KKK Facts
KKK Facts

73 Sobering Facts about the Ku Klux Klan

By Nathan James, Associate Writer
Published November 24, 2017
  • The Ku Klux Klan arose in the Southern United States after the end of the Civil War in 1865.[8]
  • The Klan is not a single historical group, but a grassroots movement that has risen and then largely disappeared several times since the original Klan was disbanded in 1872.  Notable periods of Klan activity include the original Klan of the 1860s and the Klan revivals of the 1920s and 1950s.[8]
  • According to a 2016 Anti-Defamation League report, membership in the KKK throughout the USA had dropped to approximately 3,000 members. The Southern Poverty Law Center places their estimate slightly higher, between 5,000 and 8,000.[2][14]
  • The KKK defines its principle enemies as African Americans, Jews, and Catholics.[8]
  • Daryl Davis, an African American blues musician, has spent the last 30 years befriending members of the KKK and questioning them about their beliefs. As of 2017, 200 of those Klansmen have given up their robes as a result of their friendship with Davis.[10]
  • The name "Ku Klux Klan" is derived from Kuklos, the Greek word for circle. It was likely chosen simply because it sounds mysterious and frightening.[8]
  • While it is commonplace to think of the Ku Klux Klan as a male organization, Klanswomen have played a prominent role in the group's history, especially during the Klan revival of the 1920s.[5]
  • The first KKK was formed in 1865 by a group of six friends from Pulaski, Tennessee. Initially they saw themselves as pranksters, but soon realized that they could use their antics to spread fear among the newly freed slaves and exercise their growing power to reassert white control.[8]
  • After the devastation of the Civil War, many Southern men were drawn to the Klan, seeing it as a way to regain a sense of control over their lives and communities, and as a continued form of resistance to what they considered Northern aggression.[8]
  • KKK Civil War
    Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the American Civil War, and the resulting social upheavals are still being felt today (Civil War Trust)

  • Early KKK leaders referred to their organization as "The Invisible Empire," and saw themselves as knights carrying out a crusade to maintain white leadership and safeguard the moral fabric of the South.[8]
  • The original Klan likely killed close to 1,000 African Americans and Republicans.[8]
  • During the winter of 1870–71, a majority of African Americans in South Carolina slept in the woods at night, hoping to avoid the Klan's wrath.[8]
  • The initial Klan aimed to destabilize the Reconstruction policies designed to integrate blacks into Southern communities. Their strategies of intimidation and electoral meddling were quite successful; the balance of power in the Southern states remained largely in white, Democratic hands.[8]
  • The first Grand Wizard, or overall leader, of the KKK was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate General.[8]
  • The Klan of the 1860s–70s consisted of many small Klans.  There was a central charter, and the Klans were nominally overseen by Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, but individual Klans largely pursued their own agendas.[8]
  • The Klan has a loose hierarchical structure with leaders at various levels of power bearing esoteric names such as Dragon, Emperor, Wizard, Kligrapp, Giant, and Kludd.[8]
  • Historian David Chalmers states that it is impossible to understand the motivations of the original Klan without appreciating the widespread fear among white Southerners of African American insurrection against them.[8]
  • KKK racism
    Klansmen and other Southerners misrepresented the threat posed by the newly freed slaves to justify their violence

