Ku Klux Klan | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is the name of several past and present secret domestic terrorist organizations in the United States, best known for advocating white supremacy and acting as vigilantes while hiding behind conical masks and white robes. The KKK has a record of terrorism, violence, and lynching to intimidate and oppress African Americans, Jews, Roman Catholics and labor unions during periods of turmoil.
The first Klan was founded in 1865 by veterans of the Confederate Army. Its purpose was to restore white supremacy in the aftermath of the American Civil War. The organization declined from 1868 to 1870 and was destroyed by President Ulysses S. Grant's prosecution and enforcement under the Civil Rights Act of 1871.
In 1915, the second Klan was founded. In reaction to these new groups of immigrants and migrants, the second KKK preached racism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Communism, nativism, and anti-Semitism. Some local groups took part in lynchings, attacks on private houses and public property, and other violent activities. Members used a ceremonial burning cross to intimidate victims and demonstrate power. Murders and violence by the Klan were most numerous in the Southern states.The Klan's popularity fell rapidly during the Great Depression, and membership fell further during World War II.
The name Ku Klux Klan has since been used by many independent groups opposing the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, they often acted with impunity by alliances with Southern police departments, as during the reign of Bull Connor in Birmingham, Alabama; or governor's offices, as with George Wallace of Alabama. Several members of KKK-affiliated groups were convicted of manslaughter and murder in the deaths of civil rights workers and children in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama, the assassination of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers, and the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. Today, researchers estimate there may be more than 150 Klan chapters with 5,000-8,000 members nationwide. The U.S. government classifies them as hate groups, with operations in separated small local units.