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. It used intimidation, violence and murder to maintain white supremacy in Southern government and social life. It disappeared in the 1870s, but formed again in 1915 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, which broke away from the Union to protect their right to own black people as slaves. The Union won, and the 11 Southern states became part of the United States again. Enslaved African Americans were freed.

Late in 1865, just after the Civil War ended, the KKK was founded. The KKK, also known as the Klan, was a secret organization that used terror tactics to target newly freed African Americans. The KKK worked to enforce white supremacy, the hateful and wrong belief that white people are superior to others. The KKK wanted white people in the South to continue to have advantages in government and society, just like it was before the Civil War.

The KKK attracted fighters of the former Confederacy who resented the changes of Reconstruction. The Reconstruction was a period of time after the Civil War, from 1865 to 1877. During Reconstruction, many attempts were made to help freed slaves become a part of society.

One of the changes was the addition of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The Amendments ensured equal rights and the right to vote and be elected. In addition, federal laws were introduced to protect the civil rights of freed people. However, when they tried to exercise their new rights, black voters suffered intimidation and violence. Much of these activities were organized by the Klan.

Klan Prevented African-American Men from Voting

The votes of formerly enslaved men helped make Hiram Rhodes Revels the first African American in the United States Senate. In 1870, South Carolina directly elected Joseph Rainey, another African American, to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The KKK reacted with terrorizing night rides to the homes of black voters. Throughout the South, intimidation of this kind was very common. The KKK used secrecy, intimidation, violence, and murder to prevent formerly enslaved African-American men from voting. They especially targeted black officeholders and their supporters.

In 1871, during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, laws against the KKK were passed. These laws allowed the president to declare martial law, which is a rule by military of a certain area when the government is unable to rule. Grant did not use these powers to the full extent of the law, but some progress was made. Nine South Carolina counties were placed under martial law and some KKK members were arrested.

Many of the advances of the Reconstruction period did not last long. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, state lawmakers decided on Jim Crow laws. These laws ensured white superiority and segregation. The new laws placed immense difficulties in the way of blacks voting. Black voters were intimidated or simply blocked from registering to vote and voting.

The early KKK dissolved in the 1870s, partly because of federal laws but also because its goals had been met. Then, in the early 20th century, the KKK was revived. This time, the KKK also acted against Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.

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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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