Presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Post-Reconstruction America: Analytical Essay

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Radical White Supremacy

From the ashes of a deceased Confederacy rose the newly obtained freedom of the former slave. In his wake, the freedman brought with him uncertainty and disunion, laying the foundation for one of the widest ideological divides in American history – the Era of Reconstruction. Initially a period of rehabilitation and effort to pay reparations to the freedman, the enactment of more progressive legislation in Reconstruction era America was abandoned in principle in its final stretch as a result of utter lack of enforcement (The Klanwatch Project). With its inception being one that was supervised by a liberal, Republican government, Reconstruction promised a new domain of recuperation and hope for the freedman that it would ultimately never deliver on given the progress-paralyzing victory of the Democratic Party in 1875 (Gates). The stride towards racial reform was crippled by the Democratic agitation to codify white privilege. The radical and tyrannizing movements that coupled this propensity for racially charged jurisprudence, namely the Ku Klux Klan, however, saw a decline in the closing years of the era. But despite the slump of the notorious KKK in the early 1870s, the hate group – motivated by a deeply-seated intent to cement white supremacy into America’s political order – that terrorized the freedmen of the nation not only thoroughly scarred the public consciousness regarding racial hierarchy but also by extension, America’s socio political trajectory as a whole (The Klanwatch Project). As such, the prompt disappearance of the Klan was, contrary to the interpretation of the trend at the time, indicative of their consequential triumph. The Klan’s receding membership wasn’t demonstrating accession of any form but rather, that a successfully situated white authority simply deemed its existence no longer necessary. The diminishing presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Post-Reconstruction America was in actuality a testament to the inauguration of a white dominion.

Reconstruction and the fundamental doctrine of amending injustice was hailed, at least by the freedman, with optimism and sanguine expectation. Progressive sentiments persisted for the most part even near the conclusion of Republican political authority in the United States, inciting greater measures of hope for the campaign of civil justice and equity. This was especially so with the ratification and enforcement of the Ku Klux Klan Acts, namely, the last of three that attempted to impose moral direction on racial violence – the Third Force Act. One of the last instances of Republican legislation that actively endorsed rights of former slaves, the Third Force Act afforded President Ulysses S. Grant the grounds to declare martial law in the presence of civil rights violations, rebuke terrorist organizations, and wield the unique power of federal intervention in furthering the movement for civil rights (United States Senate), demonstrating not only the imperative role government plays in facilitating racial equity, but also the capacity to which it could affect change – a capacity that would not be employed to the same extent come an ascendancy of Democrat-enforced sanctions on such exercises of power in the White House. What was thought to be a measure that would “extinguish the KKK for the balance of the 19th century” (Smith) through the prosecution and indictments of Klan members, however, witnessed no change in the socio political dogma of the white southerners that buttressed the egregious torment that was incurred upon the freedman. The period following the 1876 presidential election woefully saw to it that these initial commitments of the United States federal government would be rendered fruitless. The frequency and intensity of hate crimes levied against freed slaves were indeed dampened, but the resistance of the prevailing political agenda to the continuance of Republican doctrines of more liberalistic headway made evident the reversal of progress that the slowing of the KKK stood to represent (The Klanwatch Project). The contested Election of 1876 played an integral role in this trend of upturning America’s socio poliltical footwork towards interracial democracy, producing a compromise to the split electoral vote that put in power a Republican face in return for “a promise to end Reconstruction and withdraw federal troops from the South” (Bridges). Hereafter, the abortive efforts of the Republicans to defend the welfare of the now solitary freedman were officially and in all respects abandoned. What’s more, this roiling of racial unification harmonized immaculately with a declining Ku Klux Klan. This legislative displacement of power and policy made in favor of Democratic values of securing a white America made clear that no longer would there exist a need for organized and frequent brutality. The United States federal government might have had the capacity to garner capital to fight wars or work to revitalize the economy but now absent was the support and constitutional will to advocate for universal civil rights. Racial injustice would be an unquenchable parasite for longer still – especially by virtue of a disseminated Klan.

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Yet another irreparable strike to and sponsor of the bleeding democracy that underscored post-Reconstruction America was the utilization of media as a vehicle to further personal prejudices and endorsements, as well as the flagrant idealization of the Klan among white southerners. Chronicle and press served as a smokescreen under which existed no expectation or standard for neutrality – an unobstructed platform through which a structure of beliefs in formidable support of the Klan’s ideology was amassed and came to convincingly justify the behaviors of the Klan. Ku Klux Klan members were demonstrated to be heros with the intention of appealing to the senses of excitement and violence (Railton). As such, white southerners who chose to believe that white was and ought to be the only color of the South only became further entrenched in their aspirations and saw the Klanmen as a regulating force necessary in protecting their interests in a time of political turmoil (Johnson). The reality was that the Ku Klux Klan reflected the values, ideals and creed of white America at the time. It was both a product and substantial contributor to the mainstream sentiments of the public consciousness (Parsons). At the peak of their power, such protection was thought to be guaranteed and became a standard expectation, particularly given the poor and decimated conditions of Southern states after the Civil War (Kreitner). This is what facilitated and ingrained a dependance on and following for the ideology of white supremacy.

