After the Civil War, the hope was for the country to come back together and become united. However, there were many from the Southern states who felt their entire way of life was gone and didn’t know how to rebuild it. The South was in a terrible state, in terms of how much of the area had been devastated by the war years. Many cities and towns were in shambles, much of the countryside had been pillaged by troops and crops and livestock had either not been kept up or were simply gone. Add to this millions of freed people, most with little to no education or place to go, other than the plantations they had lived their lives on up until emancipation.
After Lincoln was assassination, President Johnson was sworn in. And though he was a Republican, he had sympathy for the Democratic South and halted much of the plans for reconstruction that the Republican congress had laid out. Into this mix came a group of Southern men who decided to start a “club.” At first it appeared the club might just be a lark, and a chance for them to get dressed up, ride around the countryside, and supposedly enforcing any laws that weren’t with the upheaval in the Southern states. Early on though, there were shaded of what it would become. However, when Nathan Bedford Forrest took an interest in the Ku Klux Klan (which loosely translates to circle circle) the main focus of the group became keeping the newly freed people in the same position they had basically occupied during slavery. This meant massive terror for people who supported any Republican candidates – leading to disenfranchisement in voting, school teachers who were beaten and sometimes killed, churches burned and average citizens driven from their lands by force and brutality.
Finally, the U.S. government realized that the state governments either wouldn’t or couldn’t control the members of the Klan and stepped in.
They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The birth of an American terrorist group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an amazing read about this organization which is still with us today. Knowing the history behind this group, and understanding all that they have done to many citizens of this country is plainly presented in easy to read nonfiction work.
Recommended for students in 7th grade and up.