  • Most members of the original Ku Klux Klan were also members of the (at that time) conservative Democratic party, with their Northern opponents making up the progressive Republican government fighting for universal suffrage and equal protection under the law.[8]
  • The early Klans used violence and intimidation to create terror and maintain control. Among other violent activities, they scared away Northern teachers and shopkeepers; harassed, intimidated, or attacked prosperous African Americans; threatened juries; and disrupted Republican meetings.[8]
  • Throughout their history, the Klans enforced what they saw as "sexual norms" between the races. Their methods were especially brutal in the 1860's, with Klansmen tarring and exiling white prostitutes who sold their services to black men, and beating or killing African Americans accused by white women of rape or sexual advances.[8]
  • Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest officially disbanded the Klans in 1869, a mere three years after their inception, but it was not until 1872 that federal forces managed to completely stamp them out.[8]
  • One of the main reasons the early Klan quickly disappeared as an official organization is that, by the 1870s, it had served its intended purpose of resisting Northern Reconstruction policies, and concentrating political power back into the hands of Southern white Democrats. Racial violence still occurred, but it was not perpetrated by an organized body of Klansmen. They no longer saw themselves as being on the defensive.[8]
  • While the Klan got its start in the 1860s, it was very loosely organized, and confined almost exclusively to the Southern states.  It did not become a nationwide organization until the "Klan Revival" of the 1920s.[8]
  • KKK Movie
    Despite its content, Griffith's three-hour silent film is still viewed as a milestone in the history of cinema
  • The 1920s Klan revival was largely sparked by the 1905 book The Clansmen, by Thomas Dixon Jr., and the subsequent 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, directed by D. W. Griffith. The film, based on Dixon's book, portrayed the Civil War and the rise of the KKK in their crusade to block Republican Reconstruction efforts and save white Southerners from freed slaves, who were portrayed as violent and savage.[8]
  • The Birth of a Nation was a huge critical and commercial success. Its widespread popularity was a leading factor in the spread of the Klan during the 1920s. In addition to fueling the flames of racial and political hatred, it helped kick-start the golden age of Hollywood. Despite its inaccurate and inflammatory content, it is still considered a cinematic milestone.[1]
  • William J. Simmons fired up the first Klan revival in 1915, one week before The Birth of a Nation's Atlanta premier.[8]
  • Simmons’s Klan revival began on Thanksgiving Eve, 1915. About 20 men climbed to the top of Stone Mountain, a huge granite slab outside of Atlanta, and burned a cross over a stone altar to symbolize the Klan’s rekindling.[8]
  • While many Klansmen were poor and uneducated, the movement across its various historical incarnations drew many prominent and wealthy citizens.  The Klan was generally organized and run by people considered pillars of their communities.[8]
  • The Klan was most active during the 1920s when its membership exceeded four million people across America.[13]
  • Although it is in Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America that terrorist groups count as a political force today, the United States is the home of one of the world's oldest such organizations, the Invisible Empires of the Ku Klux Klan.

    - David M. Chalmers

  • William Simmons announced his intentions to make the Klan a national organization when he declared, "Any real man, any native-born white American who is not affiliated with any foreign institution and who loves his country and his flag may become a member of the Ku Klux Klan, whether he lives north, south, east or west." (9)[3]
  • The KKK's longevity is, in many ways, a feature of the romantic and mythical status the early Klansmen had in the eyes of many Southerners—a status that sharply contrasted with their recent humiliation over losing the war. As David Chalmers puts it, "The saga of the Klan as the hero and great folk legend of the South stems partly from the fact that the night riders appealed to a sense of excitement, adventure, mystery, and violence." (20)[8]
  • During the 1920s Klan revival, a specific subgroup was formed for Klanswomen—the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, or WKKK.[5]
  • KKK Women Facts
    Such manifestos and declarations were publicly disseminated during the heyday of Klan activity in the 1920s

