has been demanded…this protection is equally desired for those loyal whites…who are now undergoing persecution simply on account of their activity in carrying out Union principles…It will be a foul stain upon the escutcheon of our land is such atrocities be tamely suffered longer to continue…When we call to mind the fact that this persecution is waged against men for the simple reason that they dare vote with the party which has saved the Union…our hearts well with an overwhelming indignation….If the negroes…would only cast their votes in the interest of the Democratic party, all open measures against them would be immediately suspended…I can only say that we love freedom more, vastly more, than slavery; consequently we hope to keep clear of the Democrats!...I pity the man or party of men who would seek to ride into power over the dead body of a legitimate opponent…This is the animus of the Ku Klux Klan, which is now spreading devastation through the once fair and tranquil South…I can say for my people that we ardently desire peace for ourselves and for the whole nation.”    Cong. Globe, 42ndCong., 1st Sess. 393-395 (1871)

Joseph H. Rainey, speaking on April 1, 1871, to explain how the Ku Klux Klan’s actions limit black participation in the political process.

Robert B. Elliott, responding on April 1, 1871, to arguments that the Bill is unconstitutional and the Ku Klux Klan is not violent. http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/ElliotR.pdf  

Congressman Elliott was described by the Chicago Tribune as “the ablest negro, intellectually, in the South.” Here is what he wrote: “The opponents of the bill deny that its provisions are warranted by the Constitution of the United States, and also deny the alleged facts upon which the proposed bill is founded…it is founded in the right reason, and that, as a measure of repression and protection, this bill is not only fully warranted, but it is imperatively demanded by the present posture of affairs in the southern States…Sir, the best Government is that under which the humblest citizen is not beneath the protection of the laws, or the highest above the reach of their authority…This record, drawn from many States, exhibits the declared purpose to defeat the ballot with the bullet and other coercive means, and also the acts of organized lawlessness perpetrated pursuant to that purpose…I have shown the declared purpose of the Ku Klux organization, and I refer to the official records of nearly every southern State during the past ten months to show how that bloody purpose has been in part executed. This bill will tend in some degree to prevent its full achievement…The white Republican of the South is also hunted down and murdered or scourged for his opinion’s sake, and during the past two years more than six hundred men of both races have perished in my State alone…Yet, sir, it is true that these masked murderers strike chiefly at the black race…To him I say that the negro, whom you now term a barbarian, unfit for and incapable of self-government…but pray tell me, who is the barbarian here, the murderer or his victim?”  Cong. Globe, 42nd Cong., 1st Sess. 389-392 (1871)

Robert B. Elliott, responding on April 1, 1871, to arguments that the Bill is unconstitutional and the Ku Klux Klan is not violent.

Guiding Questions:

  • Which of the above political cartoons do you think best illustrate Congressman Rainey’s speech on how the KKK limited the black participation in the political process?
  • After reviewing the political cartoons above, which political cartoons do you think best illustrate Congressman Elliott’s speech?
  • Which cartoon best illustrates Elliott’s words “defeat the ballot with the bullet?”
  • How are the speeches of Joseph Rainey and Robert B. Elliott similar? How are they different?

Primary Source: Within the Speech of Robert B. Elliott is Joshua Wardlaw’s Voter Intimidation Testimony

This primary source excerpt is located within the speech addressing the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871. Black Congressman Robert B. Elliott entered the testimony of Joshua Wardlaw into the Congressional record concerning the voter intimidation used against him.   Wardlaw went into detail about his experiences with KKK’s terror: family members that were beaten, killed, and a friend’s business burned. See http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/ElliotR.pdf  pages 6 – 7 for the testimony produced here.

         Rooms of Investigating Committee, 
         Third Congressional District,
           Abbeville Court-House, S. C., June 24, 1869.

Pursuant to adjournment, the committee met at nine a.m. 

A quorum being present, the committee proceeded to business. Mr. Wright acting chairman. 

Joshua Wardlaw (colored) sworn.

Direct examination by Mr. Elliott:

Question. Are you a resident of this county?

Answer. Yes, sir. 

Question. How long have you been a resident of this county?

 Answer. Born and bred here.

 Question. In this town?

