Peoples History of the Invisible Army
Origins of an American OG Hate Group
Image from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 historically cinematic and masterpiece film.
Today’s Confederate “culture” is a shepherd’s pie of Pre-Civil War Antebellum pride, and remarkable Scottish culture, the latter grotesquely mutated by the former. To understand the Klan, you need to understand the man. Americans who identify with Scottish heritage might check one of the three following boxes: Highlander, Lowlander, or Scotch-Irish. Let’s get some cultural context —
These 3 groups of Scotts would help build U.S. population before the American RevolutionBetween 1763 and 1775, around 55,000 Scotch-Irish from Ulster and 40,000 Scots arrive in the British-American colonies. They are escaping famine, rebellion, and religious persecution. Many Roman Catholic Highlanders will settle in the North while Ulster-Scots home in the South.
Expansion of the territories required distance between colonizers and potential invaders such as Native Peoples and the French. Southern settlers fought in the buffer zone and took land in return. Scotch-Irish settle in the Appalachians, where they can see incoming enemies from the hilltops. This is also where the term “hillbilly” comes from — hill people of the Appalachians. Each generation of these people moves further south and west. By the end of the 17th-century indentured servitude phased out, and slavery imports ramp up. Racial divide and class began to solidify with the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705.
By the end of the 18th century, the cotton gin arrives and replaces tobacco as a cash crop. The cotton gin isn’t an alcoholic libation (gin comes from juniper, JSYK). The cotton gin is a lil’ device that makes sorting seeds from cotton harvests more efficient. Efficiency is money in the bank! Scots and Scotch-Irish at the time, romanticized Scottish novels and wanted to experience luxury. Generations of farmers have the economics means to build big ass houses for themselves. Slave cabins would be a symbol of wealth, lining the front of properties. By horror movie definition, every plantation built is haunted.
Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana, built 2 years before the Civil War. This beast has 64 rooms, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces, 200 windows, and 164 doors. Slave-made.
Shit is popping off across the New Americas (see slide), and around 1850, congress enacts the Fugitive Slave Act. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds. If you were able to run away to a free state, your Black ass still wasn’t free. Abolitionists were like, the fuck? Nope. So later, $1000 fines were placed on officials who didn’t report or arrest runaway slaves. Tension. Tension. Tension. By 1861 11 Southern States left the Union. Secessionists attack Fort Sumter in South Carolina and wham! Civil War. Southerners who served in the Confederate army, including Scots and Ulster-Scot descendants, had voting rights taken. The Union army will assume control over southern territories as the country pieces itself back together. Many southerners are left destitute, and farmers through sharecropping and other means have lost wealth.
Months after the war, 6 former Confederate officers in Pulaski Tennessee get together and form a little boys club called the Ku Klux Klan. Why all Ks? Convenient to sew into costumes? But clan — Klan is suggested by John B. Kennedy as a nod to their Scottish heritage. The original Ku Klux Constitution (Konstitution?) quotes Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who you haven’t heard of because HE INFLUENCED THE KKK. You don’t get to go down in history for that. Uh-uh. Next, the six newly formed Klan members high five and start making out. Just kidding. They do decide to do something much much gayer.
In 1867 the Klan put on plays at their local theatre. You may have seen minstrel show characters, the dopey looking white dudes in blackface just being utterly offensive in their characterizations of Black identities. Minstrel shows existed before slavery and after. One queer negro might even argue that RuPaul’s Drag Race is a modern-day minstrel show. I am that queer negro.
Klan Founder Frank McCord had a brother who ran the Pulaski Citizen newspaper and helped publicize Klan activities. After the war, Southerners don’t have a lot of government trust, hate to see niggas thrive, and are convening to air their grievances through mockery and violence. The racial violence is dubbed as clan violence in media, which does nothing but increase the rate of violence as support festers. The KKK intimidates and murder people, interfere in politics, threaten property owners, and typically got to walk away unpunished.
