Secrets of the Klan, 8/28/1892
A former Ku-Klux leader tells of the dread order
He Declares That It Was Formed to fiaard Against Negro Supremacy in the South. During the Trying Administration
of Johnson-First Meeting in a Church-Grewsome Trappings of the Horses and Men-There Were 25,000 Members.
One of the original leaders of the Ku-Klux Klan of the South is at present engaged in business in Wall street. He is an
Alabamian, a tall, muscular blonde, with an exceedingly emotional temperament and a fiery energy of character. He
gave me yesterday some of the inside pictures of the original formation of this once powerful organization. I have sat
through a number of Congressional investigations during the reconstruction period and have witnessed the numerous
official attempts made to establish absolutely by evidence the true history of the organization. All of these official attempts
have failed. No member of the society has ever betrayed its secrets. The only evidence that could be obtained concerning
it was through witnesses who gave testimony concerning its acts. These stories were often colored by partisanship and exaggerated from the influence of terror. Yet enough was brought out to show that there was such an organization, although Southern leaders for many years have pooh-poohed all of the allegations concerning the work of the society and have
practically denied that there was any such thing, so far as the general South was concerned. This Southern leader, who
was at one time so prominent as an official in the Ku-Klux-Klan, said that if his name were not given he would tell the inner
history of the organization and why the society was founded. The Ku-Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tenn. It was organized
as a vigilance committee for the purpose of preserving law and order. It was made up of ex-Confederates. The organization
begun in Pulaski extended throughout the South. It was formed first in the spring of 1867. The organization continued
only until after the inauguration of Gen. Grant in 1869, when it was disbanded and ceased to exist as a society. There
may have been sporadic demonstrations from time to time in the name of the Ku-Klux, but this has been done without
authority. All through the South now whenever there is a raid made by masked men it is said to be the work of Ku-Kluxers,
but the fact remains that the organization only existed through the short period above named. This gentleman said,
from his point of view, there was the most justifiable reasons for the formation of the society.
During the war the negroes were very faithful to their old masters: in fact, he said, the old negroes today are the most loyal
and affectionate people in the world. Nothing shows better this loyalty and affection than the fact that during the long years
of the war, when the Southern women were absolutely at their mercy, there was not a single case of outrage reported. After
the war succeeded a very unhappy period. The worst blow that ever befell the South was the assassination of Lincoln. The administration of Johnson stirred up all of the unhappy elements of the South. There came into the South a party of adventurers who sought to use the negroes to further dishonest and unworthy ends. The negroes were taught to believe that the entire
South was to be theirs and that their former masters were to be driven out. The States were put under Territorial forms of government, soldiers were Placed at the polls during elections, while the test oath excluded from the right of suffrage and
from the power to hold office every one of the leading men of the South. The local courts were abolished. Nothing but the
Federal courts remained. Such a complete disorganization of society had a great effect upon the negroes. They saw the
class they had always been taught to look up to discredited and disqualified. Stimulated by the passion of partisan leaders,
they were led to take an antagonistic position to their former masters. This, with the unsettling of the normal condition of
affairs, the abolishment of the regular courts, made lawlessness almost universal. There was plenty of money in Alabama
at this time. The cotton crop following the war was good and the priess obtained were high. The prices of the second year
were also high, so that the old planters found themselves reasonably prosperous. This prosperity, however, was threatened
by the presence of thieves and outlaws who combined to take their property from them and drive them out of the country.
Midnight robberies and murder, soon became common. Some of the younger negroes became dissipated, and therefore
easy tools in hands of the camp followers who swarmed in the State just after the war ended. It wits a most unhappy time.
The cruel outrage of a mother and her daughter, of one of the best families of Northern Alabama, led to a meeting of the
leading citizens to take some steps to protect their lives and property.
