History of an extraordinary organization – St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/18/1906
Almost simultancously, or in rapid succession, during the past few weeks there occurred three events apparently unrelated,
but all highly significant in the opinion of those who claim-that the race question is about to take on some startling new phase.
One of these was the race riot w Springfield, O., where the tenements of the negroes were burned by the Mob. Another was
the moral justification of lynching by two gentlemen regarded as among the highest authorities on ethics in the United States
today. While third was the surprising reappearance after a period of 37 years of the Ku Klux Klan at Shreveport, La., where
horsemen, garbed in fantastic dress, paraded the streets and, with the acquiescence of the public authorities of this important
city, proceeded to frighten the black inhabitants into respectfful obedience of law and order. Is the Ku Klux Klan about to be
revived throughout the South? .Are race riots to break-out in many of the large cities? Is it true, as some allege, that the
negroes cannot be cotrolled by law, and because the law in many places has fallen into contempt through corruption at its
inception and popular distrust of legislatures, that communities must be ruled by the primitive law of public opinion? These
are the questions that many thinking people are asking themeslves today. If lynching is morally justifiable, the operations
of the Ku klux Klan are far more so, because this celebrated organization in its early days rarely took human life or injured
anybody physically, its ohject being to rule the ignorant blacks through their superstitions fears and to preserve order in
the South. The Klan was called into existence because the social order which the South had known for a century could
no longer be maintained in the turbulent days of reconstruction. In other words, where the law failed, the local public opinion
-just as it happened in many places in the West with the Vigilantes-asserted itself through a voluntary organization. And
it is because the law has failed today, say Andrew D. White and Goldwin Smith, that lynch law is better than statute law.
Mr. White who is a former President at Cornell University, former ambassador from the United States to Russia and Germany
and at one time prominent mentioned as Republican candidate for Governor of the State of New York, asserts that the
“goody-good talk” about lynching is nonsensical and ridiculous” and that as a matter of fact the number of homicides
punished by lynching in this country today exceeds the number punished by the due process of law.
Goldwin Smith, the most distinguished living English writer on political philosophy and a scholar of international reputation.
says that lynch law is better than statute law in many communities. He sees in this a method whereby justice may be served
and public order maintained when the statute law. which, if it does not secure these objects, is not worth the paper it is
written on. fails. Both Dr. White and Prof, Goldwin have repeatedly asserted that law in this country as the instrument .
of government is losing it, power in sections history, and falling into popular contempt because the coutry has drifted away
from its old ideals of morality and rectitude. A Southerner has recently said: “You of the North have only to dismiss the
negro question, while we of the South have to deal with it.” This distinction is not quite so clear since the race war at
Springfield. O., as it was when uttered, but it so employs the verb “to deal” as to suggest to many thinking minds the
likelihood that the South is losing faith in the written law as an effective restraint upon crime. There are some who point
out that both the statute law and lynch law having failed to preserve order in the South, it is quite natural that the Ku
Klux should reappear. They contend that this mysterious organization, for all the abuses to which it led and for all the
denunciation heaped upon it by the rest of the country, is regarded by the South as one of the most effective means ever employed for dealing with problems peculiar to that part of the United States. There are few organizations in history comparable
to the Ku Klux Klan in those features for which it was famous. To begin with, it was a secret order, and its secrets were
so well kept that even today it is the least known big organization in American history. Time and again have efforts been
made to write a complete history of the Klan, but the sources of information have so far remained sealed that recent
inquisitors have had scarcely more success than the investigating committee appointed by Congress had in the 1868.
