Ku Klux Klan was a secret terrorist organization that originated in the Southern states during the period of Reconstruction following the American Civil War.  It was reactivated on a wider geographic basis in the 20th century. The original Klan was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee, on December 24, 1865, by six former Confederate army officers who gave their society a name modified from the Greek word kuklos. Although the Ku Klux Klan began as a prankish social organization, its activities soon were aimed at the Republican Reconstruction governments and their leaders, both black and white, who came into power in the southern states in 1867.

The Klansmen regarded the Reconstruction governments as aggressive and harsh. They also generally believed in the native weakness of blacks and therefore mistrusted and resented the rise of former slaves to a status of civil equality and often to positions of political power. Therefore, the Klan became an illegal organization committed to destroying the Reconstruction governments from the Carolinas to Arkansas. They dressed in robes or sheets and wore masks topped with pointed hoods. The Klansmen terrorized public officials in efforts to drive them from office, and blacks in general to prevent them from voting, holding office, or otherwise exercising their newly acquire political rights. It was normal for the Klansmen to burn crosses on hillsides and near the homes of those they wished to frighten. When such tactics failed to produce the desired effect, their victims might be thrashed, injured or murdered. The Klan justified these activities as necessary measures in defense of white primacy and the purity of white womanhood.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling, on May 17, 1954, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, stirred the Klan into new attempts at recruitment and violence but did not bring internal unity or greatly increased membership, power, or respectability in the South. Most opponents of desegregation chose other leaders, such as the White Citizens Councils, while the Klan chiefly attracted the fringe elements of society and remained more of a status than a resistance movement.


As the Civil Rights movement gained force in the late 1950's and as resistance to integration began to diminish throughout the South, the Klan continued to offer hard-core opposition to civil rights programs and was believed to be involved in many incidents of racial violence, intimidation, and reprisal, particularly bombings. After the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 it experienced a marked increase in membership, reaching an estimated 40,000 in 1965.


By the mid-1970's, the Klan had gained somewhat in respectability. Acknowledged Klan leaders ran for public office in the South, amassing sizable numbers of votes. Approximately 15 separate organizations existed, including the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the United Klanís of America, and the National Klan. A resurgence of Klan violence occurred in the late 1970's, and in 1980 a Klan office was opened in Toronto, Canada. The total membership was estimated at about 5000 at the end of the 1980's. A former grand wizard of the Klan, David Duke, was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989 and ran unsuccessfully in the state's election in 1991.



 
 

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