The Ku Klux Klan was and is undeniably a terrorist organization-but what made the Klan an especially insidious terrorist organization, and a threat to civil liberties, was that it functioned as the unofficial paramilitary arm of Southern segregationist governments. This allowed its members to kill with impunity and allowed Southern segregationists to eliminate activists by force without alerting federal authorities. Although the Klan is much less active today, it will be remembered as an instrument of cowardly Southern politicians who hid their faces behind hoods, and their ideology behind an unconvincing facade of patriotism.
The Ku Klux Klan is founded.
Former Confederate general and noted white supremacist Nathan Bedford Forrest, architect of the Fort Pillow Massacre, becomes the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan murders several thousand people in the former Confederate states as an effort to suppress the political participation of black Southerners and their allies.
The Ku Klux Klan publishes its "Organization and Principles". Although early supporters of the Klan claimed that it was philosophically a Christian, patriotic organization rather than a white supremacist group, a cursory glance at the Klan's catechism reveals otherwise:
- Are you opposed to Negro equality both social and political?
- Are you in favor of a white man's government in this country?
- Are you in favor of constitutional liberty, and a government of equitable laws instead of a government of violence and oppression?
- Are you in favor of maintaining the constitutional rights of the South?
- Are you in favor of the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South, and the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights, alike proprietary, civil, and political?
- Do you believe in the inalienable right of self-preservation of the people against the exercise of arbitrary and unlicensed power?
The "inalienable right to self-preservation" is a clear reference to the Klan's violent activities-and its emphasis, even at this early stage, is clearly white supremacy.
Congress passes the Klan Act, allowing the federal government to intervene and arrest Klan members on a large scale. Over the next several years, the Klan largely disappears and is replaced by other violent white supremacist groups.
Thomas Dixon Jr. adapts his second Ku Klux Klan novel, "The Clansman", into a play. Although fictional, the novel introduces the burning cross as a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan:
"In olden times when the Chieftain of our people summoned the clan on an errand of life and death, the Fiery Cross, extinguished in sacrificial blood, was sent by swift courier from village to village. This call was never made in vain, nor will it be to-night in the new world."
Although Dixon implies that the Klan had always used the burning cross, it was, in fact, his invention. Dixon's fawning adoration for the Klan, presented less than a half-century after the American Civil War, begins to revive the long-dormant organization.
D.W. Griffith's wildly popular film "Birth of a Nation", an adaptation of Dixon's "The Clansman", revives national interest in the Klan. A Georgia lynch mob led by William J. Simmons-and including numerous prominent (but anonymous) members of the community, such as former Georgia governor Joe Brown-murders Jewish factory superintendent Leo Frank, then burns a cross on a hilltop and dubs itself the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Klan becomes a more public organization and expands its platform to include Prohibition, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-Communism, and anti-Catholicism. Spurred on by the romanticized white supremacist history portrayed in "Birth of a Nation", bitter whites throughout the country begin to form local Klan groups.
Indiana Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson is convicted of murder. Members subsequently begin to realize that they may actually face criminal charges for their behavior, and the Klan largely disappears -- except in the South, where local groups continue to operate.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan firebomb the home of NAACP Florida executive director Harry Tyson Moore and his wife, Harriet, on Christmas Eve. Both are killed in the blast. The murders are the first high-profile Southern Klan killings among many during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s-most of which either go unprosecuted or result in acquittals by all-white juries.
Members of the Ku Klux Klan bomb the predominantly black 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little girls.
The Mississippi chapter of the Ku Klux Klan firebombs twenty predominantly black churches, and then (with the aid of local police) murders civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
Edgar Ray Killen, the architect of the 1964 Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner murders, is convicted on manslaughter charges and sentenced to 60 years in prison.