In 1867 the 14th amendment gave equal rights to Blacks and the government the right to enforce protections. Further action was needed as racial unrest grew. The 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act made hate crimes a Federal offense. It also gave the government power to authorize forces to suppress state violence. White southerners were upset their rights to terrorism are restricted. These policies helped shift all Southern states towards the Democratic party by 1876. Black codes segregating Blacks and whites help diminish violence in some places. By 1896 the Supreme Court rules segregation does not violate the 14th amendment. White southerners are totally cool with this. They didn’t want Black folks anywhere near their shit (and apparently still don’t).
Enter, Stage Left, Thomas Dixon: Son of a Scottish farmer and plantation owner. This guy wrote a trilogy of racist ass novels, one of them, The Clansman popped off like J.K. wrote it. A play adaptation caused riots, including the Atlanta riots of 1905. In his novel, Dixon uses the Crann Tara, a handheld sized cross burned in old Scotland to declare war. It’s kind of badass if you imagine it that way…instead of a giant one burning in your lawn at 1am on a Tuesday.
Around the same time, the Godfather of Modern Film, D.W. Griffith is rife with southern pride but, more importantly, ingenuity — as he went on to tell cinematic stories in a manner that had never been done. Film students recognize the Birth of a Nation because it’s one of the most pivotal films in storytelling yet undeniably racist. In 1915, D.W. Griffith adapts The Clansman novel into the historically inaccurate Birth of a Nation. Audiences leave theaters empowered about their white heritage and enraged at Black society. Some murders of Black citizens have been attributed to film showings. The NAACP worry about racial divides the film will cause and decide to protest Birth of Nation nationwide. Even Black founder of the Guardian Newspaper, William Monroe Trotter, appealed to the first southern president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson to ban the movie.
President Wilson’s quote in Griffith’s film.Woodrow Wilson would not ban Birth of A Nation because he didn’t find it offensive. How could he? His writings are quoted in the movie. Worst of all, Clansman author Thomas Dixon and President Wilson are old college buddies. In fact, Wilson, Dixon, and Griffith all watched the movie together… leading to a daunting paradox of in the fight against American racism because Birth of a Nation is the very first film shown inside the White House. Individual states and towns may have agreed not to show the film; however, too many did not.
Rebirth of a Movement
In November of 1915, after seeing Birth of a Nation, a freaky lil methodist named William Joseph Simmons busses a dozen or so guys to Stone Mountain in Atlanta. They build an altar, layout a bible, sword, and flag. A cross is lit, and Simmons declares himself Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (or IWIEKKKK pronounced eye-weak, as in weak AF).
The Klan used intimidation and violence to chase One-Eyed Willie’s most precious treasure, sovereignty. This new early 20th-century clan became more inclusive haters. They targeted Mexicans, Jews, Blacks, and Catholics. Publicity galvanized through “Americanism” rose recruitment numbers. The KKK had about 5 million members and fringe supporters by its peak in 1925. Some estimates say at least 15% of the United States were affiliated or supporters of the Klan activities. The same year, these palid ghost cosplayers march down Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington DC with many as 150,000 Klansmen in attendance. Sovereignty.
Like a box of Girl Scout cookies hidden in your garage freezer, this was not meant to last. Though numbers were high, internally, the Klan was disorganized and corrupt. The conviction of a well-known KKK leader in Indiana for the rape and murder of a white woman broke moral across the country. Apparently, it’s fine to kick, beat, shoot, extort, rape, murder, torture, lynch, burn, and mutilate Black bodies, but a white woman dies, and everyone is out of the club? Right.
In the mid-late 1920s, racial tensions are thought to have eased as 1924 immigration restrictions prevent European migrants from enterting the United States.
With still much segregation in place, racism and discrimination were the norms, so the Klan’s influence wasn’t necessarily required for white societal dominance. Today there are over 900 hate groups in the US, with at least 330 representing the Ku Klux Klan or a form a white supremacy. Next we’ll have brief look at the Confederate flag and how it came it symbolize racism in America.