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KU KLUX KLAN The Ku Klux Klan was formed as a social club by a group of Confederate Army veterans in Pulaski, Tennessee around 1865. A Confederate General, Nathan Bedford Forrest was the Klan's first leader, with the title of Grand Wizard. The group adopted the name Ku Klux Klan from the Greek word kuklos, meaning circle, and the English word clan.

White superiority was the philosophy of the Klan, and they would often use violence and terrorization of blacks as a means of exercising this philosophized superiority. The Klan detested the idea of blacks gaining any rights following the Civil War into the Reconstruction, and terrorized blacks to prevent them from voting in elections or practicing any other right. Blacks and white sympathizers were often threatened, beaten, or even murdered by Klan members in the South; the Klan used the now familiar white robes and hoods to mask their identity. The Ku Klux Klan became known as the "Invisible Empire" as it grew and spread rapidly.

In 1871, the Force Bill was passed by Congress. This act gave the President the authority to use federal troops against the Ku Klux Klan if he deemed the action necessary. Soon after this bill was passed Klan activity withered.

1925 Washington D.C.

In 1915, following anti-Semitism surrounding the Leo Frank lynching in Atlanta, the Klan resurged and Atlanta became the new headquarters of the "Invisible Empire". William J. Simmons, a former Methodist preacher, organized the new Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia as a patriotic, Protestant fraternal society. This new Klan directed its activity against, not just blacks, but any group it considered un-American, including any immigrants, Jews, and Roman Catholics. By the 1920's The Ku Klux Klan had expanded to the North, claimed a membership of 6 million and in Atlanta boasted among its ranks notable clergy, judges and politicians including the city's mayor (p32, Atlanta Scenes).

1915 film release Monthly Publication

Popular media influenced this social movement. In 1915 producer/director D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation was premiered with the original title The Clansman. This film was based on an earlier anti-black theatre production, The Clansman, by Rev. Thomas Dixon Jr. (which not surprisingly was playing in Atlanta before the Race Riot of 1906 ). The Birth of a Nation is still used today as propaganda media for Klan membership. The Klan also had a monthly publication the KuKlux Kismet.

Scene from Birth of a Nation Scene from Birth of a Nation

The modern Klan still reverted at times to the violence of previous years, burning crosses, torturing and lynching those whose actions they opposed, but perhaps even more far reaching socially than these actions was the pernicious harm in the wide spread racial attitudes the organization fostered and perpetuated on a day-to-day basis as Klan members formed the foundations and building blocks of Atlanta's institutions.

Atlanta KKK meeting (Atlanta Scenes, p 32)

Atlanta Police Chief Herbert T. Jenkins and Mayor Hartsfield integrated the Atlanta Police Force in 1948 after aggressive and long term political pressure from black voting organizations. The following is a passage from Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn by Gary Pomerantz, page 162:

….In 1931, Jenkins had followed the ritual of all Atlanta Police recruits by joining the Shriners and the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was "your ID card, the badge of honor with the in group" Jenkins later wrote. As part of the Klan initiation, Jenkins stood before a burning cross on near-by Stone Mountain, where the modern Klan was founded.

From page 146:

Complaints of police brutality against blacks in the city multiplied during the 1930s. Not only were beatings all too common but Atlanta Policemen frequently made disparaging, belittling remarks. White officers in Atlanta frequently referred to black women as "Annie Mae" or "Emma Lou" or "gal". The disrespect caused Atlanta University president Rufus Clement to bemoan, "I am just plain tired of going downtown and being told by the policeman on the corner, "Okay, boy, you can cross the street now."
Atlanta KKK meeting (Atlanta Scenes, p 32)

The following is a quote from Glenn Rainey from May the Circle Be Unbroken? From WRFG-FM/"Living Atlanta" Collection, courtesy of Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA:

The police force in those times was really a kind of half-Nazi, half Ku Klux organization. You see, the policemen came out of the same population groups that the Klan came out of, and they represented, quite sincerely, from their point of view, the same repressive feelings.

The KKK became a powerful political force as its mass elected many public officials throughout the nation. However, as communication media became widespread, the organization was morally weakened by far reaching public criticism of Klan violence and subsequently the leadership fragmented. By 1944 this malicious association became marginal again.

Cross burning
1960's - Protesting Atlanta newspaper editorials

In 1946 the Klan briefly come alive again in Atlanta, led by Atlantan physician, Samuel Green. However, shortly after Green's death in 1949, the Klan split into many smaller groups. During the 1960's, the Civil Rights movement began and a new wave of violence by the Ku Klux Klan was brought about. In Mississippi, three civil rights leaders were killed; in Birmingham, Alabama a church was bombed, killing four black girls. President Lyndon B. Johnson used the Federal Bureau of Investigation to probe the Ku Klux Klan and sent some Klan members to prison. Following this, Klan member ship fell to about 5,000 by the early 1970's.

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