Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Ku. Klux. Klan.

I am going to tell you a story, as told to me by an old man who lived at the time and participated in many of the events I am going to relate. It is stranger than fiction, more wonderful than any fairy tale, yet as true as the Gospel.

So begins a document that has been in the possession of my family for generations. No one has been able to positively identify the author but it is believed to have been penned by “Uncle Hiram” who I mistakenly thought was a member of the Klan - an impression I had received as a young girl. Instead, it sounds very much like a newspaper or magazine account. In any case, it is a remarkable story, offering up a rare glimpse into the history and inner workings of this very secret organization. I present in its entirety with only a few omissions. Original spelling and phraseology are included; footnotes are mine.

A cartoon threatening that the KKK would lynch carpetbaggers 
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Independent Monitor, 1868. 

The great war between the states was over. Lee and Johnston[i] had surrendered. Kerby (sic) Smith[ii] had stacked his arms and the Confederate soldiers had gone to their desolate homes. The Union army, with the exception of a small portion, which was reserved to be kept in the large towns of the Southern states, had disbanded. Their whole duty was to see that the rebellion did not break out again. The negro had been set free and was as pliable as a child. He was ignorant and easily led either for good or for bad.

All Southern soldiers were disfranchised (sic) as were also all Southern sympathizers. So with the close of the war the north sent a horde of men to “reconstruct” the South and organize a government. These men were not soldiers who had risked their lives to save the Union, but men who had some bombproof position or who had not been in the army at all. They were called carpet-baggers because they carried all their worldly possessions in a carpet-bag.

A radical government was set up by these men. The most ignorant and vicious element in the South, together with the negroes, were given appointments. Several states had Lieutenant-governors, and nearly every county had negro Deputies for Sheriffs. Many negros who could neither read nor write were sent to our legislature. Their crowd stole the funds of the states, and made unnecessary appropriations and bankrupted nearly every Southern State. Negro bureaus were established and we could neither hire hands nor cooks without this bureau. The negro bureau wrote the contract and if you and the negro had any misunderstanding he would report you to the bureau. The first thing the carpet-beggars did was to organize them into what was known as a Union League. The trained the negro to be insolent to the Southern white man and especially to his former master.

- - - - -

. . . an incident occurred that brought about a revolution in the condition of things. Six confederate soldiers were in Judge Jones’ office in Pulaski, Tenn. Some were lawyers without clients, some were doctors without patients or medicine, and some were farmers without horses or plows. They were talking of war, its result and the conditions as they then existed. One of them suggested that they should organize a club or society for mutual benefit and amusement. This was readily agreed to. They appointed three out of the six as a committee to select a name for the society.

At their next meeting, which was the following evening, this committee brought in the word Kukloi from the Greek Kuklos, meaning a band or circle, when someone suggested the name Ku Klux to which someone else said make it Ku. Klux. Klan.[iii] So thus this Klan sprang into existence.

Then another incident occurred which shaped the destiny of the Ku. Klux. Klan. Mr. Spofford, a very wealthy man before the war, went to New Orleans on a business trip. He asked one of these young men to stay in his house, which was situated on a hill near the edge of town. He also suggested that the Klan could hold its future meetings there. This invitation was gladly accepted. It was whispered around and especially among the negros, that the Spofford house was haunted for strange lights had been seen flashing upstairs and down. Then the Klan decided to have some fun. So several of the members draped in long white robes and hid in secluded places near the house. This soon stopped all traveling on this road. After this, some of the Klan were stationed in different localities in the town. Ere long a negro was not seen out of his house after dark.

Then these young men saw their opportunity, for by this time the Klan had grown. In fact, nearly every young Confederate soldier in the town was a member. However, no one knew who the members were except the Klan itself. How it grew: a young man from another town or state was initiated into the Klan, then when he returned home would immediately form a Klan there. Care was always taken that no one should be admitted unless he was fully in sympathy with the South. In this way it was spread all over the Southern states. How this great society was organized and how it lived twelve months without a leader will always be a mystery.

Finally, after a year the more thoughtful saw that something had to be done, so a meeting was appointed to be held in Nashville, Tenn. Deligates (sic) from all over the South met there in a large hall while the town was full of United States soldiers.

They made a permanent organization by electing officers and giving them their titles, ranks and jurisdictions, as follows. First, was the Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire with his ten Genii or body guards. The Grand Wizard was chief commander of all the South. The 2nd in rank was the Grand Dragon of the Realm with his eight Hydras. The Grand Dragon commanded a state. The 3rd was the Grand Titan of the Dominion with his six Furies. He commanded a Congressional District. Fourth was the Grand Giant of the province with his four Goblins. He commanded a county. Fifth in power was the Grand Cyclops of the Den with his two Night Hawks. He commanded the Privates, the following officers, the Grand Maji, the Grand Monk, the Grand Turk, the Grand Scribe, the Grand Exhequer, and the Grand Sentabel or Lictor. Thus was the Ku. Klux. Klan. organized.

