It is probable that very distinct imagery comes to mind when the Ku Klux Klan is mentioned. They were frequently pictured in their pure white robes, masks and conical hats. The colouring of their outfits is noteworthy to their cause. Predominately, they were designed to scare but were also to hide their identities. There have been three substantial Ku Klux Klan (KKK) movements. In 1866, the Protestant KKK formed in an attempt to secure white supremacy. They were established in the post-civil war Reconstruction era. This period was a vital footing for the civil rights movement. The core aim of the organisation was to remove African-Americans from the South. Eventually, the movement infiltrated virtually every Southern state in America. The movement regained popularity at the beginning of the twentieth century and continued until the 1960s. Finally, there were still records of relatively high membership numbers in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, there are still people following the ideology of the KKK to this very day.
The influx in endeavours of the KKK in the nineteenth century was in large part due to the fact African-American participation in governmental activities increased hugely. White supremacists were not accepting of their new roles in local, and national, level politics. Their violence began by targeting those, of any race, who voted for one, or indeed were one, of the black members of government. They sort to restore what they deemed as order via threats, violence, and murder. Eventually, to the group’s satisfaction, by 1877 the white Democrats had gained political power. Nonetheless, politics was not the limitation of what was transpiring. Black institutions, schools and churches, for example, were also targets for attacks. In January 1875, 500 members attacked the Union County jail in South Carolina and lynched 8 prisoners. Lynching is defined as the practice of killing people by mob action. From this, it is clear to see the extent of the brutality that the victims of the KKK endured.
After a slight decline in popularity, what is known as the ‘second generation KKK’ emerged in 1915. This generation flourished until 1965 and at its peak had 4 million members. This secondary emergence did not limit it’s terror to blacks. They were extremely hostile towards immigration in the early twentieth century which meant they additionally advocated expulsion of Roman Catholics, Jews and foreigners. It can be said that a large percentage of their passionate hate towards these social groupings came from observation of what was simultaneously occurring in Europe. Europe was engulfed by different political ideologies towards the end of the First World War. The KKK was encompassed by a fear of communism created by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia, despite the fact they were located across the Atlantic. The group took part in many activities to promote their cause – rallies, marches and protests for example. Furthering this, the Klan would often burn crosses near the houses of people they wished to intimidate. The burning cross became symbolic of the KKK.
The second generation had quite a significant downturn in membership numbers throughout the 1930s due to the Great Depression. However, the 1960s African-American Civil Rights movement saw a surge in people affiliated with the group. New activities were carried out in this time. For example, there were beatings, bombings and shootings of activists. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech condemning the KKK. A white female was fighting for equal rights in Alabama when she was murdered by four men. This was the catalyst for Johnson’s condemnation speech.
1965 did not see the immediate end of the KKK that many would have hoped for. Post-speech, the cases of Klan-related violence did become more isolated but did not completely stop. From the 1970s, some members became aligned with other right-wing extremist organisations. In the early 1990s, the KKK was estimated to have had between 6,000 and 10,000 active members. This is known as the third generation. What is even more shocking is that even now, in 2014, people are still able, and proud for that matter, to call themselves a member of the KKK. They have a functioning website where they claim that “America, Our Nation is Under Judgement from God” for allowing equal rights amongst citizens. Hopefully, with steady membership decline the KKK will soon come to an end. The end of the Ku Klux Klan would be a significant step in the fight against racism.