The Ku Klux Klan was originally organized in the winter of 1865-66 in Pulaski, Tennessee as a social club by six Confederate veterans

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The Ku Klux Klan was originally organized in the winter of 1865-66 in Pulaski, Tennessee as a social club by six Confederate veterans. In the beginning, the Klan was a secret fraternity club rather than a terrorist organization. (Ku Klux was derived from the Greek "kuklos," meaning circle, and the English word clan.) The costume adopted by its members (disguises were quite common) was a mask and white robe and high conical pointed hat.

According to the founders of the Klan, it had no malicious intent in the beginning. The Klan grew quickly and became a terrorist organization. It attracted former Civil War generals such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, the famed cavalry commander whose soldiers murdered captured black troops at Fort Pillow.

The Klan spread beyond Tennessee to every state in the South and included mayors, judges, and sheriffs as well as common criminals. The Klan systematically murdered black politicians and political leaders. It beat, whipped, and murdered thousands, and intimidated tens of thousands of others from voting. Blacks often tried to fight back, but they were outnumbered and out gunned. While the main targets of Klan wrath were the political and social leaders of the black community, blacks could be murdered for almost any reason. Men, women, children, aged and crippled, were victims. A 103-year-old woman was whipped, as was a completely paralyzed man. In Georgia, Abraham Colby, an organizer and leader in the black community, was whipped for hours in front of his wife and children. His little daughter begged the Klansman, "Don't take my daddy away." She never recovered from the sight and died soon after. In Mississippi, Jack Dupree's throat was cut and he was disemboweled in front of his wife, who had just given birth to twins. Klansman burned churches and schools, lynching teachers and educated blacks. Black landowners were driven off their property and murdered if they refused to leave. Blacks were whipped for refusing to work for whites, for having intimate relations with whites, for arguing with whites, for having jobs whites wanted, for reading a newspaper or having a book in their homes.. Or simply for being black. Klan violence led one black man to write: "We have very dark days here. The colored people are in despair. The rebels boast that the Negroes shall not have as much liberty now as they had under slavery. If things go on thus, our doom is sealed. God knows it is worse than slavery."

A few state governments fought back. In Tennessee and Arkansas, Republicans organized a police force that arrested Klansmen and carried out executions. In Texas, Governor Edmund Davis organized a crack state police unit, 40 percent of whose officers were black. The police made over 6,000 arrests and stopped the Klan. Armed groups of black and whites fought or threatened Klansman in North and South Carolina. The federal government also exerted its influence, empowering federal authorities with the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871. Klan activity ended by 1872 and disappeared until it was revived again in 1915.

Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism. All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of blacks.

The Jim Crow system was undergirded by the following beliefs or rationalizations: whites were superior to blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior; relations between blacks and whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy America; treating blacks as equals would encourage interracial unions; any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial relations; if necessary, violence must be used to keep blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. The following Jim Crow etiquette norms show how inclusive and pervasive these norms were:

  • A black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a white male because it implied being socially equal. Obviously, a black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a white woman, because he risked being accused of rape.

  • Blacks and whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them.

  • Under no circumstance was a black male to offer to light the cigarette of a white female -- that gesture implied intimacy.

  • Blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another in public, especially kissing, because it offended whites.

  • Whites did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to blacks, for example, Mr., Mrs., Miss., Sir, or Ma'am. Instead, blacks were called by their first names. Blacks had to use courtesy titles when referring to whites, and were not allowed to call them by their first names.

  • If a black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck.

  • White motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections.

Stetson Kennedy, the author of Jim Crow Guide (1990), offered these simple rules that blacks were supposed to observe in conversing with whites:

  • Never assert or even intimate that a white person is lying.

  • Never impute dishonorable intentions to a white person.

  • Never suggest that a white person is from an inferior class.

  • Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.

  • Never curse a white person.

  • Never laugh derisively at a white person.

  • Never comment upon the appearance of a white female.

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