The Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization founded shortly after the United States Civil War ended. It has used intimidation, violence, and murder to maintain white supremacy in Southern government and social life.


5 - 12


Social Studies, U.S. History


KKK Gathering

The Ku Klux Klan was founded at the end of the United States Civil War to repress the rights and freedoms of African Americans. Even after 150 years, it is still an active, domestic terrorist organization.

Photograph from Herbert A. French
The Ku Klux Klan was founded at the end of the United States Civil War to repress the rights and freedoms of African Americans. Even after 150 years, it is still an active, domestic terrorist organization.
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The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is an extremist hate group in the United States. It was founded shortly after the Civil War ended. The KKK frightened and physically hurt black people. The KKK didn't want black people to have equal rights. The original KKK disappeared in the 1870s. Then, in 1915, it was formed again and has continued to the present day.

The U.S. Civil War took place between the Northern and Southern states between 1861 and 1865. The Southern states were known as the Confederacy while the Northern states were the Union. The Confederacy broke away from the Union to protect their right to own black people as slaves.

The Civil War ended in 1865 and the Union won. After the war, the 11 Southern states became part of the Union again and enslaved African Americans were freed.

Shortly after the war ended, the KKK was founded. It is also known as the Klan. The KKK's goal was to continue supporting white supremacy, the idea that white people are superior to black people. The KKK wanted whites to have advantages in government and society, just like it was before the war.

Klan Members Unhappy about Freed Slaves

People who joined the Klan were unhappy about the changes that came as part of the Reconstruction. The Reconstruction was a period of time after the Civil War, from 1865 to 1877. During that time, many attempts were made to help the freed slaves become a part of society.

First, the Constitution of the United States was changed. Changes to the United States Constitution are called Amendments. The 14th and 15th Amendments were added to the Constitution. The two new Amendments were intended to protect the civil rights of freed people. In addition, federal laws that protected freed slaves were also written. Federal laws apply to all of the U.S.

Still, many freed people could not enjoy their new rights. Some white people frightened, hurt, and even killed them. Much of these activities were organized by the KKK. The KKK used various ways to frighten and hurt newly freed African Americans. They acted secretly at nighttime and wore costumes.

The Southern states of Mississippi and South Carolina were part of the Confederacy. After the law changed, black people were able to vote. Voting by black people in these two states made a huge difference. In Mississippi, Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. In 1870 in South Carolina, Joseph Rainey, another African-American, was elected to the House of Representatives. The Senate and the House of Representatives are the two halves of Congress, which makes U.S. laws.

Laws Passed Against the KKK

The KKK reacted by sending people at night to the homes of black voters. The goal was to intimidate black voters and prevent them from voting. Frightening black people this way and even killing them were common all around the South. The KKK tried especially to hurt black people who were elected for government jobs, like lawmakers.

In 1871, laws against the KKK were passed. These laws allowed the president to declare martial law. Martial law is a rule by military when the government is unable to rule. The president at the time was Ulysses S. Grant. Grant used these powers only partly. Some KKK groups were broken up and their members were arrested.

However, many of the advances of the Reconstruction period did not last long. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, some states decided on Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow laws supported white supremacy and segregation. Segregation ensured separation of white and black people and limited black people's freedom. The new laws made it almost impossible for blacks to vote.

The early KKK broke up in the 1870s. In the early 1900s, the Klan became active again. That time, it also acted against Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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