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.
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. . . 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.
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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.
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. . . (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.
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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.