African Americans in the Post–Civil War Era

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What were the aims of the Ku Klux Klan when it first formed? 

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When the Ku Klux Klan first formed in the South, its purpose was to reverse the improvements African-Americans received as a result of Reconstruction. White southerners weren’t happy that African-Americans had the same rights as white people had. They didn’t like that African-American males could vote and run for office. They weren’t happy the former slaves were free to leave the plantation and pursue other economic opportunities. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan developed ways to take away or minimize the rights African-Americans had received.

Once Reconstruction ended, the Ku Klux Klan began to intimidate African-Americans. They threatened them with the loss of their jobs. They hinted that there would be violence against African-Americans and their property if they exercised their rights. In some cases, African-Americans were killed. They developed the poll tax and literacy test to keep African-American from voting. They used the grandfather clause as a way to exempt whites from the literacy test and poll tax. Eventually, the Ku Klux Klan controlled politics in the South. As more whites voted, they vote for candidates of the Democratic Party. Thus, the Democratic Party controlled southern politics for many years. The Ku Klux Klan wanted to minimize the rights that African-Americans achieved as a result of Reconstruction.

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The Ku Klux Klan was formed in Tennessee in 1866 by a group composed mainly of former Confederate soldiers, including General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Their original intention was to oppose interference imposed by the federal government and to scare former slaves into “keeping their place” in southern society.

It is interesting to look at the parallels between the KKK and contemporary terrorist activity. As with groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, the Klan claimed to have religious justification for their violent acts. According to History.Com, some early Klan leaders were clergymen. Each group maintained secret memberships and conducted clandestine raids that were designed to frighten targeted groups into submission, often resulting in death.

The Klan still exists today, although it has been largely discredited by a more tolerant America. However, the Klan continues to express its views and justify its actions in a religious context. Look at these quotes from the March 24, 2014 edition of the Christian Post by Frank Ancona, the leader of a Virginia Ku Klux Klan group:

We don't hate people because of their race. We are a Christian organization.

We want to keep our race the white race. We want to stay white. It's not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy.

In light of this comment about white supremacy, how much has the KKK really changed from its post Civil War origins? The goal of maintaining a certain racial order is not that different than the goal of maintaining a certain religious order. Either goal will lead to prejudicial attitudes and, eventually, overt acts of oppression and possibly even violence. This has been the ambition of the KKK from its infancy. 

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The KKK was formed in the Reconstruction Era after the American Civil War.  Its main goal was to weaken the Reconstruction governments and retain power for the Southerners who had been in favor of the Confederacy.  

During Reconstruction, the North imposed governments on the South.  These governments were supposed to remake the South, bringing, among other things, racial equality.  The Southerners who had been in power before the Civil War did not want this.  They wanted to get power back for themselves.  Some of these men were the ones who created the KKK.  The KKK used violence and terror against supporters of the Reconstruction governments to weaken those governments.

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