This was the first formation of the Ku-Klux organization. The first meeting took place across the border in Pulaski. There was
no name given to the organization. It was simply the formation of a vigilance committee. The society received its name later
from the negroes. who gave to it the name Ku-Kiux, as the nearest approach in words to describe the cocking of a gun. The
word ” klan” was afterward added by some alliterative writer of a newspaper. The first meeting of the klan took place in a
church. The pastor fully comprehended the object of the meeting and willingly lent the church for this purpose. The meeting
was held at night. Guards were posted on the road for half a mile about to avoid any interference or spying. The first speakers called attention to the fact that the country was in a condition of disorder. A Presidential election was near at hand and it
was of the highest importance for the whites to take such steps as to prevent the negroes from asserting their superiority
of numbers so as to gain control of the Southern States. This control, it was said, meant the destruction of all of the property
rights of the planting class, the possible murder and outrage of their families, or, in any event, exile. There is no reason to
suppose but what the men who met in the church believed in these statements. It must be remembered that the Southern
States up to that time had ratified the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments, but had never ratified the fifteenth, giving right
of suffrage to the negroes. This is given in explanation of the attitude of many of the Southern politicians of today. They
have always opposed negro suffrage, and, through their local legislation, have practically disfranchised the negro. The
klan, when first organized, comprised some five hundred members. It afterward spread throughout the South so that there
were upward of twenty-five thousand men enrolled in the society. The negroes in a majority of the Southern States
overwhelmingly outnumbered the whites. During the period preceding Grant’s election troops were stationed throughout
the South in large numbers. Federal officeholders were able at any time to command the services of large bodies of troops.
It was sf the greatest importance, therefore, that the society should proceed with the greatest discretion and keep strictly
within the lines of preserving law and order. The leaders were very able politicians.
Their chief efforts were to be directed first to terrorizing the negroes without injuring them. A very mysterious uniform was
devised. All of the members of the klan went mounted. The hoofs of their horses were done up in half-tanned leather. This
silenced their foot-falls, so that an entire troop of Ku-Klux would pass along the road without a sound. The horses were then covered with white cotton ticking down to their fetlock’s. Each rider wore over his ordinary clothing a long black calico garment, which, being divided into pantaloons, descended until it hid his feet. Over the head of each rider was a black calico mask
-which fell over his shoulders. Each rider wore what he pleased on top of this mask. Some devised fantastic head dresses.
One ingenious Ku-Kluxer used to wear a skull, with a candle gleaming in the interior. All new members of the society after
their first meeting in the church were initiated at midnight in some deep woods. It was one of the rules of the Ku-Klux to never meet except at night. Any member of the klan who permitted himself to be seen in the uniform of the society in daylight
subjected himself to the most rigorous military punishment. Three members of the klan were shot for disobeying the order
of only appearing at night. These men used the name and uniform of the society for the purpose of committing a daylight
robbery. They were tried that very night, shot, and buried at the place of trial. At the meetings of initiation the new candidate
was made to take the most awful oaths that he would faithfully obey the comrnands of the society. He was then taught
the various signs, because in the ritual of the Ku-Klux no words were spoken. Everything was done by signs. Executions
when ordered were all carried through by a language of signs. After. a candidate had accepted he was given a little book,
a pamphlet of some eight or ten pages, which contained all of the signs of the society. These the candidate had to study
and master before he would be accepted as a full-fledged member. These signs were of the simplest possible character.
For instance, the question “Are you a member of the Ku-Klux-Klan?” was made by simply placing the thumbs inside of
the belt with the hands pointed downward. The answer of “yes ” was the careless pushing back of the hair with the right
hand. All of the natural gestures were employed as the language of the society.
When there was to be a meeting of the society the various members were summoned always by some one living at a
distance. A member living fifteen miles away would be sent to notify a neighborhood. This was done by a series of whistles imitative of some night bird. No one ever failed to obey these signals, as the penalties for refusal were very severe. When
the section of a klan moved out at night no one knee-his neighbor. From the time they started on the road until their return
no words would be interchanged. They always rode in single file thirty feet apart. Where the number was large and two were ordered up abreast they invariably placed the width of the road between them. My informant says that during his connection
with the klan there was never a single punishment committed by the society except for the crimes of murder or outrage.
