Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The KKK: Poorly Transliterated Greek and Also Racism

Pre-D.W. Griffith-approved standardized costumes.

Have you ever wondered about the Ku Klux Klan? What's with all the K's and the pointy sheets and the being assholes, you might ask. Well, I consulted the 'Pedia and also have read some history books and pretty much know everything there is to know about the KKK. Or at least enough to write a post about it. You may not be aware, but we are now currently on our THIRD Klan. If I were talking about just about anything else, I would insert a joke about how it's kind of like the Third Reich in that way. But that just seems kind of redundant, you know? Anyway, the first Klan was started by several Confederate veterans in Tennessee. They were like, "You know what I hate? Losing wars. Also, black people. And not getting to shoot people all the time, amirite?" And they were all like, "Yeah, totally." So they started a secret society, taking their name from the Greek κύκλος. Basically, they called themselves the "Circle Club," but by Greekin' it and alliteratin' it in a tacky move pre-dating KOA Kampgrounds' insistence upon using "k" as much as possible, they made it sound "cooler" and "secreter."

At the time (late 1865), there were plenty of violent shenanigans going on all around the South. Widespread lawlessness worked as a cover for the group, which pretty much ran around at nighttime burning down black people's houses, killing them, harassing Republicans, intimidating carpetbaggers and the like who were trying to do a little reconstructing. The group grew more popular, and though eventually Forrest Gump's namesake and experienced war criminal Nathan Bedford Forrest was elected Grand Wizard (SRSLY? Come on Circle Club, you can't really believe people will take you seriously.), the local branches of the KKK continued to function autonomously. Basically they were a kind of out-of-control paramilitary/terrorist group working for the Democratic Party. The rode around in the dark, attacking members of the Union Loyal Leagues, employees of the Freedman's Bureau, and basically drove blacks off any bit of land they had managed to get their hands on. Also, the Klan tried to convince black freedpeople that they were actually the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers. "No, masked man burning down my house, you are just a bigoted asshole who is trying to kill me and my family," a freedman might have replied but probably didn't because his house was already being burnt down and whatnot and the Klan mobs were SCARY, obvs. The Klan blocked Republican voters, but our man U.S. Grant really didn't need Southern votes anyway. BEARDED WAR HERO DRUNK REPUBLICAN. Still loving Ulysses. Ahem.

 Anyway, all the crazy violence and lawlessness wasn't really helping the South get what it wanted AKA those carpetdouchebags to get out of town so they could reassert white supremacy without the gubment getting into their business. But Congress was like, "Um, no. Stop lynching black people." In 1871, a Ku Klux Klan ACT was passed in Congress, allowing for federal troops and courts to step in and prosecute violent hate groups like the Klan and enforce the rule of law (which the Southern governors really didn't plan on doing themselves, 'cause ew, black people, duh). But even before this law passed, in 1869, Superflashy Dragon Warlock Supreme Forrest officially disbanded the group, since he couldn't really control it and was basically just a convenient way for criminals to ride around with masks and use the KKK's reputation as a tool of intimidation and to avoid legal repercussions. Don't worry, though, lots of other groups took the Klan's place trying to block black men from voting and ultimately "redeemed" the South with Jim Crow laws and all that good stuff. With our pal Hayesie's election and the official end of Reconstruction (as well as some unfortunate Supreme Court rulings), basically the federal government was no longer in the business of really giving a shit about what happened to the former slaves.

The Circle Club at its most popular, 1925.

The year was 1915, a horribly offensive wildly popular film The Birth of a Nation based on a totally not-true account of the original postwar Klan totes made Woodrow Wilson happy and also inspired disgruntled folks to start up the Second Klan. Mostly everybody was like, "It's 1915, and immigration, urbanization, industrialization, the war in Europe, and the continuing presence of black people are making me nervous." Stone Mountain, Georgia was the new Klan's birthplace, but was actually most popular in the Midwest, especially Indiana, what with the Great Migration and there being absolutely nothing to do in Indiana except suck. This new Klan also hated Catholics, Jews, unions, Communism, and were pro-prohibition. BOO. The practice of burning crosses started with the second Klan, which probably came from the bastardization of some old Scottish tradition. This clan was hugely popular, including on its rolls up to 40% of the white male population in certain areas at its peak. The Klan controlled politics in many areas, and the 1924 Democratic National Convention was also called the "Klanbake Convention," which, you must admit, is both terrifying and kind of clever. Klan membership peaked in 1925 in the Midwest, and events like the conviction of Indiana's Invisible Empire chief DC Stephenson of rape and murder and general widespread corruption led to its loss in popularity. The second Klan lasted roughly until the end of WWII.

The modern KKK has branched out to different colors. Perhaps they are like karate belts that you earn. Or perhaps they are just SILLY.

The third Klan is not centrally controlled, nor is it nearly as popular as the second Klan was. Various disparate groups call themselves Knights of the KKK today. After anti-civil rights violence in the 1950s and '60s produced another large spike in popularity, it's now mostly made up of random groups of crazy white supremacists, has been associated with neo-Nazi groups, and is most well-known for supplying guests to trashy talk shows and also veteran U. S. Senators. Hooray!


  1. There's a pioneering DJ by the name of Grand Wizard Theodore. He invented scratching. I'm glad he took it back. If I ever become a DJ, I'm calling myself "The Sound and the Fuhrer".

  2. I always did wonder about the name. They completely ruined any chance I had at creating a auditory as well as visually alliterative store/tv show/restaurant after myself. Seriously.