Reconstruction And The Ku-Klux Klan In America
Reconstruction, the process thought to redress the inequities of slavery and its political, social, and economic legacy, was destroyed. The answer to what is at fault for the ending of America’s efforts to reverse past mistakes, is, at the very least, debatable. 1865, the year the American Civil War finally came to an end, and marked the start of Reconstruction. During this time, actions were taken to protect past slaves and solve rising issues due to the abolished slavery, like The Freedmen’s Bureau. Despite the North and South no longer at war, the citizens who lived in southern states still had very different views from those in the North. Some argue that the North was responsible for the downfall of reconstruction, due to the Republican Party’s internal squabbles, and Along with existent racism in the North, it’s tricky to tell who’s more to blame. The Black Codes were laws passed in 1865 and 1866 by Southern states in the United States, which segregated african Americans from the whites, deliberately making it more difficult for them to survive. These laws ended up being eradicated, only to be replaced by similar Jim Crow laws. This all occurred in the South, along with countless other issues, like the growing white supremisist group, the KKK, and eradication of the only good protection for freed slaves in the South, the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Founded in 1865 by a group of Confederate veterans, the KKK rapidly grew from a secret group to a terrorist organization bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction. By 1870, the KKK extended into almost every southern state and became a vehicle for white supremacy to spread. They were completely against reconstruction, and lynched or tortured anyone in favor of it, including African Americans, Republican political figures for reconstruction, Carpetbaggers, etc. As shown in Document A, a political cartoon published in a newspaper in 1868 depicts the KKK as a donkey, due to their democratic origins, escaping the scene of two people hanging from a tree, one of which holding a bag (carpetbag) with the word “Ohio” on it. The artist shows us the KKK and what they’re known for; lynching specific people. At the time, The KKK was rapidly growing in the South, and the illustration was likely made to spread awareness of their activities. The fact that Carpetbaggers were victims to the KKK shows that the Klan exists seemingly exclusively in the South. Without an author, it’s hard to tell how reliable the information may be, though it is a first hand source, and shows the KKK’s involvement with the end of reconstruction. The text above demonstrates who (and how) they victimize. 1870, Albion Tourgee, a white, Northern soldier (serving as a Judge at the time) wrote a letter to the North Carolina Republican Senator about the KKK. This is a reliable first hand source, though bias is definitely present, due to his negative attitude towards the KKK. He reports, “It is my mournful duty to inform you that our friend John W. Stephans, State Senator from Caswell, is dead. He was foully murdered by the Ku-Klux in the Grand Jury room…” Stephans was white, but simply because he was working for reconstruction, the KKK murdered him, by not only stabbing him, but hanging him afterwards on a hook. This goes to show just how brutal they are, and that they have no boundaries or limits to their victims. But they did it as if to make a statement, to “show” everyone what will happen if you don’t conform to their beliefs, thus creating a huge problem in the South making reconstruction progress near impossible.
On the other hand, the KKK didn’t always murdur those who stood in their way, as shown in Document B. Abram Colby, a former slave, testimonies to a joint House and Senate in 1872, around when most Klan activity was ending thanks to the Ku Klux act, saying “[The Klansmen] broke my door open, took me out of bed, took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me for dead.” The KKK doesn’t just murdure people, they torture them to make them change votes, do what they want, etc. With everyone in the south living in fear of being murdered or tortured by the Klan, almost no change was happening. They told him, “Do you think you will ever vote another damned radical ticket?” Colby continues to recall the events, saying, “About two days before they whipped me they offered me $5,000 to go with them and said they would pay me $2,500 in cash if I would let another man go to the legislature in my place.” This all happened after Colby didn’t accept their bribe. These events show how much effort the KKK puts into getting what they want. In the regions where most Klan activity took place, local law enforcement officials either belonged to the Klan or declined to take action against it. Time and time again we see how most southerners end up giving them tacit approval by purposefully not speaking out against them, and this only made it easier for the KKK to commit these crimes, as shown in the political cartoon in Document B. Published in a newspaper in 1876, The illustration demonstrates a scene at a voting “booth”. There’s a black man being held at gunpoint by two white men, with a group of white people behind them. It’s captioned, “Of course he wants to vote the Democratic ticket.” Though the artist is unknown, it’s likely that this was a recreation of something they witnessed, the two white men threatening him to vote democratic. As stated before, local law enforcement officials declined to take action against the violence, and without the votes of the freedmen and supporters, there’s no room for change, which is exactly what the KKK wants. But is the Ku Klux Klan the only reason reconstruction was a failure?
Some say the North had more pressing issues that led to the fall of the reconstruction. As seen in Document C, The Americans, a textbook written by McDougal Littell and Gerald Danzer in 1998 states, “…Northern voters grew indifferent to events in the South… the tide of public opinion in the North began to turn against Reconstruction policies.” Though this was written in 1998, making it a second hand source, textbooks are written by experts in the pertinent field. The text explains that those who favor reconstruction in the North grew indifferent to the violence and outrage in the South, and eventually had some with challenging beliefs to the reconstruction. The Republicans split in 1872 over contradicting beliefs, and goes to show how there is still corruption in the North and their absence in assistance affects the progress of reconstruction. A political cartoon in Document D also showcases how Northerners still viewed African Americans negatively. A Norther artist illustrated what they thought of the South Carolina state Legislature, and it was the cover of the Harper’s Weekly newspaper in 1874. It shows a courtroom filled with people, and three black men as the focal point. They’re drawn almost animalistically, and they’re yelling at each other while throwing their arms in the air. This exhibits the existence of racism in the North during reconstruction. Although these demonstrate the faults in the North, there were never any deliberate attempts made by republican officials to stunt the growth of reconstruction. The KKK, with southern origins, had an ultimatum of stopping reconstruction, making deliberate attempts to do so.
As might be expected, The South and it’s political views were generally against reconstruction, and the KKK was the cause for its ultimate downfall. Despite the eradication of slaves and their gained rights, the goal of reconstruction and the role of the federal government in protecting citizens’ rights, and the possibility of economic and racial justice remain unresolved to this day. Citizens throughout the U.S. still believe some of the things that people did back then, which may be why we still aren’t making much progress towards equality. Not to mention the disgusting existence of the KKK living on to this day.
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