Racism and the Ku Klux Klan


Since the early development of society in the United States, 
racism has always been a divisive issue faced by communities on a
political level. Our country was built from the immigration of people 
from an international array of backgrounds. However, multitudes of 
white supremacists blame their personal as well as economic 
misfortunes on an abundance of ethnic groups. African-Americans, Jews 
and Catholics are only some of the of groups tormented by these white 
supremacists. As the amount of ethnic diversity gradually increased in 
the political systems of Louisiana and the United States, 
organizations rapidly formed to challenge the new ethnic variation in 
government. The Ku Klux Klan is one of these groups that were formed 
by people who were angered by the increase of diversity in political 
office and in the workplace. Local and state officials that were 
members of the Klan aided in providing influence, money, and 
information to the racist organization. As the civil rights movement 
became accepted, it seemed as if the power of racist organizations 
deteriorated. However, with the Klan demanding freedom of speech, with 
political figures related to the Ku Klux Klan still bringing prejudice 
to politics throughout the country, and with multitudes of 
African-American churches being burned to the ground, it seems as if 
the Ku Klux Klan is still a threat to the citizens of this country.

 The Ku Klux Klan has played a major role in United States 
history. As the south was undergoing the era of Reconstruction after 
the Civil War, the votes of newly emancipated black Southerners put 
the Republicans in power throughout the state. White Southerners 
resorted to brute force to preserve the white supremacy they once had. 
The Klan was originally arranged into secret societies that terrorized 
local white and black Republican leaders. They also threatened all 
African Americans who violated the old ideas of black inferiority. 
Sworn to secrecy, its members wore white robes and masks and adopted 
the burning cross as their symbol. The Klan members seemed to be most 
active during election campaigns, when they would either scare people 
into voting for their candidate or get rid their opponents entirely. 
They were noticed for their horrible acts of violence that they called 
nighttime rides. These attacks included murder, rape, beatings, and 
warnings and were designed to overcome Republican majorities in the 
south. Due to the fear of a race war, state officials were unable to 
suppress the violence. Law enforcement officials were Klan members 
themselves and even when the law officers were legitimate, Klan 
members also sat on juries where criminally accused members were often 

 The Klan was popularized through literature and film in the 
early nineteenth century. Its influence spread with help from Thomas
B. Dixon's The Clansman (1905) and D.W. Griffith's movie The Birth of 
a Nation (1915). (Harrel, 85) Harrel felt that this eventually "led to 
the establishment of a new Ku Klux Klan, which spread throughout the 
nation and preached anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black, 
antisocialist, and anti-labor-union Americanism" (87). Harrel stated 
that the Klan's two million adherents exercised great political power, 
"often taking the law into their own hands, mobs of white-robed, 
white-hooded men punished immorality and terrorized un-American 
elements" (88).

 The Klan erupted as a secret organization employing its 
secrecy to mislead the public and inquiring newspapers. Therefore,
they were labeled the invisible empire. Harrel urges the idea that in 
certain regions the Klan did not have enough influence to become 
politically triumphant (307). 

"But where it was strong the Invisible Empire elected scores
of local officials, state legislators, a few governors, several
national representatives, including Earle B. Mayfield of
Texas, William J. Harris of Georgia, and Hugo Black of
Alabama, to the United States Senate." (Harrel, 307)

 The Klan was extremely hungry for political gain. The best way 
to promote the growth of an organization of this sort would be the 
expansion of a network with prominent political and investment 

"The limitation of immigration, maintenance of national
prohibition, restriction of the political influence of the 
Catholic Church and minority groups, clean government,
and maintenance of community morals, were goals
which violence and intimidation alone could not achieve." 
(Harrel, 305) 

 It is seemed necessary that in order to have a prosperous 
organization, the Klan would have to infiltrate the political offices 
held by the liberals. This is a task easier said than done.

"The Invisible Empire excluded from membership, and 
thus insulted, Catholics, Jews, Negroes, and the 
foreign born, groups which totaled forty per cent of 
America's population during the twenties...
Despite the fact that Klansmen looked upon the
groups they excluded from membership as 'second 
class citizens,' America's minority groups together
constituted a potentially powerful voting bloc which
could grind the Klan under if sufficiently aroused." 
(Harrel, 305) 

 An effort to enlist officials with both local and state 
authority was adopted in this state of Louisiana from successful 
attempts in Atlanta. "They first enrolled the Adjutant General of the 
State of Louisiana, L.A. Toombs, and then inducted several members
of the state legislature, a number of local and district judges, 
sheriffs, district attorneys, and police officers." (Harrel, 309)