These men went back to their homes and out of the one hundred and fifty thousand members there was never a betrayal. Not one of them was ever convicted. Each member was oath-bound with signs, grips and pass words. They also made signals with metal whistles. Every man in the Den was numbered and no name was ever called after the men put on their uniform until after they had taken them off again.

- - - - -

The old man who related these things was a Night Hawk of his Den. He had a large white horse and to disguise him he blackened his main, tail and legs to his knees with ordinary shoe blacking. This was easily washed off.

- - - - -

. . . (A new) candidate was blindfolded and really knew nothing except what he had heard. All the important business was transacted by signs so after a candidate had taken the oath and before the Klan unmasked himself, they sometimes had a little fun at his expense.

If the candidate was a good singer, he was compelled to sing a song. Once the candidate was a poet, so when he came to the guard he was halted and asked what he wanted. He said, “I want to join the Ku. Klux. Klan.” The guard answered, “I suppose you want to betray us.” But the man protested vehemently, so they blindfolded him and marched him over logs, rocks, bushes, and all kinds of rough places. Finally he was told that he was in the presence of the Grand Cyclops. He was then sworn to in and told that he would have to repeat a verse of original poetry before he could see the faces of the members. He was quiet for a few minutes then he said:
Here I stand as you see
In Williamson County, Tennessee
For the purpose of joining the Ku. Klux. Klan.
And if I betray them I will be d…d.
That was enough and they were soon shaking his hand and welcoming into the Klan.

- - - - -

Now since the negro is very superstitious his credulity was easily worked upon. In this way the plans of carpet-baggers were thwarted. The Klan began to take night rides and especially in any community where (there) was a Union League. They never stopped to talk to anyone but rode like the wind. The members of the Klan changed their voices by talking down in their throats. . . .

. . . if a negro talked too much, a squad would call on him and ask him for a drink of water. This was usually brought in a large gourd. The Ku. Klux. Klan. would drink five or six gourds full and then pick up the bucket and drink every drop. He would then call for more and tell the astounded negro that that was the first water he had had since he was killed at the Battle of Shilo and that it was mighty hot where he came from. By this time another bucket of water had been brought and he would stand there and drink five or six bucket fulls. This was made possible by a rubber sack with a long hose attached . He dropped this on the ground so that the water could run out. This of course was hidden under the robe.

Sometimes a doctor would take the arm of a skeleton and arrange it so it would work. He put strings on the fingers and fastened them down with small staples and let them untied at the wrist. He held this skeleton’s hand out with his (right) hand and pulled the courd with his left when he shook hands with the negro. Or sometimes the man would take off his skeleton’s head and give it to the negro to hold for him. They always gave the negro some wholesome advice as to how he should conduct himself, and one admonition was generally enough.

The names of the six young men who organized the Ku. Klux. Klan. are now on a bronze tablet on the wall of Judge Jones’ old office, which still stands in Pulaski, Tenn. Capt. James Crow, the last organizer of the Klan died last in 1919. He had a son in France during the world war bearing his full name and title, Capt. James Crow.

After the white population of the South won control of the governments of the Southern states, the Ku. Klux. Klan. disbanded on its on (sic) accord.[iv] “Thus lived and died this strange order.” It’s birth was an accident, it’s life a comedy, it’s death a tragedy.  There has never been before or since a period in our history when such an order could have lived. May there never be such a time again. 

[i] Confederate Army Generals Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston
[ii] General Edmund Kirby-Smith
[iii] I don’t know if this is the way the Ku Klux Klan was written in the original document or whether it was peculiar to my grandmother who typed it out on an old Underwood in one long paragraph but I suspect this was the original usage.
[iv] The second Ku Klux Klan enjoyed a huge revival in the 1920s when it opposed (mainly Catholic and Jewish) immigration. By 1925, the Klan had as many as 4 million members. A series of sex scandals, internal battles over power and newspaper investigative reports quickly reduced its influence. The Klan arose a third time during the 1960s to oppose the civil rights movement and to preserve segregation in the face of unfavorable court rulings. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates there are between 5,000 and 8,000 members today.


  1. too weird, as all of these "secret" societies are. reminds me of junior high.