Secondly, the Ku Klux was big and far-reaching. It originated in Tennessee, spread into all the gulf states around the Atlantic
coast into Virginia, and across the Mississippi as far west as Central Texas. It had at one time a total membership of 500,000
Thirdly, the Ku Klux had a remarkable name. One historian says: “Let the reader pronounce it aloud. The sound of it is suggestive of bones rattling together. The name is mysterious pictorial and suggestive of the mysterious. This same writer says of it: “It
is mysterious and it is meaningless; it is mysterious because it is meaningless.” Fourthly, the Ku Klux Klan’s methods were
peculiarly effective in the uses made of them. They took advantage of the negro’s chief weakness-superstition. His fear of
the supernatural and horror of the spectral invested the white masks, the black and white robes, and the skull-and-bones
with a dress impossible of conception to any other brain than that of a black. The Klan became the weapon of the South,
but it was neither organized nor named for that purpose. From a purely social origin. it became a great factor in the reconstruction period. Its name brought it fame. It was really but one of a great many organizations in which the whites of the South joined
to defend themselves against the newly freed blacks. The others are almost unknown, nor did any of them ever attain such proportion, as the Ku Klux did. Their names were impotent. That of the Ku Klux was so much more expressive and impresive
that it carried its organization like wildfire over the South. All others were puerile in name; the Ku Klux was singularly puissant. Whether the Klux worked good or evil is a matter of dispute. Many Southerners defend it, saying it was the salvation of the
whites in the south in the first three years after the war. Many Northerners point out its abuses. The South admit. some of
them as the natural outgrowth of an unlawful organization for self-preservation, but denies most of them. The South has
always contended that only those known to be gentlemen were admited to membership in the Klan, drinkers and persons
capable of abuses being barred in every community which organized a Klan. The real history of the KIan’s origin has been
much talked about, but never until now satisfactorily written.
In a new book upon the Klan J.C. Lester, D.L. Wilson and Walter L. Fleming collaborate in a history of the famous organization
The diftieulty of writing its history, as well as the mysterious nature of the order are aptly illustrated in the statement by these historians that the Ku Klux conducted all its affairs orally. They were never written. Pulaski. Tenn. was the birthplace of the Klan.
It was not concieved in malice or with any idea that it was to become the remarkable phenomenon which it did. Pulaski is the capital of Giles County. in Southern Tennessee. In that little town began in 1866 a movement whieh spread throughout the
South and attracted not only the attention of the whole United States, but that of the entire civilized world. In May, 1866, a son
of Judge Thom, M. Jones and some companions met at the Jones office in Pulaski to organize a social club for amusement.
Two committees were appointed-one to select a name for the club and another to draft by-laws. Calvin Jones and R.R.
Reed were the committee to find a name. The next meeting was held at a private residence in Pulaski and Jones and Reed
suggested several names. One of these was “Kukloi,” from the Greek word “Kuklos,” meaning a band or circle. It wouldn’t
do, but it suggested to someone the name Ku Klux. To complete the alliteration, the dub added Klan, so spelling it. Ku Klux
were new words coined then and there. They meant nothing at the time. The club elected a Grand Cyclops,” or president:
a “Grand Magi,” or vice-president; a “Grand Turk,” or marshal; a “Grand Exchequer,” or treasurer: and two “Lictors,” or
outer and inner guards of the “den,” as the place of meeting was titled. Every member took oath to keep secret the affairs
of the order. It was prohibited to solicit new members. Whoever joined did so by his own invitation. Every member was
required to procure a costume consisting of a white mask for the face, a tall fantastic cardboard hat to give the wearer the appearance of great height, and a gown. The color of the gown was optional with the wearer. It was usually black or white.
The sheet early came into use. In some parts of the oath later very colorful calico robes were worn. Each member of the
Klan carried a whistle, and a code of signals was adopted. Indeed, every feature contributed its element of weirdness.