  • Historian Kathleen M. Blee describes the strange position of Klanswomen in Indiana during the 1920s as being a unique mix of racial fears and hatreds combined with progressive feminist politics.  She writes: "Klanswomen asserted a political agenda that mixed support for white Protestant women's rights with racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Catholic politics. In this, they do not fit the traditional categories that characterize political movements like right wing and left wing."  (3)[5]
  • By 1924, the Klan had accrued such power that they largely dominated the Democratic National Convention, and a year later they marched 40,000 strong down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.[8]
  • One likely reason for the success of the Klan revival was increased patriotic feeling sweeping America after the First World War.[8]
  • Klan leaders attributed much of their success to newspaper coverage in the 1920s. William Simmons claimed, "It wasn't until the newspapers began to attack the Klan that it really grew...Certain newspapers also aided us by inducing Congress to investigate us. The result was that Congress gave us the best advertising we ever got. Congress made us." (38)[8]
  • The Klan developed their own secret code.  Terms like "AYAK?" (Are You A Klansmen?) and "AKIA" (A Klansmen I Am) helped members identify each other.[8]
  • A common Klan fear during the 1920s was that Catholicism loomed too large in public schools, and that the Pope was dictating what school children were being taught.  Klansmen and women have fought against this supposed threat since then.[5]
  • While men in the KKK took up the more active roles of tampering with electoral processes and terrorizing those they saw as racially or religiously undesirable, women played a more social and domestic role, often working as "poison squads" to boycott businesses and spread slanderous rumors.[5]
  • A 1921 race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ended with approximately 30 African Americans dead at the hands of Klansmen.[8]
  • The Birth of a Nation was the first film to be shown in the White House. President Woodrow Wilson reportedly said of the film, "It is like history written with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true."[8]
  • KKK burning cross
    Burning crosses were placed on the lawns of enemies of the Klan as an intimidation tactic and warning
  • The burning cross, the infamous symbol of the KKK, was introduced during the Klan revival of the 1920s.[8]
  • In 1921, Klansmen in Taft, California, kidnapped a man who was attempting to divorce his wife and took him to the local ballpark. While much of the citizenry watched, he was hanged until unconscious, then revived and flogged into unconsciousness three times with wire whips and knotted ropes.  After he was revived a fourth time, the Klansmen cut his back and left him on the ground with a warning to cease divorce proceedings.[8]
  • During the 1920s Klan revival, large portions of the state of Indiana were run almost entirely by members of the Klan.[5]
  • Many Indiana merchants hung signs in their windows during the 1920s that read "TWK", for "Trade with a Klansmen" to invite fellow Ku Kluxers and warn Jews, Catholics, and Blacks away.[8]
  • Klan members of the 1920s saw themselves as safeguarding the country against anyone they deemed "un-American," including people of "loose morals," or those lacking sufficient patriotic feeling.[8]
  • The Klan's list of stated enemies has expanded over the past 150 years. In the early years following the Civil War, their targets were almost solely freed slaves and Northern Republicans and carpetbaggers. With the revival of the 1920s, their hatred expanded to encompass Jews, Catholics, labor unionists, and communists. The Klan of the 1960s set itself in opposition to the civil rights movement.[8]
  • The Klan of the 1920s was organized much like a pyramid scheme; recruiters solicited new members and passed the registration fees up the chain of command. Along the way, each participant pocketed a share of the money.[8]
  • KKK anti-Catholic
    The Klan used political cartoons such as this to spread anti-Catholic propaganda
  • Rumors swirled among Klansmen during the 1920s about the evil intentions of all Catholics. One popular story told how every time a new Catholic boy was born, his father would add a gun to his church's arsenal, and another held that the Pope had secretly bought the strategically placed high ground overlooking Washington, D.C. and West Point.[8]
  • In 1920 a Klan lecturer in Indiana warned his fellows to be on the lookout for the Pope, whom he apparently suspected may be travelling across the country, poisoning the minds of American Protestants. The next day over a thousand Klansmen went to the train station and interrogated the only passenger, a corset salesman, until they finally decided he probably wasn't the Pope in disguise.[8]
  • The 1920s Klansmen were attracted to California by the promise of gold. They soon had a strong foothold in Kern and Los Angeles Counties.[8]
  • The Klan had a strong presence in Colorado during the 1920s. In 1924, Klansman Clarence Morley was elected governor of the state.[8]
  • In 1921, Revival Klansmen in California tarred and feathered a drug store owner who refused to leave town after they had targeted him. They left him in the middle of a road with fires burning on all sides to keep the tar hot.[8]
  • The Revival Klan all but dissolved by the end of the 1920s, in large part because of disenchantment among its members. The extreme violence employed by vicious leaders alienated many religious members who came to realize the true nature of the organization they had joined. The onset of the Great Depression completed the collapse.[8]
  • The early Klan had no official uniform—a fact used by Klan defenders to deny its existence or minimize its actions. Former Georgia Representative John H. Christy testified to Congress in 1871 that “Sometimes mischievous boys who want to have some fun go on a masquerading frolic to scare the negroes, but they do not interrupt them, do not hurt them in any way…stories are exaggerated, and it keeps up the impression among the negroes that there is really a Ku-Klux organization.”[11]
  • The well-known conical white hood worn by members of the KKK was not widely adopted until after Griffith's film "Birth of a Nation," which depicted Klansmen in the now-familiar cap.[11]
  • KKK Cross
    The hood serves both as a dramatic disguise designed to intimidate and as a means for Klansmen to remain anonymous

