The Ku Klux Klan: Original Ideology

Three African American men shot by a white lynch mob in Tennessee in 1874.

The Ku Klux Klan emerged in the mid-1860s as vigilante groups of white people patrolling cities in former southern slave states. Their objective was to intimidate and terrorize the black population into remaining subservient plantation workers, just like they had been as slaves.

Enforcing curfews

Among the methods that the KKK members used to keep African Americans down was riding through towns and enforcing arbitrarily set curfews on them. Often dressed in white, KKK members also took it upon themselves to beat and even lynch black people who they believed were too “uppity”.

White people who took a stand for black people’s rights were despised by the Klan and sometimes attacked. In the opinion of the Klan — as well as in the opinion of other southerners who shared the Klan’s views — the old social order with blacks at the bottom had to be maintained, even though African Americans were now nominally equal to whites.

Robes and hoods

As part of the attempt to maintain the old social order, the Ku Klux Klan sometimes used various kinds of robes and hoods to try to frighten Klan victims, as well as to help draw attention to the Klan’s cause. However, a few years after the organization’s inception and the introduction of the frightening robes, the KKK was reined in by federal authorities and temporarily ceased to exist. Nevertheless, attitudes towards blacks, to a large extent, remained unchanged, and practices such as lynching continued. Interestingly though, about one fourth of all recorded victims of lynching in the United States from 1882 onward would be white people. These whites were killed for siding with African Americans or for allegedly having committed serious crimes.