The Origin and Development of the Ku Klux Clan
The following data is extracted from Trinity College Historical Society .
The most interesting epoch in the history of the South is that period from 1865 to 1870, known as the "Reconstruction Era." After the surrender at Appomattox our fathers returned to their homes and began to gather up the fragments of the social, civil and political wreck, in order to form them into institutions to suit their new conditions of life. The difficulties under which they labored were extreme. They had to contend, first, with their own prejudices as a proud, though conquered, people; second, the character of those agents of the United States government, who were, many of them, mere adventurers, without the best interests of the South at heart; third, the class of unprincipled men of our own country whom the fortunes of war had placed in power; fourth, the Negro race, so recently slaves, now masters of themselves, and without the capability of using their liberty. Add to these the complete upheaval of society, in which some of its worst elements, for a time, floated upon the surface, also the passions of war and lawlessness still rampant in the hearts of men, and you will have some faint idea of the problems that confronted the Southern people.
It was during this period and under these circumstances that the Ku Klux Clan came into existence, spread from Texas to Virginia, and passed out of life, as it had come, shrouded in mystery. As a secret organization it kept its secret, despite the decrees of States, the investigating committee of Congress, and the torture of its individual members.
However much men may become educated, there is still something in their natures over which the weird and the unknown wields a mysterious power, while over the ignorant and the lawless it is doubly potent. This movement was peculiar to the time and illustrates this power of the silent and the mysterious. It also illustrates how men may, by the instruments of their own creation, be borne into lines of action wholly foreign to their first intentions.
"The popular idea supposes the Ku Klux movement to have been conceived in malice, and nursed by prejudice and hate, for lawlessness, rapine and murder." Many of the incidents which occurred during that dark period confirm this view. (Mr. Tourgee's book treating of this period, and many of the chapters in "Three Decades of Federal Legislation," by Sunset Cox, strenuously uphold this idea of the Ku Klux organization). The object of this paper is to get at the real facts, and by them arrive at a true estimate of the character and objects of this celebrated organization.
Pulaski, Tennessee, a town of about three thousand inhabitants, was the birthplace of the '"Ku Klux Clan." It is the county seat of Giles, one of the southern counties of Middle Tennessee, and is situated on the Louisville, Nashville and Great Southern R. R., almost directly south of Nashville. Before the war its people were cultured and wealthy. The war destroyed their wealth, but their culture is retained, and it is a town of schools and churches. Its inhabitants show none of those traits which the popular idea would ascribe to the people among whom the Ku Klux originated. "There, in 1866, the name of Ku Klux first fell from human lips." This organization was the result of the peculiar social, civil and political condition of the South from the close of the war to 1869.
After the struggle was over, the young men of Pulaski, like many other Southern men, passed through a period of inactivity. Business habits were broken up; few had the capital to enter at once upon agricultural or commercial pursuits. There were no amusements or social recreations to relieve the intense reaction, which followed the exciting scenes of war. In May 1866, a few of these young men happened to be together in the office of one of the leading members of the Pulaski bar. Sometime in the evening during the conversation one of them remarked: "Boys, let us getup a club or society of some description." A lively discussion followed, and before separating they agreed to invite some others, and to meet again in the same place. On the following evening eight or ten young men assembled and effected a temporary organization by the election of a chairman and secretary. The members were all agreed as to the objects of the organization, which were diversion and amusement. They spent the evening in discussing the best methods of attaining these ends. They also appointed two committees, one to select a name, and the other to draw up the rules for the society, and to form the ritual for the initiation of new members. The club then adjourned to meet the following week.
Mr. Tourgee ridicules the idea of amusement connected with this movement, and cites the pride and dignity of the Southern men. He speaks of them as suddenly becoming a I ôrace of jesters, moonlight masqueraders and personators of the dead. It was a funny thing," he says, "for the gravest, most saturnine and self-conscious people on the globe to make themselves ridiculous, ghostly masqueraders by the hundred thousand." He, as well as many others, was laboring under a mistake as to the number of the Ku Klux, nor does he take into account the factors, which afterward entered into the organization. He did not understand the character of the movement, nor did he realize that there was a great and noble purpose behind those fantastic gowns. As for his opinions of the Southern people, his views are extremely prejudiced.
During the week following the last meeting, a prominent citizen of Pulaski went to Columbus, Miss., on business, taking his family with him. He invited one of the leading spirits of the movement to take care of and sleep at his house. This young man invited the club to meet with him there, which they did; and the owner, who outlived the Ku Klux Clan, never knew that his house had been their
Source: Trinity College Historical Society