Ku Klux Klan: Reconstruction and Racism

In December of 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery. That same month, a group of ex-Confederate soldiers in Tennessee met to form a secret society of white men, dedicated to resisting laws giving blacks the same rights as whites. The Klan had much in common with other secret fraternal lodges, which were quite popular at the time in the North and the South, and to some extent it functioned as a social club for southern whites, especially ex-confederates. But the Klan went further. Members wore white robes with hoods to hide their faces. Playing on the idea that African Americans were superstitious, Klan members sometimes claimed to be ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers.

The Klan, and many other groups like it against African American political power, used terrorist tactics. Coming out at night in their white robes and sometimes carrying fiery torches, Klan members beat and murdered people whom they opposed. Hanging by the neck from a tree was a common method of lynching opponents.

White targets of these groups included southern-born white Republicans, called "scalawags," and people from the North called "carpetbaggers," who came south to make a profit during Reconstruction. Carpetbaggers traveled with all their possessions in a suitcase made of carpet material. They usually sought political office by gaining the votes of newly freed blacks.

In the late 1860s Congress began an investigation into klan activities. This massive report--portions of which are excerpted here--demonstrated the extent of Klan violence.

History 122

HIST 122 Syllabus


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