  2. Reminds me of the John Birch Society with all their cells. Part of the paranoid right. Yes, I thought it was interesting - you rarely see an "insider's" account like this from the old man.

  3. And we all know just how true the Gospel is!

  4. That's a fascinating read, but it's very fanciful and incomplete. The writer left out little details like beatings, lynchings, homes burned down, cross burnings and blacks forced to move away in fear for their life. I have read the intimidation extended to whites who were considered too friendly toward blacks.

    Also, I don't believe the Klan ever disbanded. Gatherings and cross burnings continued into at least the 1950s.

  5. SW and Jerry: This was not in any way meant to be a scholarly history of the Klan, an organization I grew up despising. It is simply what it is - a document, probably a journal or news article, that has been in my family for generations. I just thought it would be an interesting read.

    The info I provide in the footnote about the three separate Klan groups was from the SLPC as indicated, but can be found in many other sources. The first Klan, while certainly engaging in night riding, killings, and terrorism in general, started out as a social club and then became a formal organization to "protect" the South from carpet baggers and scalawags and Republicans during Reconstruction. The leadership, as such, was mainly interested in keeping Republicans and Negroes from voting. I'm sure there was plenty of "intimidation" involved and in fact, many of the leaders called the members who engaged in this kind of activity "outlaws" but they really had no control over them. In time, pretty quickly when you consider the first Klan only lasted three years, scandal, public opinion, the end of Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan Act of Congress all came into play and forced their disbandment. No doubt pockets of Klan-type groups continued and were scattered around the South, especially here in TN, but the formal group as such was, for all intents and purposed, dead.

    There is plenty of evidence to support this. I think a lot of people confuse the activities of a separate group which formed in the 20s and yet another separate in the 50s and 60s with the one that was formed to protest against Reconstruction after the Civil War.

  6. yes, very interesting. I was also intrigued by the lack of violence towards blacks by the Klan in this document, but maybe at the time this was written it hadn't escalated to that?? Seemed more high school clubish don't ya think?

  7. Sue: There was violence aplenty but not to the extent there was during the reign of the other two Klan organizations. And as I pointed out, it seems to have been carried out by isolated groups of ruffians and was not condoned by the "top brass." The founders of this first Klan were actually pretty educated - unlike the outlaws in the hinterlands. Kind of reminds me of the Republican Party's process of being destroyed by a group of out-of-control extremists.

  8. A small, grass roots group organizes in a time of national stress, determines simplistic common convictions and goals, grows rapidly by word of mouth, and begins to organize itself to terrorize the populace through intimidation, scare tactics and questionable power grabs. They sign pledges and take vows. Their loyalties and alliances are necessarily shady; it becomes a gaggle of odd bedfellows whose intention is to fight back, to stop feeling powerless; there is no greater vision. They are not interested in the well-being of the general populace of the areas they patrol. They are only interested in driving out the elements they believe have disenfranchised them, in destroying the unions that prevent the common people from being exploited, in striking back at those in power.

    They do the country great harm as their own power proliferates beyond their vision. Their leaders remain in the background pulling strings on the rank and file, and they are never held accountable. They fade into the shadows when their puppets have taken over the reigns of power...particularly in the South.

    Who do I describe?

  9. Nance: My amazing grandmother was born in 1880 in Athens, AL. Her father was the president of what was then Athens College (or maybe Athens Women's College). Unlike her sister, my grandmother was a true pioneer in her day - an independent woman before "women's rights" was even an issue and very unique in her compassion and total lack of bigotry. She traveled alone by train, unheard of at the time, to study piano at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. In later years she refused to stand for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at ballgames. All her life in her strong, quiet dignified way she advocated, mostly by example, for equal treatment of African-Americans, Hispanics, Indians (here and abroad), etc. No one dare say the N-word in her presence or make a derogatory remark or tell a racial joke. Unlike me who tends to go ballistic, she would calmly and with great dignity shrink the person to a mere grain of sand.

    The only reason I bring this up is for a little background. Here in the heart of KKK-land was this highly intelligent woman who, while born before the Civil War, certainly was exposed to the thinking of those who had lived during those times.

    After my mother's divorce, we lived with her, my grandfather and my mom's sister. Dinner time was always a sit-down occasion and conversation, never dull, centered around current events as well as history. I distinctly remember her saying on more than one occasion that the early Klan, the one talked about here, was not so much racially motivated as politically motivated to defend themselves against the carpet baggers, who were resented by most Southernors for their notoriously greedy, dishonest and exploitative characteristics.

    Just as I am not doing so now, I have no reason to believe that she was an apologist for this group. Yet, I have to be honest, at the time, and being a hyped up hippie, I thought she might have had a little denial. But in just the little research I've done for this article, I've seen more and more proof of this.