Incontrovertibly apparent is the faulty correlation between a tapering Ku Klux Klan and the eradication of the major underpinning of racially charged violence and discrimination – the historical narrative provides us a contrary account. The disbanding of the Klan as a cogent, multistate, body not only failed to end the reign of anguish among the freedmen but in its demise ended up strengthening the call for an establishment of white Southern authority (The Klanwatch Project). The Klan’s political terrorism also proved bountiful in keeping freedmen away from polls (Chalmers). It had fulfilled what the Klasmen believed to be their shared objective – the political and social degradation of the black man in America, contributing vastly to the establishment of a white Southern majority and hegemony in Southern state governments through the abuse of black officeholders and politically literate freedmen (Dixon). The Klan normalized violence as a means to an end to retaliate and alleviate the unsettling of Southern life as a result of the Civil War and Reconstruction (Dixon). And insofar as the Klansmen philosophy was ultimately engendered in principles the majority of America’s white public itself subscribed to at the time, the lasting dogma and violence that post-Reconstruction America was forced to grapple with has blood on many ledgers. However, the United States federal government in this case is also an offender that cannot escape blame. The structural sanctions enforced to immobilize freedmen in state legislation saw no interference from Congress, despite its overwhelming obligation to mediate the deteriorating situation. For that matter, the governing body actually continued to increasingly extract itself from the neutral politic and contrarily endorsed the divisive and racist rhetoric of white before black, forsaking the democratic principles of equality as guaranteed in the United States Constitution and deserting the just cause of the black man (Chalmers). White supremacy didn’t require the Ku Klux Klan’s savagery to cement itself into the socio political integrity of America. In fact, history itself testifies to its vitality in the stark absence of a force of terror.

The conviction that drove the Ku Klux Klan’s campaign for racial segregation and aggression was tethered to public dogma. Being that its inception was mediated by sentiments pervasive throughout the public consciousness and its decline one that only exacerbated the segregationist nature of America’s social politics, the question remains as to what agitates it so such that it must persist and stalk themes of socio political discourse even today. A lashing Klan was a bleeding ideology fighting for life. Only when it was satisfied did it cease. To ignore the fact that these white supremacist organizations continue to exist, change, and grow in modern life is to take an unneccessary risk. The turbulent relationship between social political democracy is something that has roiled American society for the entirety of its history, which makes the Klan’s disappearance and America’s subsequent socio political turmoil a kinship that needs to be navigated should we expect to incur more and effective progress.

Works Cited

  1. Beckett, L. & Brenneman, J. “The media and the Ku Klux Klan: A debate that began in the 1920s.” The Guardian, 5 Mar. 2018,
  2. Bridges, Roger D. “‘Betrayal of the Freedman: Rutherford B. Hayes and the End of Reconstruction.’” Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums,
  3. Dixon, E. H. The Terrible Mysteries of the Ku-Klux-Klan, 1868, New York. The Klanwatch Project. “Ku Klux Klan: A History of Racism.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 1 Mar. 2011,
  4. Chalmers, David. Notes on Writing the History Of the Ku Klux Klan, 1866-1954. University Press of Florida, 2013.
  5. Gates, Henry Louis. “How Reconstruction Still Shapes Racism in America.” Time, Time, 2 Apr. 2019,
  6. Johnson, Guy B. “A Sociological Interpretation of the New Ku Klux Movement.” The ournal of Social Forces, vol. 1, no. 4, 1923, pp. 440–445.
  7. Kreitner, Richard. “December 24, 1865: The Ku Klux Klan Is Formed.” The Nation, 22 Dec. 2015,
  8. Parsons, Elaine Frantz. “Sympathy for the Ku-Klux.” We're History, 1 Dec. 2015,
  9. Railton, Ben. “American Popular Culture Embraces the Ku Klux Klan, 1877-1939.” We're History, 1 Dec. 2015,
  10. Smith, David. 'An Examination of the Congressional Debate of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871.' Lake Forest College Publications, 2001,
  11. United States Senate. “Landmark Legislation: The Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871.” United States Senate, 21 May 2018,
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