They did order a number of men to leave the country and where they refused to go made it im-possible for them to live in the neighborhood. But in each instance, he said, the men driven out were mischief-makers and stirrers up of the evil passicns of
the negroes. This statement will be perhaps disputed by those who do not look at this organization from the Southern point
of view. It is reasonable, however, to concede that the main motives of the organization were for the preservation of law
and order according to the ideas of the formerly dominant class. Some of their midnight masquerading bordered upon the grotesque. They did not always go out to tie up criminals for a whip-ping or for an exe,ution. Their first mid-night raids were
for the purpose of simply creating a spirit of uneasiness and terror. They would ride up to the house of some negro who was conspicuous for his disorderly qualities, surround the house, and burn white lights or red lights as the cavalcade would file
past. The negroes would generally swoon with terror and swear afterward that they had been visited by ghosts. After a time
the story was circulated that they were the ghosts of their former masters, killed on the field of battle. One Ku-Klux joker emphasized this story by concealing under his black shirt a vessel made of skins which would hold twelve or fifteen gallons.
He headed a cavalcade one night which stopped at the house of one of the most superstitious negroes in the county.
They surrounded the house and, under cover of a revolver, made the negro come out. He came, ashen with terror, and,
receiving only signs, doubled himself to the right and the left in his eagerness to carry out the orders of his visitors. The
Ku-Klux joker signed for water. He made the negro bring water to him, which he pretended to drink until he had stowed
away some fifteen gallons. The more water he poured down the wilder became the terror of the negro. When the last
bucket had disappeared the Ku-Klux leader said in a hollow, sepulchral voice; “That’s good. That’s the first water that has
passed my tips since I fell at Manassas.” At this the colored man utterly collapsed with fright and fell to the ground. In
another moment this small army of phantoms had disappeared in the darkness. This story was enlarged upon until the
mere word Ku-Klux Klan was enough to turn any colored man in the neighborhood the color of ashes. One of the greatest demonstrations of the Ku-Klux was made one night at Huntsville, Ala. This town was then occupied by 12,000 United
States troops. It was just before the Presidential election of 1868. The demonstration was made on Saturday night. The
election was for the following Tuesday. This parade was made for the purpose of overawing the colored voters. It was
a very bold and daring display of the strength of the klan. Their whistles and signals began about 8:30 in the evening.
Notices had been sent during the previous forty-eight hours throughout the neighboring counties. The members of the
klan with head dresses all lighted moved in silently thirty paces apart, coming in on every road which led into Huntsville.
Without a sound or an order more than the whistling signals the klan moved in a thousand strong to the public square.
To the right or left of them soldiers were camped. None of the sentries halted them, as the war was over, and there were
no regulations for the control of the public high-way. The presence of the klan in such strong force created an enormous
sensation. The negroes rushed wildly back and forth throughout the Federal camp wilting for help. The commandant at
the camp was notified of their presence.
He was told that the Ku-Kluxers were out, and that they were going to massacre all the negroes in the neighborhood. It
was an exciting and dramatic spectacle. The negroes were shouting like madmen, praying and begging as if they were
beside themselves’ with terror. The long roll was sounded. The troops were turned out as if for a midnight attack. Lights
were Stashed in every direction. The cries of the negroes, the clash of arms, with the terrifying long roll continually sounding, added to tae awe-inspiring features of the situation. The hooded horse-men never moved. They sat like so many black
blocks. Their leaders were in front as if on parade. Every Ku-Kluxer held in his right hand a revolver. Across his saddle
rested a repeating rifle. Six regiments moved out from the camp. They came up with the rattle and crash of a double quick
step. Two of these regiments were cavalry. They were deployed to the right and the left. Four infantry regiments advanced
into the square with fixed bayonets. A battery of light artillery accompanied them. Several Gatling guns were unlimbered,
and yet the Ku-Klux Klan did not budge and still maintained silence. The commanding officer dashed up in front of his troops
and faced the klan. He was puzzled. He had made such a demonstration of force, he had undoubted authority to disperse
rioters, to quell disorder, but up to that time the Ku-Klux Klan itself was not under the official ban. As this officer advanced
in the direction of the klan his officers brought up their revolvers to the sides of their heads in the form of a military salute.