    Now, as stated earlier, this by no means is a denial of the atrocities that were engaged in by certain thugs and outlaws and there was plenty. But that apparently was not the goal of this first Klan organization. I even saw a document where Nathan Bedford Forrest, of all people, stridently condemned such hooligans.

    I think your point about secret organizations is totally valid and certainly applies in this case. But unlike the Tea Party, which no Republican has had the courage to denounce, the Klan leaders actually did speak out against the violence. But just like the thugs in the Tea Party, nobody listened.

    I know everyone thinks I have marbles rattling around in my empty head but I'm going to stick with my argument that people tend to equate the outrageous cruelty of the Klan in the 20s, 50s and 60s as one in the same. I don't think they are. I might devote some more time to researching it however. Maybe go down to the TN State Library and look through their archives - when I have time.

  10. I look forward to your research. Forgive me if I pushed that metaphor too far, but I was just struck by some similarities between the early Klan and the extreme factions that have arisen since 2008. The common theme, I think is suffering.

    I sometimes find it hard to be both a born and bred citizen of the South and a liberal, broad and deep (I fondly hope). What those two roles have in common for me, though, is sympathy with those who bear the greatest burden when the nation suffers. Southerners know suffering, which is why it always amazes me when they lose sight of that and identify with the aggressor. (And I'm not referring to you, here, but to tea party SC, for example).

    The South was not always an area of extreme conservatism; the Klan was not always a racist entity. I can hold both those bits of knowledge in my head at the same time that I struggle to apprehend the current situation.

    I know you can, too, which is what I love about this post and all your work. I meant my comment as support for this post and as expression of a little tangential thinking of my own.

    I believe the tea party arose as a response to a real issue of suffering. They believed that we the middle class taxpayers were being made to bail out our oppressors, the banks and Wall Street. They were right to be upset about that, but they were missing some core economics and they've evolved into something more harmful than helpful. There's my parallel.

  11. Thank you, dear Nance. I think there's a parallel and we can only hope that the TP goes the way of the KKK - at least the first one.

  12. Thanx for the read Leslie ... yes ... it's accurate ... maybe not complete by one of the commentor's statement's, but much accuracy. What the Klan started as and what it became and even what it is today is quite a change actually, even book's of interest's, from the Bible to the Turner Diaries (I have quite a bit on this stuff), I dont know if was intentionally started to be a racial cruelty group, but to be a segregated group of course, which basically started as nothing more than a typical fraternal brotherhood/ order. But enough from me ....

  13. Yes, I think the article is accurate - as far as it goes - but it misses the boat by ignoring the violence except in vague references to it at the beginning and end. But what I think it does reflect, no matter how deplorable it is to most of us today, is the thinking at the time that the "negro was pliable as a child," "ignorant" and "superstitious." Therefore, it was okay to play tricks on them. Not. Sadly, there are still pockets of this kind of ignorance that still exist today - more, in fact, than most people realize or have actually witnessed/experienced in person.

    I guess I think that it's important to read accounts such as this to appreciate and gain insight into our history no matter how ugly it might be. An analogy would be to read accounts of the Holocaust not just from the victims and survivors but from those who carried out the atrocities as well.

  14. Fascinating. I didn't know of the titles of the Klan's leaders beyond the Grand Dragon. They do sound like little boys playing a game with the names they chose when they organized.
    Unfortunately, it was more than a childish game.

    It just proves that secret societies can become evil because of the anonymity of the structure. It's so easy to perform cowardly acts while hiding behind a hood.

    It's too bad that we can't so easily form a protest movement (not secret) to counter the ignorance of the Tea Party movement.

  15. In reference to the "playing trick's" thing ... an old story I heard from a friend who was raised in West Texas ranch country (cant swear to it, but he's a straight up dude) he told me a a betting game that the Bush familia and fellow ranch circle used to play on wtback's that worked on landscaping and hand's ... they would shortchange certain group's of new wetback's (illegal alien's) and they woulld have bi- monthly bet's set up with each other as to which of the worker's was smart enough to catch it. BTW ... I know two Halocaust survivor's who are close to me, they still have the tattoo's on their forearm area, that they never had graphed off fo personal reason's.

  16. @Darlene: Yes, when you have secret organizations like this one was, there are bound to be those who go off the deep end and nobody has any control over them. Despite all the different divisions, it doesn't sound to me like they were all that well organized - unlike the Klan in the 1920s.

    @RC: The Hispanics were (and still are) treated just as badly throughout the SW as Blacks were in the South.