The name was weird, the mask was weird, the robe was weird, the whistle was weird. In the following July and August the
Ku Klux Klan was the sensation in Pulaski. Everybody talked about it. Few knew what it was or what it was about. The
members kept mum. Their grotesque forms on the streets and roads at night fanned the coals of curiosity in the community
until they flamed. The thing most on the southern mind just then was self-preservation against, the blacks, and it was naturally concluded that this was the work for which the Ku Klux had organized. After that idea crystallized the spread of the movement
was rapid. Other Klans sprang up in every part of the south and each organized for the work attributed to the parent Klan
at Pulaski. The result was that the orginal lodge speedily did become the very thing it was thought to be, and every other
Klan in the South joined with it. The headquarters of the order were in the parent Klan, and the “Grand Cyclops” became
the chief officer of a mysterious nocturnal order numbering in its membership a half million men. Upon one occasion a
Ku Klux parade was given at Pulaski, the home of the “Grand Cyclops” and other officers of the order. It was a night
parade and the most remarkable, perhaps, in history. Three thousand masked and gowned riders rode through tthe
streets. What the Ku Klux did was to ride at night upon negroes who gave offense. Usually, the offender, fled when he
was warned, for there was no terror in the South like that which the black felt when the Ku Klux signaled him out. The
methods employed were those of the earlier Vigilantes of the far West and the subsequenced Whitecaps of the Middle
States. The Klan rode to the home of an offender, posted a notice warning him to leave the country and saw that he
left. It frequently administered a flogging In some rare cases it turned upon whites. It was a tremendous factor in the
South in the years 1866-7-8. Naturally the Ku Klux movement led to abuses and Congress denounced it and passed
laws agahist it. If the Ku Klux Klan could have rid the South of the corrupt carpet baggers sent down there from
Washington after the war they would have accomplished a useful purpose in the minds of all Northern historians.
As it was, it confined its operations to the blacks, and there is grave question whether it could ever have impressed
or influenced the white race. Its members, clothed in the weird garb and bearing mysterious but meaningless signs
and symbols often maintained order by simply riding through a town, without uttering a word.
The mere sight of the, extraordinary horsemen was, in a large number of cases, sufficient to instill into the negro mind a
respect for existing conditions that preserved the status quo. This fact alone is regarded as showing the constitutional and
physical difference between the black and whites, for the latter would have had no more respect for a horseman disguised
in a sheet than for one wearing armor or a dress suit. The Ku Klux Klan was officially disbanded in 1869, when the “Grand
Wizard of the Invisible Empire”‘ issued a proclamation to his subjects declaring the order disbanded. This proclamation
followed legislation drected against the Klan, which had degenerated toward the last until outrages committed by persons operating in the Klan disguise, whether members of it or not, so incensed the country that the organization was attacked
from every side. The defenders of the order have always contended that the Klan’s decline and disappearance did riot
argue its futility, for it had really accomplished a great deal for which the better whites of the South were grateful. The
“Grand Wizard” directed the members to burn all their paraphernalia and records. and exhorted them to support the
civil laws. This proclamation could not be published in any newspaper because of a law forbidding the publication of
any announcement by the Klan, but it spread by word of mouth with great rapidity, and effectively disbanded the
mysterious order. Ku Klux raids continued to be reported for some time, but the former officers of the Klan denied
all responsibility for them, attributing them to lawbreakers who had stolen the Klan name.
Note: After the 1869 disbandment of the Klan, and up until the 1915 revival by W.J. Simmons, there were a number
of clubs, associates, and movements that attempted to revive the name of the “Ku Klux Klan” for their own purposes.
Generally these clubs had little interest in a practical contemporary Klan that was to have some longevity and had the
inter-generational consent and blessing by representatives of the first era Klan, instead they wanted a mono-faceted
protectionist or policing agency to ensure communal propriety, only to shortly disband this “new Klan” once their goals
had been met or thwarted. This is the key distinction between virtually all of the attempted reformations of the Klan prior
to Simmons and the Klan under Simmons. The group referenced herein is one of those movements, from the research
I’ve done this “Klan,” which seemed to be solely active in Missouri, was exclusively interested in the forming of a club for
regional moral decency by extrajudicial methods, as opposed to a collaborative effort to charter and reinvigorate a new
Klan with a new purpose. I’m certain those who constitued this attempted reformation were fine men and I’d be inclined
towards sympathy with their objectives, however this was not a legitimate reorganization of the Ku Klux Klan.
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