The Ku Klux Klan is perhaps the most famous of all hate
groups in America. Even without extensive knowledge of
its history or views, many Americans recognize the
unmistakable symbols of the KKK -- the robe, the hood, and
the burning cross.
Although there have always
been different branches of the KKK, all of them have held a
common goal: to maintain the supremacy of the white race
over Black Americans. While membership in the Klan has risen
and fallen during its 130 year history, the scope of its
hatred has expanded, adding Jews, Catholics, homosexuals,
The KKK was born on
Christmas Eve, 1865, when six Confederate soldiers, just out
of uniform, met in Pulaski, Tennessee, to form a secret
fraternal order. Deriving its name from the Greek word
"kuklos"(circle), the organization was originally social in
nature. Soon, however, the group began terrorizing Blacks by
raiding their homes at night while wearing white sheets
(their horses were sometimes clad in sheets as well).
While the Klan grew larger,
it was hurt by fighting between competing factions,
financial troubles, and congressional and legal
investigations. In the 1870s, the KKK was all but
However, after more than
40 years of inactivity, the "Invisible Empire," as the Klan
called itself, rose again in the autumn of 1915. Within
a decade, the movement had reached the height of its power:
no longer merely a southern organization, it became a
national phenomenon. Several prominent politicians,
including governors, senators, and congressmen were active
Klan leaders. Overall Klan membership reached between four
and five million during this period (mid-1920s).
However, the Klan experienced
another round of internal disputes, financial gaffes, and
legal probes, and its membership and influenced dropped
significantly until the mid-1950s.
Spurred on by racial
desegregation and the start of the civil rights struggle,
Klan activity was on the rise again by 1956, with units
springing up in several states. The group terrified Blacks
and white civil rights workers with cross burnings,
beatings, bombings, death threats, even murder.
Klan membership has been
in steady decline since the mid-eighties. The combined
membership of all Klans today, including splinter groups, is
2500-3000, due largely to disputes among Klan leaders, its
failure to recruit younger extremists, strong law
enforcement, and litigation brought by civil rights groups
that has bankrupted Klan treasuries.