Visit of the Ku-Klux
African American woman cooking, man seated alongside, and three children, with man from Ku Klux Klan aiming rifle in doorway.
Even after slavery was no longer legal, there were white Americans who chose not to accept the idea that Black Americans deserved the same rights as any other citizen. As the federal government moved forward with Reconstruction, these white southerners resisted by designing ways to intimidate and harm their Black neighbors, especially those Black neighbors who were doing well in business, or who took the opportunity to vote in elections, or who were otherwise seeking to establish a good life for themselves and contribute to their communities. Both wealthy and poor whites joined groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and White Leagues with the goal to keep all privileges and opportunities for whites only. These groups used violence and other types of harm (like firing someone from a job, or evicting someone from a rented house) in order to keep African-Americans from simply living their lives like any other citizen. This 1872 drawing (from a Northern magazine) shows one tactic of the KKK, which was to terrorize African-Americans in their homes. How do you think such terror impacted African-Americans’ freedom?
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) formed in response to the congressional-led Reconstruction that threatened white supremacy in the South. The KKK, and groups liked it, operated in all southern states by 1870. These groups’ offenses were so egregious that a Republican led Congress passed anti-KKK legislation that gave the federal government power to intervene and enforce the 14th amendment. 1870 was also the year that Confederate leader Robert E. Lee died, prompting a surge of feeling among many white southerners that glorified the Confederates’ goal in the war as a valiant “lost cause” in which the South fought to defend its people, land, and honor. Many wealthy white southerners sought to inculcate in their poorer white neighbors a sense of racial superiority and hatred toward Black southerners. During WWI and after the KKK had a resurgence, this time against immigrants, Catholics, as well as Black Americans. The KKK eventually spread throughout the country.
Note: this is a good point at which to explain to students that by the mid-1870s the Republican Party began to waver in its commitment to Reconstruction due to concerns among some northerners about the financial costs of federal Reconstruction. Some also worried that Reconstruction unfairly restricted southern states’ rights to run their own affairs. Intense southern resistance to Reconstruction also helped sway some Republicans away from the goals of Reconstruction, while racism among some northerners did the same. The 1876 election is generally seen as a close to the Reconstruction era, though Republicans did continue to support civil rights and voting rights for Black Americans into the early 1890s. This source image alludes to the political power gained by those opposed to Reconstruction when African-Americans lost the ability to vote.
VISIT OF THE KU-KLU.- Drawn by Frank Bellew, [See Page 157.]