Every member of the klan then saluted. The Federal officer, before he thought, returned this military salute, and then he
reined in his horse and turned to the Sheriff who had summoned him. For even then there was a semblance of maintaining
order through the civil authorities. It was the Sheriff who had called upon the troops. The Federal officer said to the Sheriff:
“There is no riot here There is no disorder. I do not see that anyone’s life is threatened or in danger. There is no military
law and no law of the United States which authorizes me to interfere with a masquerade so long as no disorder follows.
Here there is nothing but order and decorum. Until there is a change I can do nothing.”
He instantly faced his men about and marched his troops back to the camp. The klan remained still silent for about ten
minutes and then the whistles began to sound and the klan to move. In five minutes they had disappeared as completely
as if the earth had swallowed them up. The demonstration had a great effect and more than satisfied the leaders of the
klan. This ex-Ku-Klux leader says that following Grant’s eleotion as President the klan was formally disbanded throughout
the South. The reason of it was that they had belief in Grant. His treatment of Lee’s army when it surrendered had created
for him throughout the South a most favorable opinion. The leaders of the klan were old soldiers and they looked to Gen.
Grant with confidence for fair treatment. It took many years to overcome the misfortunes which followed the administration
of Johnson, but today he says the South is prosperous and going ahead with enormous rapidity. The people, however,
are sensitive, and shrink with horror from the thought of the possibility of returning to the old days when the white class
was under foot and the lawless classes controlled the States. They argue that the only true friends of the negroes are
their old masters, and anything that introduces discord between the two classes is bad for the country. The Mississippi
plan of limiting the suffrage by educational and property qualifications will soon be adopted throughout the South. This
is practical disfranchisemert of the negro. This Mississippi plan, they say, is strictly within their powers. and cannot be
interfered with. I think that the political leaders in the South have come to the conclusion that they will have to accept
the cutting down of their representation in Congress. They will have to consent to be represented there by the number
of votes cast, instead of as today by the votes that might be cast. This, they claim, is the only real point of contention
between the North and the South. They regard the control of their own State affairs as of vital importance. With the
representation in Congress recast they say that the North then will have no real right to criticise. They add that the
Mississippi qualification could with propriety be extended throughout the North.
In Mississippi no man is allowed to vote today who cannot read or write or who has not paid his taxes on a certain amount
of property. They say that these disqualifications, if insisted upon in all of the States of the Union, would result in a better administration of affairs, and that there wouid be a wiser use of public money if only property-owners were allowed to impose taxes. They say that this is the only way the race problem of the South can be solved. They call attention to the fact that
several thousand whites in Mississippi have been disqualified under this new Constitution. Suffrage now in that State will
have some value, as it will be an incentive for the uneducated colored and for the lower whites to educate themselves and
to acquire the modest amount of property which is necessary to become a voter. Southern people profess to be thoroughly contented with she situation in the South and claim that today law and order are observed with them to even a greater
degree than in any other part of the Union. This is another Southern point of view and is of interest in connection with
the inside tsory of the formation of the Ku-Klux Klan and the objects for which it was organized.
Editors note: There are a # of misconceptions in this article, those will be documented below:
It is started herein that the Klan was started in the Spring of 1867, this is untrue as the Klan was founded on December
The Klans’ first meeting was not in a church, it’s first meeting was in a local house that was lended by an associated of
one of the founders.
It is stated that the Klan had upwards of 25,000 members, the Klan had 550,000 members, per the word of the first Grand
Wizard of the Klan which was Nathan Bedford Forrest.
It is stated the Klan was founded as a vigilance committee, this is untrue. The Klan was founded as a secretive fraternity
for the amusement and a-political communal sensation and joviality.
It is stated that the Negroes gave the Klan its’ name, this is also false. The Klans’ name was a derivative of the Greek
word “KuKlos,” which was altered to “Ku Klux,” as it had a more mysterious connotation, aswell as because a number
of local college fraternities utilized the term “KuKlos” for their fraternities, and the founders wanted to disassociate the
Klan from being associated with, or attractive to, youthful activity. Klan was a variation of the term “clan,” which is a
Scottish term, and was suggested due to a number of the founders being of Scottish ancestry, which meant
brotherhood, so the Klan was to be a circle of brotherhood.
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