There has been intensive writings and scholarly work that has been done on genocide, terrorism, and deadly violence that can be termed extreme for a very long time. For example, as far as 9/11 is concerned, there has emerged, probably many people than its real membership writing on al-Qaeda. Most of these writings are about violence and acts of terror that have been conducted beyond the shores of America. Some scholars decided to venture into the violent past of America. The new generation of scholars goes further to explore the real origin, the nature, and consequences of these violent acts including racial violence.
A period of reconstruction followed the end of the civil war in America. The states, former Confederates, were under the direct control of the American army, during this era. The white Democrats did not agree with this new takeover, especially in the South. When the freedmen were allowed to acquire the full citizenship status after the constitutional amendment and the passage of the 1867 voting rights act, the resentment to the new state of affairs increased. Ex-slaves were now eligible to vote, serve as members of the bench, and being officials in the United States government.
The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) appeared as an insurgent group in the post-war era. They were linked to the power struggle in the South. Disorderly conducts, lawlessness, and lack of control were prevalent in Mississippi. The blacks were violently attacked by the Kan. The Kan used violence in public as a form of intimidation. The harmed, attacked, burned houses, and killed the black people. The bodies of the black people were left scattered on the road.
Ex-slaves were angered by the presence of the Klan in Mississippi. However, neither the city government would be able to stop them. The origin of this violence was associated with continuous raids to freedmen by the Klan. These raids forced to migrate to the nearby city of Meridian. This paper, therefore, seeks to investigate the KKK in Mississippi during Reconstruction.
Reconstruction in context
It was an intense affair as far as the reconstruction of white citizens and the blacks in Mississippi is concerned. However, there were other places with mild, or possibly the shortest experience of reconstruction like Virginia, North Carolina, and some parts of Tennessee. This occurrence is informed by the fact ex-slaves were minorities in these places. Additionally, the majority white refused to be part of the Confederacy. They only joined it after the Fort Sumter war that saw the first military engagement. States with blacks as the majority population are the ones that had the longest experience of reconstruction. The Confederacy was established by the white leaders in these states such as Mississippi and South Carolina which seceded from the Union. In Mississippi, it took eleven years for the reconstruction to be complete; it happened in two phases.
Reconstruction and KKK
Ku Klux Klan was formed in 1865 in Tennessee; it began as a social club for ex-confederate soldiers. Later, it revolutionized into a terrorist group. It carried out violent and terrorist acts that killed thousands of people, most of who were blacks. Its activities in the south weakened the political power that the black people in the South and the Republicans were enjoying.
The violence and riots in Mississippi to a racial bearing. Republicans and the black people were the majority victims. A quarrel between black ex-soldiers and the whites begun in 1866 and evolved into a complete riot in Tennessee, the mobs were aided by white policemen to violently attack the black people in the town of Memphis. The riots resulted in the loss of lives of 46 people with more than 70 people injured. Numerous schools, houses, and churches were burned down. In not more than two months after the riot in Memphis, a similar riot took place in New Orleans. A black suffrage gathering attendee was attacked by a white mob this time around. Forty people lost their lives as a result of this attack; 37 blacks with 3 white men who were supporting this convention.
The KKK would grow both in strength and size in such an atmosphere. The group had evolved into a deadly terrorist organization by 1868. Its members were referred to as "The Invisible Empire of the South." The group was first led by who was also called "Grand Wizard" was the former general of the Confederate during the American Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest. KKK saw different white southerners, regardless of their social-economic backgrounds, join its ranks. They carried out their activities with the objective that they were instilling and preserving law and order in society with whites as the majority. Members of the KKK punished the ex-slaves (blacks) for various reasons like "behaving in an impudent manner towards the whites". Teachers of foredoom schools were whipped. Their schools and houses were burned down. It is also important to note that while the KKK were carrying out their activities, they also targeted at eliminating the Republican influence in the region by harassing and killing the leaders of Republican Party, including their members and those who voted for them.
The KKK became swifter in their actions and more brutal, especially towards the presidential election of 1868. The election would see Ulysses S. Grant of the Republican Party compete against Horatio Seymour of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party carried out programs that were aimed at preventing whites in the south from becoming politically powerful in their states. KKK understood that there was a likelihood that the blacks in their states will vote for the Republican Party. They used violent acts to intimidate people from voting in the South. More than 2,000 people lost their lives as result of the election in Kansas. People were brutally treated, threatened, and beaten in Georgia. Before the election, 1,000 people were killed in Louisiana. As a result, the Democratic Party I the south had a decisive victory during the election.
