At one time, the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful political organization in the United States. Klan members, supported by the votes and monetary contributions of thousands of their fellow members, ran for and won positions as congressmen, governors, mayors, sheriffs, city councilmen, entire school boards and other high political offices.
THE BEGINNING OF THE KLAN
The Klan began, not as a political organization, but as a purely fraternal society dedicated to patriotism, brotherhood and good fellowship. It had its inception in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, when a group of young Civil War veterans, newly discharged from the Confederate army, found time hanging heavy on their hands and decided to form a social club. The club’s name was taken from Kuklos, the Greek word for circle, Kuklos became Ku Klux and Klan, a variation of clan, was added to form an alliterative and mysterious sounding name for the organization.
THE GROWTH OF THE KLAN
Throughout the sleepy towns of the post-war South, membership in the Klan increased quickly and soon a national leader was elected and became known as The Imperial Wizard. The first person to hold this title was General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Civil War cavalry commander well known for his wartime exploits and in particular for his stirring though ungrammatical battle plan, “Git thar fustest with the mostest.”
As the Klan grew, its purpose and goals changed. Its purpose became to control and oppress the newly freed slaves and to prevent them from entering the mainstream of American life. Ulysses S. Grant, who was elected president in 1868, said the purpose of the Klan was “by force and terror to prevent all political action not in accord with the views of its members, to deprive (black) citizens of the right to bear arms and of the right of a free ballot, to suppress the schools in which (black) children were taught and to reduce the (black) people to a condition closely allied to that of slavery.”