Later Klans, 1950 through 1960s
The name "Ku Klux Klan" began to be used by several independent groups. Beginning in the 1950s, for instance, individual Klan groups in Birmingham, Alabama, began to resist social change and blacks' improving their lives by bombing houses in transitional neighborhoods. There were so many bombings in Birmingham of blacks' homes by Klan groups in the 1950s that the city's nickname was "Bombingham".
During the tenure of Bull Connor as police commissioner in the city, Klan groups were closely allied with the police and operated with impunity. When the Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham, Connor gave Klan members fifteen minutes to attack the riders before sending in the police to quell the attack. When local and state authorities failed to protect the Freedom Riders and activists, the federal government established effective intervention.
In states such as Alabama and Mississippi, Klan members forged alliances with governors' administrations. In Birmingham and elsewhere, the KKK groups bombed the houses of civil rights activists. In some cases they used physical violence, intimidation and assassination directly against individuals. Many murders went unreported and were not prosecuted by local and state authorities. Continuing disfranchisement of blacks across the South meant that most could not serve on juries, which were all white.
According to a report from the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, the homes of 40 black Southern families were bombed during 1951 and 1952. Some of the bombing victims were social activists whose work exposed them to danger, but most were either people who refused to bow to racist convention or were innocent bystanders, unsuspecting victims of random violence.
Among the more notorious murders by Klan members:
- The 1951 Christmas Eve bombing of the home of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) activists Harry and Harriette Moore in Mims, Florida, resulting in their deaths.
- The 1957 murder of Willie Edwards, Jr. Klansmen forced Edwards to jump to his death from a bridge into the Alabama River.
- The 1963 assassination of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers in Mississippi. In 1994, former Ku Klux Klansman Byron De La Beckwith was convicted.
- The 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four African-American girls. The perpetrators were Klan members Robert Chambliss, convicted in 1977, Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, convicted in 2001 and 2002. The fourth suspect, Herman Cash, died before he was indicted.
- The 1964 murders of three civil rights workers, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, in Mississippi. In June 2005, Klan member Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter.
- The 1964 murder of two black teenagers, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore in Mississippi. In August 2007, based on the confession of Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards, James Ford Seale, a reputed Ku Klux Klansman, was convicted. Seale was sentenced to serve three life sentences. Seale was a former Mississippi policeman and sheriff's deputy.
- The 1965 Alabama murder of Viola Liuzzo. She was a Southern-raised Detroit mother of five who was visiting the state in order to attend a civil rights march. At the time of her murder Liuzzo was transporting Civil Rights Marchers.
- The 1966 firebombing death of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer Sr., 58, in Mississippi. In 1998 former Ku Klux Klan wizard Sam Bowers was convicted of his murder and sentenced to life. Two other Klan members were indicted with Bowers, but one died before trial, and the other's indictment was dismissed.
There was also resistance to the Klan. In 1953, newspaper publishers W. Horace Carter (Tabor City, NC), who had campaigned for three years, and Willard Cole (Whiteville, NC) shared the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service citing "their successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorstep at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, culminating in the conviction of over one hundred Klansmen and an end to terrorism in their communities." In a 1958 incident in North Carolina, the Klan burned crosses at the homes of two Lumbee Native Americans who had associated with white people, and they threatened to return with more men. When the KKK held a nighttime rally nearby, they were quickly surrounded by hundreds of armed Lumbees. Gunfire was exchanged, and the Klan was routed at what became known as the Battle of Hayes Pond.
While the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had paid informants in the Klan, for instance in Birmingham in the early 1960s, its relations with local law enforcement agencies and the Klan were often ambiguous. The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, appeared more concerned about Communist links to civil rights activists than about controlling Klan excesses against citizens. In 1964, the FBI's COINTELPRO program began attempts to infiltrate and disrupt civil rights groups.
As 20th-century Supreme Court rulings extended federal enforcement of citizens' civil rights, the government revived the Force Acts and the Klan Act from Reconstruction days. Federal prosecutors used these laws as the basis for investigations and indictments in the 1964 murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner; and the 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo. They were also the basis for prosecution in 1991 in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic.
Contemporary Klan: 1970s–present
Once African Americans secured federal legislation to protect civil and voting rights, the KKK shifted its focus to opposing court-ordered busing to desegregate schools, affirmative action and more openimmigration. In 1971, KKK members used bombs to destroy 10 school buses in Pontiac, Michigan.
Altercation with Communist Workers Party
On November 3, 1979, five protesters were killed by KKK and American Nazi Party members in the Greensboro massacre in Greensboro, North Carolina. This incident was the culmination of attempts by theCommunist Workers Party to organize industrial workers, predominantly black, in the area.
Jerry Thompson infiltration
Jerry Thompson, a newspaper reporter who infiltrated the KKK in 1979, reported that the FBI's COINTELPRO efforts were highly successful. Rival KKK factions accused each other's leaders of being FBI informants. Bill Wilkinson of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was revealed to have been working for the FBI.
Thompson also related that KKK leaders who appeared indifferent to the threat of arrest showed great concern about a series of civil lawsuits filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center for damages amounting to millions of dollars. These were filed after KKK members shot into a group of African Americans. Klansmen curtailed activities to conserve money for defense against the lawsuits. The KKK also used lawsuits as tools; they filed a libel suit to prevent publication of a paperback edition of Thompson's book.
In 1980, three KKK members shot four elderly black women (Viola Ellison, Lela Evans, Opal Jackson and Katherine Johnson) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, following a KKK initiation rally. A fifth woman, Fannie Crumsey, was injured by flying glass in the incident. Attempted murder charges were filed against the three KKK members, two of whom—Bill Church and Larry Payne—were acquitted by an all-white jury, and the other of whom—Marshall Thrash—was sentenced by the same jury to nine months on lesser charges. He was released after three months. In 1982, a jury awarded the five women $535,000 in a civil rights trial.