  17. A fascinating account. I read all the comments, your explanations and replies included. The Klans are of no great import over here, or in Europe, except as a historical matter. I don't suppose there are many non-historians who know that there were different groups at different times.
    My knowledge of the organisation has been of a vicious mob, riding out lynching and burning, without ever having been in a position of respectability on either side of the political and national divide.

    Thank you for the lesson.

    I saw that you have put me into your blogroll, thank you again. Would you consider joining my followers? I'd be honoured.

    PS: i do so dislike the apostrophe in a plural. (Minding my own business comes hard, at times)

  18. Friko: I'm so glad to see you here. I didn't know there were three different Klan organizations until I began researching for this piece - and I grew up in Klan-land. I'm sure there was plenty of vicious mobs, lynching and burning back then but I just don't think that was the mission of the people who started that first one - not initially anyway. And I'm not sure anyone in this neck of the woods was particularly eager to write about it. The subsequent groups certainly were hoodlums, however.

    Yes, I would be delighted to follow you.

    I beg people to correct my mistakes because I'm dyslexic and prone to errors but everyone makes them, even the best of writers. And this lovely 86 year old lady is one of the best among us.

  19. NOTE: This is not intended to be a scholarly look at the KKK nor is it in any way an apology for this organization. It is what it is - a document.

    What an odd way to begin a tale (S.W.!)

    You had me at: I am going to tell you a story, as told to me by an old man who lived at the time and participated in many of the events I am going to relate. It is stranger than fiction, more wonderful than any fairy tale, yet as true as the Gospel.

    Sometimes a doctor would take the arm of a skeleton and arrange it so it would work. He put strings on the fingers and fastened them down with small staples and let them untied at the wrist. He held this skeleton’s hand out with his (right) hand and pulled the courd with his left when he shook hands with the negro.

    Don't play. I know that's a marionette.

    OK, so as you can see, I have nothing to contribute. After you post at MMA, you definitely renewed my attention.

  20. The Tea Party reminds me of the Klan... but are too cheap to buy robes...just T Shirts.

  21. @John: Welcome aboard. I added that note at the beginning because I felt some folks didn't understand what I was trying to do, which was nothing more than to post a family relic - minus the skeleton hand.

    @okj: Totally.

  22. Reading these is SO refreshing...I wish I could move to a country where rational discussion was as valued as it is here. Guess we’ll have to do the best we can with what we have to work with. Note to self: Model desired behavior….model desired behavior…model des……… (repeat as necessary). Thanks!

  23. Bill, thank you. I really feel very lucky to have such pleasant and wise readers who gather here - even when they don't agree with my drivel on occasion.

  24. This is a fascinating read! I am just learning of my mother's family history. It has some very dark connections to slave ownership and the KKK. I find it difficult to come to terms with. This stuff is deep in my roots.

    One of my mother's cousins went to prison for his activities in a very famous KKK case. I was able to "interview" him a couple of years ago. He still wears confederate flag suspenders. He told me "it was during the sixties and I was young". I later found newspaper accounts describing his crimes. My family never discussed this. I only ever knew my mother's cousin had gone to prison for his KKK involvement.

    It feels devastating to know my Southern ancestors were a part of this culture... I am a descendant of the Rev. Charles Crow family, founder of Ocmulgee Church, north of Selma, Alabama. Part of that family settled in Mississippi. It was this branch of the family who had ties to the KKK. I was raised in Mississippi in the 60's.

    I have spent my entire life greatly saddened by what I saw with my own eyes and experienced as a child. It is important to discuss this history. As a white person, I always felt it was not my story to tell... I was not qualified to speak about certain racist elements I witnessed. But, these days, I am compelled to share my story. Thank you for writing about these issues.

  25. @Grits: Your family history is fascinating and you should definitely write about it. Being a white southern woman who was a witness to the events of those days is as valid as John Egerton writing "Speak Now Against the Day" - a fabulous book, if you haven't read it. You surely have a few tales to tell. To me it's similar to keeping the history of the Holocaust alive. We must.

    I don't think anyone who was born in the South can escape having had a few ancestors that were influenced or active in the Klan to some degree but that makes the "telling" even more compelling. This "Uncle Hiram" was a relative of my mother's mother. She was the daughter of the President of Athens College in Alabama. She must have had a unique upbringing because there wasn't a racist bone in her body or in my mom's, her sister's or her brother's - and it carried down to me and influenced my thinking. What's weird is that my grandmother's sister was the antithesis of "Dan," as we called my grand-mom.

    Yes indeedy, you should write about what you know and what you saw.