 Answer. Yes.

 Question. Do you know of any outrages or any means of intimidation or threats used to keep persons from voting at the late general election?

 Answer. Yes. 

Question. Please state what those means of intimidation used were, and who made them? 

Answer. I heard Fred Edmunds say that no colored people should vote at Calhoun Mills except they voted the Democratic ticket. He said, "I am going down there now to gather my company and meet them there." I immediately went to Mr. Guffin and told him what I had heard. I had to go to Mr. Bradley's mill myself to vote, and I told him I was afraid to go on account of the threats that had been made. Mr. Guffin then told me not to be afraid, for they dared not interfere with me. I replied, "I know the people, and will not go, although I am a friend of yours."

 Question. Do you know of any other outrage committed? 

Answer. Yes, sir. 

Question. Please state what that outrage was?

 Answer. Mr. William Richardson, a white man with whom I resided last year, came to me one night in August last and said to me, "Get up." (I was in bed.) I asked him what he wanted. He said he wanted me to go out with him. I said I had no particular call out. He said, "Damn you, you shall go. What have you got in this trunk?" At this time, I arose from the bed. William Harmons, Pres. Blackwell, and Mr. Coon were in company with Mr. Richardson. They took me out of my house and went and took my brother-in-law also. My wife was screaming, and they threatened her life. Pres. Blackwell kicked one of my little children that was in the bed. They took my brother-in-law's gun and broke it against a tree in the yard. They laid me down on the ground, after stripping me as naked as when I came into the world and struck me five times with a strap before I got away from them. After escaping they fired four shots at me but did not hit me. I was so frightened I laid out in the woods all night, naked as I was, and suffered from the exposure. Mr. Richardson afterward told me he was very sorry that I had escaped from them. My brother-in-law died from the beating he got that same night; and my nephew, Harry Durgan, got severely beat that night by the same party. Mose Martin, another colored man on the place, was also beaten badly that same night, by the same party and Harry Martin, (colored,) received about seven hundred lashes also. My cousin, Ben Pinckney, was so severely beaten that he was unable to do any work for a month or so after. I have never been back to the settlement since that time, being afraid that they would kill me. 

Question. Had you any difficulty or quarrel with any of those men before they visited your house that night? 

Answer. No; but about a week or two before that William Harmon and William Richardson asked me whether I was a Radical or Democrat, or what I intended to be. I replied that I did not desire to say what I was or what I intended to do, for I had not decided in my mind. They said, "You will have to state what you are, or you will have to quit the place." I told them I would join them rather than lose my crop. On the day of the general election they called me into the house to vote the Democratic ticket. They had a keg of whiskey and offered me a drink. I told them no, I would not drink it. They then asked me whether I was going to vote the Democratic ticket. I replied no; that if I could not vote the way I wanted I would not vote at all. They then said, "Put him out." They then put me out and slammed the door after me. One of the party at the polls, named James Jennings, said, "We will take his life before six months;" and Mr. William Tennent said, "Yes, damn him, we will do it." He also said, "Damn him, he is the damned leader that is keeping the others from voting the Democratic ticket." I told them before leaving that I was a Radical and did not care who knew it: and I did prevent a great many from voting the Democratic ticket, and I will still do so. The next outrage I witnessed was, Ellington Searles had a mill burned; a man that lived with me, named Mack Martin, was accused by Mr. Searles of breaking into the mill before it was burned. Mr. Searles came to the place I was living on with a party of eleven, and took this man Mack out in the broad daylight and carried him up the road about a quarter of a mile from the house, and gave him sixteen hundred lashes, which I saw. They had a ferocious dog; after they had whipped him they put the dog on him, and the dog attacked him, naked as he was, and tore large pieces from his side and limbs, and they all gathered pine-knots and placed around the man and said they would scorch him. Some of the party begged them not to, and it was not done. This all occurred about twelve o'clock in the day.