Michael Donald lynching
After Michael Donald was lynched in 1981 in Alabama, the FBI investigated his death and two local KKK members were convicted of having a role, including Henry Francis Hays, who was sentenced to death. With the support of attorneysMorris Dees and Joseph J. Levin of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald, sued the KKK in civil court in Alabama. Her lawsuit against the United Klans of America was tried in February 1987. The all-white jury found the Klan responsible for the lynching of Donald and ordered the Klan to pay US$7 million. To pay the judgment, the KKK turned over all of its assets, including its national headquarters building in Tuscaloosa. After exhausting the appeals process, Hays was executed for Donald's death in Alabama on June 6, 1997. It was the first time since 1913 that a white man had been executed in Alabama for a crime against an African American.
Neo-Nazi alliances and Stormfront
In 1995, Don Black and Chloê Hardin, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke's ex-wife, began a small bulletin board system (BBS) called Stormfront. Today, Stormfront has become a prominent online forum for white nationalism, Neo-Nazism,hate speech, racism, and antisemitism. Duke has an account on Stormfront which he uses to post articles from his own website, as well as polling forum members for opinions and questions, in particular during his internet broadcasts. Duke has worked with Don Black on numerous projects including Operation Red Dog in 1980.
The modern KKK is not one organization; rather it is composed of small independent chapters across the U.S. The formation of independent chapters has made KKK groups more difficult to infiltrate, and researchers find it hard to estimate their numbers. Estimates are that about two-thirds of KKK members are concentrated in the Southern United States, with another third situated primarily in the lower Midwest.
The Klan has expanded its recruitment efforts to white supremacists at the international level. But in the long run, the Klan's numbers are steadily dropping. This decline has been attributed to the Klan's lack of competence in the use of theInternet, their history of violence, a proliferation of competing hate groups, and a decline in the number of young racist activists who are willing to join groups at all.
Recent membership campaigns have been based on issues such as people's anxieties about illegal immigration, urban crime, civil unions and same-sex marriage. Many KKK groups have formed strong alliances with other white supremacist groups, such as neo-Nazis. Some KKK groups have become increasingly "nazified", adopting the look and emblems of white power skinheads.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has provided legal support to various factions of the KKK in defense of their First Amendment rights to hold public rallies, parades, and marches, as well as their right to field political candidates.
33/5 is a number sequence mostly used by members of various factions of the Ku Klux Klan. 33 signifies three times eleven, eleven being the numerical placing of K in the alphabet. Five is used to represent the "Fifth Era" of the Ku Klux Klan, or today's era. This numerical symbol can be seen tattooed on members of various racist organizations affiliated with the KKK. It is also the title of a book by Robert E. Miles in which he lays out his ideas for the organization.
Current Klan organizations
- Bayou Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, prevalent in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and other areas of the Southeastern U.S.
- Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan
- Imperial Klans of America
- Knights of the White Camelia
- Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, headed by national director and self-claimed pastor Thom Robb, and based in Zinc, Arkansas. It claims to be the biggest Klan organization in America today.
Aside from Canada, there have been various attempts to organise KKK chapters outside of the United States. In Australia in the late 1990s, former One Nation founding member Peter Coleman established branches throughout the country, and in recent years the KKK has attempted to infiltrate other political parties such as Australia First. Recruitment activity has also been reported in the United Kingdom, dating back to the 1960s when Robert Relfwas involved in establishing a British KKK.
In Germany a KKK-related group, the European White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has organised and it gained notoriety in 2012 when it was widely reported in the German media that two police officers who held membership in the organisation would be allowed to keep their jobs. A group was even established in Fiji in the early 1870s by white settlers, although it was put down by the British who, although not officially established as Fiji's colonial rulers, had played a leading role in establishing a new constitutional monarchy that was being threatened by the Fijian Klan.
Titles and vocabulary
Membership in the Klan is secret. Like many fraternal organizations, the Klan has signs which members can use to recognize one another. A member may use the acronym AYAK (Are you a Klansman?) in conversation to surreptitiously identify himself to another potential member. The response AKIA (A Klansman I am) completes the greeting.
Throughout its varied history, the Klan has coined many words beginning with "Kl" including:
- Klabee - treasurers
- Klavern - local organization
- Imperial Kleagle - recruiter
- Klecktoken - initiation fee
- Kligrapp - secretary
- Klonvocation - gathering
- Kloran - ritual book
- Kloreroe - delegate
- Imperial Kludd - chaplain
All of the above terminology was created by William Simmons, as part of his 1915 revival of the Klan. The Reconstruction-era Klan used different titles; the only titles to carry over were "Wizard" for the overall leader of the Klan and "Night Hawk" for the official in charge of security.
The Imperial Kludd was the chaplain of the Imperial Klonvokation and he performed "such other duties as may be required by the Imperial Wizard."
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- The film Storm Warning (1951) concerns a fictional murder committed by Klan members in a small town. The murder is witnessed by a New York-based model (Ginger Rogers), who must decide to testify against her sister's husband (Steve Cochran). The district attorney (Ronald Reagan) attempts to convince the witness to face up to the corrupt elements in the community.
- In the Mork & Mindy episode "The Night They Raided Mind-skis," Mork ends up learning the cultures of a local club that has KKK motives and even wear the KKK-like outfits.
- The Ku Klux Klan appears in the Twilight Zone: The Movie segment "Time Out."
- Three members of the Ku Klux Klan appear in The Cabin in the Woods. They are among the monsters and representations of real world fears held in the cube cells of the Facility that runs under the titular cabin.