  • Daniel Burros, a Jewish man from the Bronx, became obsessed with Neo-Nazism and white supremacy in his youth, eventually rising to the rank of Grand Dragon of New York, the head of the Klan for the entire state. When it was publicly revealed in 1965 that he was Jewish, he committed suicide.[7]
  • The KKK developed their own "Kalendar" with days bearing titles like "Desperate," "Dreadful," and "Desolate," and years going by names such as "Appalling," "Frightful," and "Sorrowful."[8]
  • The Klan had a second revival at the end of WWII, led by Dr. Samuel Green, a doctor from Atlanta. But this revival never became as widespread as the 1920s revival.[8]
  • Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights activist, was killed by Klansmen in 1965 after she participated in a voting-rights march. She was the only white female activist to be killed in the civil rights movement.[4]
  • A key tactic of current KKK members is delivering racist fliers to people’s porches or driveways. The Anti-Defamation League counted 86 such incidents in 2015, up from 73 the previous year.[2]
  • KKK Leaders
    Duke has been the public face of the Klan for nearly five decades
  • David Duke has been the most prominent and widely recognized member of the KKK during the past half-century. He has run, unsuccessfully, for a wide variety of government posts including the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the governorship of Louisiana.[6]
  • David Duke began his political career while a student at Louisiana State University in the late 1960s, proclaiming himself a Nazi at "Free Speech Alley," a weekly public forum at LSU. He joined the KKK in the '70s, forming his own branch, the "Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," or KKKK.[6]
  • The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal order, has been a target of Klan hatred. The KKK distributed falsified oaths which they claimed were taken by each Knight of Columbus and included a pledge to “hang, burn, boil, flay, and bury alive” (pg. 111) all non-Catholics.[8]
  • Alabama Klansmen were convicted of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, which claimed the lives of four young African American girls.[8]
  • The Klan held only three public rallies in the U.S. in 2015. They were held in Montgomery, Alabama; on the University of Mississippi campus; and in Columbia, South Carolina.[2]
  • The Loyal White Knights, perhaps the most active Klan group operating today, is based in North Carolina.[2]
  • Klan members stabbed three people during a KKK rally in Anaheim, California in 2016. Five men and one woman associated with the KKK were arrested for the stabbings. Seven protesters were also arrested for assault against Klan participants in the rally.[15]
  • Today, the KKK often forms symbiotic relationships with other racially motivated hate groups such as Neo-Nazis. According to Dr. Mark Pitcavage, Senior Research Fellow at the Anti-Defamation League: “Making explicit or de facto alliances allows more joint events, which can help mask the small numbers that individual white supremacist groups are able to generate."[2]
  • KKK neo-nazis
    After WWII, many Klansmen began adopting Nazi ideology (John Moore / Getty Images)

  • There has been intense public interest in and consistent media coverage of the KKK over the past 50 years. Prominent Klansmen appeared in interviews with Barbara Walters and Tom Snyder, and Klan profiles appeared in such publications as Playboy, Oui, Esquire, and Penthouse.[8]
  • Members of the KKK brutally murdered 19-year-old Michael Donald in Mobile, Alabama, in 1981. The Klansmen accosted the young African American on his way home, hit him repeatedly with a tree branch, then lynched him and slit his throat. Their stated reason for the murder was anger over an unrelated court case in which a black defendant was on trial for killing a white police officer.[12]
  • Beulah Mae Donald, mother of Michael Donald (who was murdered by the United Klans of America), filed a wrongful death civil suit against the UKA. Donald won the case, and the United Klans were ordered to pay $7 million, which bankrupted them.[12]
  • KKK members participated in the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlotesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, which erupted into violence as white nationalists fought protesters. One woman was killed when a car plowed into a group of protesters. While the assailant was not a Klan member, he was fascinated by Hitler and white supremacist groups.[9]
  • Frightening KKK Facts INFOGRAPHIC
    KKK Infographic
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