May 18

Ku Klux Klan, a macabre social experiment

Ku Klux Klan, a macabre social experiment
In December 1865, eight months after the surrender of the South, six young people in the Pulaski village, near Nashville, Tennessee, decided to banish the boredom by organizing a club. All were veterans of the Confederate Army, and some had followed courses at prestigious colleges where fraternities were often encountered. Imitating ironicaly the name of these fraternities – Beta, Delta or whatever other names they had – decided that their group to be called the Ku Klux Klan.

They met in secret and had established various elaborate ceremonies. The clan members disguised in improvised costumes: a sheet that covered their body, fanciful masks to hide their face and a kind of sharp hat that increased their stature. Their leaders were known as the Grand Cyclops.

Although their motives were innocent, the emergence of these new entities on the city dark streets sparked panic in the slaves community recently freed. Soon, the terrorizing of the African-American community has become a regular sport, thus, begun the KKK transition from a harmless social club to a ruthless vigilance committee.

Information about the Ku Klux Klan quickly spread in the South – by press, either orally. In the former Confederacy, after the war had settled chaos. The rapid expansion of the Klan was fueled by a widespread fear among southern whites on a former slave insurrection and rampage resentment against northern politicians who invaded the south after the war end. They appeared in numerous local community organizations imitating the behavior and appearance of the original group.

Soon, the Ku Klux Klan became one of the most powerful organizations of the South. However, there was no chain of command, but rather an association of independent local groups having the same goals and using the same tactics. The main targets were former slaves and those uprooted politicians: were intimidated, were involved in violent nocturnal attacks and some were even killed.

Ku Klux Klan domination was short, the rebellion of the southerns towards the extreme methods of recourse, hastened the end, but also the suppression of local governments. In 1868, its power was weakened considerably. In 1871, the Congress passed a law by which the group was outlawed and was authorized the use of federal forces to suppress the Klan and judging its members in federal court. KKK dissolved – or at least was quiet- until 1915, when resurfaced.

Ben Johnson was born in 1848 into a family of slaves. 85 years later, he was interviewed by a team of researchers belonging to the Federal Writers’ Project, which collected testimonies on the life of former slaves. On the porch of his house in Durham, Ben and his wife tell about KKK meeting shortly after the Civil War end:

“I was born in Orange County, North Carolina, and I belong to Mr. Gilbert Gregg from Hillsboro. I know nothing about my mother and father, but I have a brother, Jim, who was sold for the young lady to be dressed for her wedding. Still exists yjr tree under which I sat and I watched Jim being sold. I sat there and cried and cried, especially when they put chains on him and took him, and I never felt so alone in my life. I have not heard from Jim since then and I wonder sometimes if he’s still alive.

I know that the lord has been good to us and he fed and clothed us well. We had our own garden and we get along well.

I saw a lot of Yankees when they came to Hillsboro and most have no respect for God, man, or to hell. But I do not really remember much about them, because they lived in the city… and had guards.

At least I’ll tell you they were Klu Klux. I’ll never forget when they hanged Cy Guy. They hanged him because of a scandalous insult to a white woman and a hundred strong men came after him. They judged him there in the woods and had scratched his arm to take some blood and with that blood have written that he’ll hung between heaven and earth until he is dead, dead, dead, and that any black that will take off his body will be hanged as well.

Well, sir, the next morning, he was hanging there, just above the road and with the sentence hanging over his head. Nobody bothered by that body for four days and was hanging there, swinging by the wind, but in the fourth day the sheriff came and took it off.

There were Ed and Cindy, who before the war belonged to Mr. Lynch, and after the war told them to move. He gave them a month, but they didn’t leave, so Ku Klux took them .

They came in a frosty night and took them from the bed. Carried them down into the woods, beat them almost to death and then threw them in the pond, their bodies broken the ice. Ed comes out and comes home to us, but Cindy has not been seen since.

To Sam Allen from Caswell County was told to move, and after a month came the one hundred Ku Klux carrying his coffin and they said that his time has come and if he wants to say goodbye to his wife and to say prayers; to hurry.

They put the coffin on two chairs, and Sam kissed his crying wife, then knelt beside the bed, with his head on the side and hands in front.

He stood there for a minute and then got up and had a long knife in his hand. Before being nabbed, killed two Klu Klux with the knife and ran out the door. They didn’t caught him, and in the next night when they returned, determined to take him, accidentally shot another black.

Bob Boylan fell in love with another woman, so he burned his wife and four children in the house. Ku Klux caught him, of course, and hunged him in the old red oak on the Hillsboro road. After they hunged him, his lawyer told us, the boys’ Bury him well, guys, so well how you’d bury me if I would be dead”.

I shook hands with Bob before hang him and I helped to be buried well and we all hoped that he went in glory”.

„The Ku Klux Klan, 1868″, EyeWitness to History (2006)


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