However, the violent actions by the KKK appeared to most people from the North that the South gave a blind eye to the experiences and lessons of the previous war. The activities of the KKK would actually backfire later. Hasher laws were passed to put an end to violence and to protect the lives of the black people in the South. In 1867 a first Reconstruction Act was passed through the 15th Amendment. Black men in every state were allowed to vote. In 1870 and 1871, the Enforcement Act was passed by the Congress that affected the KKK directly.
The Act criminalized any act by anybody or organization to interfere or obstruct registration process, voting, holding a political office, and serving on the bench as a jury. These laws indicted approximately 5,000 people. Nearly 1,000 people were convicted by the criminal justice system. Additionally, Ku Klux Klan Act was passed by the Congress in 1871 that gave the mandate to the government to forcefully act against any organization that interferes with public order and is a threat to Americans - terrorist organizations. Thousands of KKK members were arrested. However, with the majority of the people in the South being whites, the conviction was unsuccessful because of lack of evidence and witnesses. The 1873 financial panic distracted leaders from the North from racism issues in the South; the Ku Klux Klan Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1982.
Thomas, an official in Mississippi and other Blacks Codes that were victims of oppression laid bare, during their testimonies in the Congress, that Mississippi needed a Reconstruction that was more thorough. This led to radical Reconstruction in Mississippi. It attracted both great achievements as well as embarrassing failures. Among the greatest success of the radical Reconstruction is that more than 226 black people in Mississippi ascended to public offices in the era of reconstruction. This number was a milestone compared to 20 blacks in Tennessee and 46 in Arkansas.
Other black people in Mississippi engaged in promoting a political society that was biracial. For example, James Lusk Alcorn, an ex-slave owner, proved that not all white people were against progress. He established a political convention that had Republicans who migrated into Mississippi and were given a derisive name, "carpetbaggers). Other white people in Mississippi who were championing for change were mockingly named "scalawags," as well as black people who were Republicans, for instance, James D. Lynch, who was the Secretary Of State for Mississippi.
However, southerners were loyal to white supremacy were infuriated by the radical Reconstruction. Terrorist organizations in Mississippi employed harassment and intimidations to interfere with or prevent progress when the Republicans were implementing political equality in their party. Ku Klux Klan, for example, was promoting the interest of the white planters in the South.
Reconstruction and racial violence
Racial violence, in the period reconstruction era, happened in three forms; organized vigilante or terrorist groups, the fights between individuals, and urban riots. This period witnessed riots in several occasions, for example, New Orleans, Colfax Louisiana, South Carolina, Hamburg, Yazoo, and Memphis. These cities had rapidly grown in the post-war era as people from the rural areas; especially ex-slaves migrated to the urban areas. The Republican Party was controlling these cities. However, the white people who were conservatives were worried about the influx of the black people into these cities. The KKK interfered with the political processes and activities of the Republican Party because the blacks were going, most likely, to vote for it. This interference was brutal and claimed human lives with the biggest victims being blacks.
Individual violence on a daily basis targeted black people on a disproportionate scale during the period of reconstruction. Even though the black people benefited from the 15th Amendment with rights to vote and serve as juries, it was very difficult to successfully prosecute a white man (members of KKK) against violence meted on the black people. Black people were shot to death or brutally beaten with a lot of impunity. These actions will only emerge over minor issues like personal disagreements, long-standing grudges, and labor disputes as well as crimes of passion like love and intimacy. However, these incidences were taken to the federal authorities like Freedmen' Bureau and the army. Unfortunately, the incidences were not only underreported but unprosecuted.
Bushwhackers, nightriders or organized vigilante groups committed a lot of violence to the black people during the Reconstruction period. KKK was at the center of this violence. In their attempt to limit or prevent the involvement of black people in the politics of the South, they resorted to harassing, threatening, intimidating, and killing black people, office bearers, and their candidates. They frighten the Black Americans away from taking part in the elections.The KKK was more brutal in their activities, they moved from school to school. The Klansmen were covered in the face with a loose mask. Miss Allen of Illinois was warned and threatened to leave the school she was teaching, which she did. Among the people who lost their lives in the hands of the KKK were James M Hinds, the Arkansas congressman, and 3 legislatures from South Carolina as well as people who were former members of the constitutional convention of the state.
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