Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan (also known as the Invisible Empire of the South) was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866 and spread rapidly after that.  It held its first national meeting in Nashville in April 1867.  Its first "Grand Wizard" was the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest.  According to historian James Loewen in his book Lies Across America, Nathan Bedford Forrest gets "the most historical markers in any state" (Tennessee) – more than Lincoln in his home state of Illinois.

The chief targets of the Klan in this period were Black people who were seeking to exercise their right of assembly, or to educate and be educated.  Schools were burned and teachers beaten around the South.  The Klan also targeted those freedmen trying to get access to land of their own and a measure of economic independence, and their white supporters.

The Klan was hurt when President Ulysses Grant used the newly passed Civil Rights Act of 1871 (also called the Ku Klux Klan Act) to take action against it.  But it made a resounding comeback in 1915, thanks to the film by D.W. Griffith, Birth of a Nation.  In this period the Klan aimed to further the cause of "white supremacy, pure Americanism, pure womanhood, the Constitution, destroying foreign agitation, and limiting immigration."  It also was hostile to Jews, Roman Catholics, communists and socialists.

As well as its overtly racist campaigns, the Klan pushed for Bible reading and the display of the flag in schools, the censorship of textbooks and an end to the teaching of evolution.  The Klan claimed some five million members before declining in the late 1920s.

It made yet another comeback during the years of the Civil Rights Movement, when it was responsible for the killing of several civil rights leaders.  In 1981, Klansmen lynched 19-year-old Michael Donald.  His mother, Beulah Mae Donald, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, brought a civil suit against the organization and won a $7 million settlement from an all-white jury.  As a result, the Klan lost its assets, including its national headquarters.

The current incarnation of the Klan, the "Imperial Klans of America," describes itself as "a Fraternal, Patriotic, Nationalist and Racialist Organization that seeks not only survival, but the propagation of our race" and claims to be "in a race war" against "the inferior races" and "illegal immigrants."