Sunday, April 29, 2007

Klan on the upswing

The Ku Klux Klan, which just a few years ago seemed static or even moribund compared to other white supremacist movements such as the Neo-Nazis, experienced "a surprising and troubling resurgence" during the past year due largely to the successful exploitation of hot button issues including immigration, gay marriage and urban crime according to the Anti Defamation League (ADL).
(from The Black Voice News)

When researching the Mississippi Delta for my book, Where Rebels Roost, I often ran into stories about the Klan and its activities. Following the Civil War, President Grant had sent federal troops to restore law and order to many of the most violent areas in the South afflicted by the newly formed group and Grant’s disruptions of Klan activities bought him both friends and foes since most states had either advocated Klan interests or were too intimidated to confront the KKK.

(Interestingly, no information regarding the Klan and its place in Radical Reconstruction is mentioned on the White House “official” web page of presidential history where Grant is described, instead, as having “neither vigor nor reform” and seeming “bewildered.” The site concludes “Grant allowed Radical Reconstruction to run its course in the South, bolstering it at times with military force.”)

In the Mississippi Delta, Klan members often stirred violent disruptions. In 1869, for instance, a party of Ku Klux Klan night riders burned a two-story Coahoma County residence belonging to James Alcorn, Mississippi’s first elected Republican governor. Alcorn had previously served in the state legislature of Kentucky and Mississippi, and had risen to the rank of general in the Confederate military service during the Civil War.

The arson also destroyed a valuable steam cotton gin and all of the resident blacks’ quarters, including a smokehouse. The St. Louis Democrat reported: “The cause of this outrage was that General Alcorn…believes that the Republican Party is now the only national party and the only friend of the South. His persecution is an evidence of the intolerant and cowardly spirit of the Mississippi Ku Klux.”

After more stories appeared in newspapers around the entire country, I finally found another account from the Friars Point newspaper that called other reports misleading:

We have refrained from saying anything about the burning … ashamed that such an act of vandalism had been perpetrated in the county, but since the newspapers have taken hold of it we will state the facts. The plantation, which was the scene of the disgraceful act, was not being cultivated by [the] General. It was subject to flood and for that reason was not cultivated. Some trusty freedmen proposed to rent it of him and pay their rent in improvements. The farm was rented. No sooner was it discovered that this had been done than the Ku Klux sallied forth in the night time and burned every house on the premise…. That the hated General … should presume to rent land to freedmen was a little more than the chivalric and sensitive Ku Klux could stand.

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There are a host of files on Klansmen and their activities in the Sovereignty Commission files. For instance

An article by Drew Pearson on the Klan and Mississippi, written in 1953

A "Tell All" Report by the Mississippi White Caps

A Sovereignty Commission "report" on the Pike County Klan, Unit 783

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