In 1869, a federal grand jury declared the Ku Klux Klan to be a terrorist organization. In January 1871, Pennsylvania Republican senator John Scott convened a committee, which took testimony from witnesses about Klan atrocities. In 1872, the U.S. Congress published the 13 volume "Report of the Joint Select Committee Appointed to Inquire in to the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States." Historians often referred to these volumes as the KKK Testimony.
This collection contains the following eleven volumes: Volume II contains the testimony taken by the committee in relation to North Carolina, and the report of the trials in the United States circuit court held at Raleigh, North Carolina. Volumes III, and IV contain testimony taken by the committee in relation to South Carolina. Volumes VI and VII contain testimony taken by the committee in relation to Georgia. Volumes VIII, IX, and X contain testimony taken by the committee in relation to Alabama. Volumes XI and XII contain testimony taken by the committee in relation to Mississippi. Volume XIII contains miscellaneous testimony taken by the committee, and testimony in relation to Florida, and miscellaneous documents.
The first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan emerged in 1866. The KKK was created by former Confederate soldiers and developed into an organization seeking the end of Northern influence presenting itself through Reconstruction. The Klan was made up of decentralized, autonomously administered local units. The KKK sought to limit black education, economic advancement, voting rights, political and social status, and the right of African-Americans to bear arms.
The Ku Klux Klan's effort involved intimidating the Southern African-American population, Northerners working in the South after the Civil War, Southern Republicans, and schoolteachers brought south by the Freedmen's Bureau.
Testimony made to the committee includes:
"One of these teachers (Miss Allen of Illinois), whose school was at Cotton Gin Port in Monroe County, was visited ... between one and two o'clock in the morning on March, 1871, by about fifty men mounted and disguised. Each man wore a long white robe and his face was covered by a loose mask with scarlet stripes. She was ordered to get up and dress which she did at once and then admitted to her room the captain and lieutenant who in addition to the usual disguise had long horns on their heads and a sort of device in front. The lieutenant had a pistol in his hand and he and the captain sat down while eight or ten men stood inside the door and the porch was full. They treated her "gentlemanly and quietly" but complained of the heavy school-tax, said she must stop teaching and go away and warned her that they never gave a second notice. She heeded the warning and left the county. "
The methods of the Klan grew more violent. Those murdered during the KKK's campaign included Arkansas Congressman James M. Hinds, three members of the South Carolina legislature, and several men who had served in state constitutional conventions. According to testimony, in other violence, Klansmen killed more than 150 African Americans in a single county in Florida, and hundreds more in other counties.
The Klan was most successful at taking the vote away black southerners. For example, in the April 1868 Georgia gubernatorial election, Columbia County cast 1,222 votes for Republican Rufus Bullock, but in the November 1868 presidential election, the county cast only one vote for Republican candidate Ulysses Grant.
In February 1871, former Union general, Congressman Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts wrote and introduced federal legislation, the 1871 Klan Act. The bill gained favor after the governor of South Carolina appealed for federal troops to maintain order in the State. Reports of a riot and massacre in a Meridian, Mississippi courthouse, in which a black state representative narrowly escaped death, also added support for the bill. In 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant signed Butler's legislation, which was used along with the 1870 Force Act, to enforce the civil rights provisions of the constitution.
Under the Klan Act, federal troops were used rather than state militias, and Klansmen were prosecuted in federal court, where juries often included blacks. Prosecutions were led by Attorney General Amos Tappan Ackerman. Federal government actions under the Klan Act from 1871 to 1874 severely crippled the original Klan. Although in some areas similar activities, including intimidation and murder of black voters, continued under the auspices of local organizations such as the White League, Red Shirts, saber clubs, and rifle clubs.
On Easter Sunday, 1873, the bloodiest single instance of racial violence in the Reconstruction era happened during the Colfax Massacre. On April 13, 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana, a group of white men, including members of the White League and the Ku Klux Klan, clashed with members of Louisiana's almost all-black state militia at the local courthouse. The cause of the battle was ostensibly a contested local election, though racism and partisan politics were significant factors as well.
"The bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era, the Colfax massacre taught many lessons, including the lengths to which some opponents of Reconstruction would go to regain their accustomed authority. Among blacks, the incident was long remembered as proof that in any large confrontation, they stood at a fatal disadvantage. The organization against them is too strong...", remarked Louisiana black teacher and legislator John G. Lewis. "They attempted (armed self-defense) in Colfax. The result was that on Easter Sunday of 1873, when the sun went down that night, it went down on the corpses of two hundred and eighty negroes."
Reports include testimony from Nathaniel Bedford Forrest. The former Confederate general, reputed as the first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, the Klan's national leader.
In 1882, the Supreme Court ruled in United States vs. Harris that the Klan Act was partially unconstitutional, saying that Congress's power under the Fourteenth Amendment did not extend to private conspiracies. However, the Force Act and the Klan Act have been invoked in later civil rights conflicts, including the 1964 murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Mississippi; the 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo in Alabama; and Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic in 1991.
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