Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in the aftermath of the Civil War as a vigilante group to maintain white supremacy across the South. The Klan murdered outspoken blacks, white Republicans, and anyone it considered a political threat to white rule during Reconstruction. Through a series of acts in 1870-71 that made the Klan's activities federal crimes, the federal government suppressed the Klan for a time. Klan members wore sheets over their heads to hide their identities, they raided homes at night, and practiced intimidation, threat, and violence. The organization was secret and attracted members to its elaborate ceremonies with its costumes, formal processions, and scripted liturgies. The Klan was reborn in the 1910s with the popularity of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation film which grossed millions of dollars and portrayed the Klan as the redeemers of the South in Reconstruction. Klan membership soared in the early 1920s, but quickly dissipated after a series of sexual and financial scandals in its leadership. Women were especially active in the second Klan in the 1920s, donning white uniforms and participating in elaborate parades for white solidarity. The burning cross became a symbol of the Klan and its message of white supremacy. The Klan in the 1950s was unpopular throughout much of the South, as many white Southerners considered the organization both foolish and dangerous. Klan members, after all, were responsible for some of the deaths of civil rights leaders and contributed to all manner of law violations. The Klan, however, thrived in some parts of nearly every Southern state, capitalizing on class and race resentment and the driving need to belong. In Virginia the Klan burned crosses in the early 1950s in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the home of Sarah Patton Boyle and in a black neighborhood. The Klan burned a cross in front of the home of Richmond city council member civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill. Klan rallies took place in the fifties in Lunenburg County and Pittsylvania County, and other parts of Southside Virginia. In Virginia those publicly against desegregation, such as James J. Kilpatrick and Robert Crawford, distinguished their position from the Klan and disavowed violent tactics.