 The idea of public officials having involvement in the Ku Klux 
Klan is frightening, and still today it is present. In the early
decades of the nineteenth century people were not sensible in their 
views of society as they are now. In present time people are more open 
minded, racism does exist, but it is totally unacceptable for society 
to tolerate bigotry from a political figure. A native of Louisiana, 
David Duke has been a considerably active politician. As Duke 
introduces a broad political campaign he does not leave behind his 
ties to bigotry. Still affiliated with white supremacist groups Duke 
has been "convicted of inciting to riot.." ("Lousisiana's... 27). His 
history has linked him to a variety of neo-nazi organizations. "As a 
member of the KKK at Louisiana State University, where he received his 
BA in history in 1974, he became an enthusiastic admirer of Adolph 
Hitler, and by 1975, he had risen to grand wizard of the Louisiana Ku 
Klux Klan" (Mackenzie, 40). Duke was always searching for a different 
approach to express his ideas. Methods of the Klan were no longer 
effective in stopping civil rights as they were in the sixties 
(Mackenzie,40). "Duke quit the Klan in 1980, and founded the National 
Association for the Advancement of White People" (Mackenzie,40). Duke 
broke into the national spotlight in 1987, when he was elected to the 
Louisiana House of Representatives, from the district of Jefferson 
Parish. While serving his term as a state legislator, "he was caught 
selling Nazi books from his legislative office. One of them, "Did Six 
Million Really Die?" attempts to discredit the Holocaust" (Turque 53).
Duke then made an attempt to unseat J. Bennett Johnston from his 
position in the United States Senate in 1990. He gave Johnston quite a 
scare, forcing a run off election and receiving almost forty percent 
of the vote in that election. Encouraged by that performance, Duke 
gave up his House seat to run for governor. Even though his strategy 
was hardly original, he managed to rally an entire campaign around the 
folklore that welfare spending was responsible for high taxes and 
blacks were taking away jobs from whites. Yet, in reality, the total 
outlay on aid to families with dependent children amounted to less 
than two percent of the entire state budget. He received thirty-two 
percent of the primary vote, which was enough to knock-off incumbent 
Buddy Roemer, who received twenty-nine percent, and get in a run-off 
with Edwin Edwards, who led with thirty-five percent. During this 
runoff, Duke received most of his media attention as he appeared 
numerous times on CNN and other political shows. Duke still lost the 
runoff to Edwards in 1991, yet he decided he would shoot for the White 
House the following year. But when Pat Buchannan entered the election, 
Duke lost the ultra-conservative, angry white male vote he was to 
capitalize on. Racism in the United States is outlined in elections of 
characters like David Duke. "The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson recently 
condemned former Ku Klux Klan Wizard David Duke's election to the 
Louisiana House of Representatives, calling it the result of a 
national problem of racism and one "the entire nation has to deal 
with" ("Duke election..." 7). It is the cooperation of leaders nation 
wide that use basis of moral understanding in striving to erase bias 
especially in politics. 

 Today, the Ku Klux Klan does not just threaten minority groups 
on the political level. Nearly 100 African-American churches have been 
burned to the ground in the past year in a half. While some arrests 
made have not linked the Klan with the fires, many have. Two South 
Carolina Klan members have been arrested for burglarizing and setting 
ablaze two churches, the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal of 
Greeleyville and the Macedonia Baptist church of Bloomville. The two 
men, Timothy Welch and Gary Cox, had attended a Klan meeting only 
weeks before the fires. Welch was arrested with his Ku Klux Klan
identification card in his wallet. The other, Gary Cox, lived with 
another Klan member in a trailer. When a local newspaper asked Welch's 
mother to comment on what her son did, she replied, "Those boys felt 
the blessing of the Klan...They take these young country boys who 
don't really know a lot and have never been out in the world, and they 
corrupt them" (Fields, 30 June 1996). The two men were not only 
charged with theft and arson, but were also charged with the beating 
and stabbing of a mentally handicapped black man who was waiting for a 
bus outside of a Wal-Mart.

 There is also Ernest Pierce and Brian Tackett. Pierce, an 
Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and farmer, was convicted and
sentenced to 51 months in a federal prison for ordering Tackett to 
incinerate the Barren River Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. 
Tackett, a younger member of the Klan, was sentenced to 115 months for 
conspiracy, arson, as well as auto theft, for stealing the car he used 
for his night's act. The African-American church arsons is the largest 
investigation the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, and Firearms is 
conducting; even larger than that of the TWA Flight 800 investigation. 
President Clinton signed a bill giving 12 million dollars to the ATF 
to investigate the fires. It also happens to be the FBI's largest 
civil rights investigation under way. (Fields, 7 Aug. 1996)

 The Ku Klux Klan is not only a threat politically and 
physically, but they also incite riots. In June of last year in 
Greenville, Texas, the Klan held a rally in which they "waived 
Confederate flags and complained about the U.S. government" (Taylor).
Michael Lowe a leader in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was stated in 
saying, "It ain't about hate, it's about white pride" (Taylor). 
Another member was quoted in saying, "It ain't the white people, it's 
the damned government, the Jews, whose bringing this country down. It 
ain't the white people" (Taylor). Over 150 state and local policemen 
were present to control the crowd of anti-KKK as well as different KKK 
factions. Some policemen were dressed in riot gear, some were on 
horseback as they tried to control the mobs behind the barricades set 
up along the small town's street.

 The United States is known as the melting pot. Since its 
beginnings as small settlements, this country has always been a haven
to those who need it. When many think of America they think of the 
land of opportunity, the land of the American dream. Where one can, no 
matter who they are or where they are from can make it rich. The Ku 
Klux Klan is everything the American dream is not. They are a sign of 
bigotry and hatred. They have strived for over a hundred years to 
shatter the dreams of so many people. Many believe that since the 
civil rights movement the KKK is no longer a danger. But, we must not 
forget racism and bigotry does not die with an amendment to the 
Constitution. There are still people like David Duke in office. There 
are still people like Gary Cox setting fires to churches. And there 
are still people like Michael Lowe who believe it is the Jews who
bring this country down. We must not forget that the KKK is still 
alive, and we, as Americans, should do everything in our power to 
protect the American dream.


Quotes: Search by Author