Robert C. De Large, speaking on April 6, 1871, to address denial of violent and non-legitimate actions against blacks in the South, as well as the assertion that the Bill interferes with the states’ internal affairs. http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/DeLargeR.pdf

“I say I did not expect that party lines would be drawn so distinctly while considering a matter of such grave import. I believe that if there was a single gentleman upon the floor of this House who, before the commencement of this debate, doubted that lawlessness, confusion, and anarchy existed in some portions of the South, he is at least cured of that doubt by this time…I believe, to the satisfaction of a majority of the members of this House, that a state of affairs does exist in some portions of the southern States…Since the time of reconstruction no outrage has been committed in my district; and I say frankly to you today that until within the last few months no one upon the face of God’s earth could have convinced me that any secret organization existed in my state for the purpose of committing murder, arson, or other outrages upon the lives and liberty, and property of the people; and, sir, I sincerely deplore and lament the abundance of that evidence which so plainly proves the existence of such an organization today…But, sir, I cannot shut my eyes to facts; I cannot refuse to yield my faith to tales of horror so fully proven…Sir, it is necessary that we should legislate upon this subject…the naked facts stare us in the face, that this condition of affairs does exist, and that is necessary for the strong arm of the law to interpose and protect the people in their lives, liberty, and property.”  Cong. Globe, 42nd Cong., 1st Sess., Appendix 230-231 (1871)

Robert C. De Large, speaking on April 6, 1871, to address denial of violent and non-legitimate actions against blacks in the South, as well as the assertion that the Bill interferes with the states’ internal affairs

Guiding Questions:

  • How important do you think the testimony of Joshua Wardlaw was in shaping the opinion of the leaders in 1869?
  • What did you learn from this testimony?
  • According to Joshua Wardlaw's testimony, what intimidation did the Democrats use against him and others?
  • Originally, Congressman De Large (R) SC, was not aware of the violence of the KKK.  What changed his mind?
  • Do you think the testimony of Joshua Wardlaw might have added to evidence that enlightened Congressman De Large?

Historic American Newspaper Entries:

The rich history of our country is available in historic American newspapers found in the Library of Congress, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.  These valuable documents are a primary source for a historical picture of 19th Century newspapers’ view of black Americans in their struggle through slavery, Reconstruction, and the political aspects of the North and South during this challenging time in our history.  Included below are a few excerpts of some of the issues that can be found in the Library of Congress and on Neglected Voices.

July 1868, Mobile Register: in an editorial advocating the election of Seymour and Blair, gave utterance to these words: “The Radicals are dogs and should be treated as dogs. They should not be permitted to dwell among us."

1868, Hear the voice of the central Democratic committee of Charleston, in their campaign circular entitled "An appeal to the colored people." In advising the colored men of the State to sever their connection with the Republican party, and join the Seymour and Blair Democratic clubs, they used these words: “We know who your leaders are, what they say and what they are doing; we have marked them, and we know better than you can know the sure and swift penalty that shall fall on particular heads when the conflict begins." 

July 17, 1868: Newberry (South Carolina) Herald: “Messrs. Editors: As a member of a Democratic club, I beg leave, through the Herald, to make a suggestion or two to the various clubs throughout Newberry district. Our situation as a people--I mean white people--must surely be understood by every thinking man; and certainly, any suggestion that can be made in which there can be any hope of advancing our interests ought to be tested. The propositions that I would make are as follows: let all members of the different Democratic clubs of the district enter into a solemn agreement that from the present time forward they will employ no mechanic who does not belong to some Democratic organization, neither to patronize any mill, tannery, or other place dependent upon the public patronage, owned or superintended by any other than an out-and-out Democrat. Let all physicians belonging to such organizations have a positive understanding with each other that in no case will they attend professionally to any Radical or his family, unless the medical fee is sent with the messenger; but in case the patient be a freedman belonging to some Democratic club, let him be attended for half price, and if he has no money indulge him until he has. Let lawyers act upon the same principle. Let all freedmen that are not mechanics even, who take an active part for the Radical party, be treated as suggested above for mechanics." 

November 5, 1870, Charleston News: the leading organ of the Democratic party of South Carolina, in which they are introduced approvingly, as showing the spirit of the Democratic press. Speaking of the unbroken adhesion of the colored people of South Carolina to the Republican party at the late general election in that State, the Newberry Herald of November 3 says, addressing its white Democratic readers:  “Remember that we are the white people, and that they are the negro; that they have chosen their ground and arrayed themselves against us with a determination and hate which are unmistakable, and that our policy is to let them alone and take care of ourselves. But we must have organization, not politically, be it remembered, and the views below are worth consideration. Let us have a thorough understanding and a union of the whole white people of the State, not forgetting either the worthy exceptions among the negroes who have identified themselves with us, or any others who may see fit to cast their lines in with us.

Guiding Questions:

  • During Reconstruction, the Democratic South did everything in its power to undermine the progress of blacks. The Mobile Register in 1868 called Radicals dogs. Who were these Radicals?
  • Why did Democrats require people to join Democratic clubs? What did these clubs demand that members do?
  • What did the Democrats threaten to do if blacks did not join them?
  • Southern Democrats continued to foster white supremacy and tried to get blacks to break their allegiance to the Republican party. How successful were these tactics?

President Grant and the Enforcement Acts to Protect Blacks From the KKK, 1870 and 1871

1871: Ku Klux Klan Act was introduced and sponsored by Republicans, as urged by President Ulysses Grant.  Their goal was to stop the Klan’s terrorist activities against black and white Republicans primarily in the South. The law was designed to deter infringements upon civil rights, and to provide authority to the government to meet with force unlawful combinations and violence which interfered with civil rights. The act established penalties in the form of fines and jail time for attempts to deprive citizens of equal protection under the laws and gave the President the authority to use federal troops and suspend the writ of habeas corpus ensuring that civil rights were upheld.  President Grant, acting under the power of the Ku Klux Klan Act, imposes martial law and suspends the writ of habeas corpus in South Carolina.

Between 1870 and 1871 Congress passed the Enforcement Acts – criminal codes that protected blacks’ right to vote, hold office, serve on juries, and receive equal protection of laws if the states failed to act, the laws allowed the federal government to intervene. The target of the acts was the Ku Klux Klan, whose members were murdering many blacks and whites because they voted, held office, or were involved with schools.

Within a short time, the Ku Klux Klan was weakened, and replaced by Democratic Party affiliates such as Louisiana’s White Leagues and South Carolina’s Red Shirts. Michael Zak writes, “Law enforcement played a role in eliminating the postwar Ku Klux Klan, but primarily the Klan disappeared because once Democratic regimes replaced Reconstruction state governments, there was no longer any need for the white supremacists to carry out violent acts covertly when government authorities could again do so openly.”

The Klan would again be revived under President Wilson in 1915, and a third revival would emerge during the civil rights era.

President Ulysses Grant

Guiding Questions:

  • What were the goals of Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871?
  • How productive were the black congressional members of Congress in their speeches in support of the KKK Act of 1871?
  • Was President Grant successful in curtailing the KKK in the South?
  • What events changed in the South? Do you think the KKK Act of 1871 was responsible? Why or Why not?

The Revival of the KKK under President Woodrow Wilson 

Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia in 1856. He served as President of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey and President of the United States from 1913 – 1921. After being elected President, he fired nearly every black federal employee, made government facilities racially segregated, and did not lift a finger against Democrats who were lynching blacks.  President Wilson was the worst racist to occupy the White House since Andrew Jackson.

President Woodrow Wilson

1915: The Pro-Klan Movie, Birth of a Nation, released

Birth of a Nation was inspired by the book, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the KKK. This movie helped revive the KKK which had almost disappeared after Reconstruction. This racist film by D.W. Griffith, the son of a Confederate soldier, became a recruiting tool that increased membership by more than a million members and acquired more than a million supporters. President Wilson showed this movie at the White House and noted, “terribly true…like writing history with lighting.”

Democratic terrorism against blacks continued in the Jim Crow South, and after WWI, the KKK spread to the North and West. The spread of the KKK was not just with the Democrats, as some Republicans also joined the new Klan. The KKK became very powerful in Oregon and Oklahoma. In 1921, the prosperous Tulsa Black Wall Street was decimated, black residents found refuge in the North.  

Guiding Questions:

  • How can a President of the United States affect policy in leading the government?
  • What events lead to the revival of the KKK? 
  • What did you learn from this lesson about the KKK? Did it change your mind in any way? How?