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Reports & Essays: Social Issues - Racial

"AND""OR"

Racism and the Ku Klux Klan
Since the early development of society in the United States, racism has always been a divisive issue faced by communities on a political level. Our country was built from the immigration of people from an international array of backgrounds. However, multitudes of white supremacists blame their personal as well as economic misfortunes on an abundance of ethnic groups. African-Americans, Jews and Catholics are only some of the of groups tormented by these white supremacists. As the amount of ethnic diversity gradually increased in the political systems of Louisiana and the United States, organizations rapidly formed to challenge the new ethnic variation in government. The Ku Klux Klan is one of these groups that were formed by people who were angered by the increase of diversity in political office and in the workplace. Local and state officials that were members of the Klan aided in providing influence, money, and information to the racist organization. As the civil rights movement became accepted, it seemed as if the power of racist organizations deteriorated. However, with the Klan demanding freedom of speech, with political figures related to the Ku Klux Klan still bringing prejudice to politics throughout the country, and with multitudes of African-American churches being burned to the ground, it seems as if the Ku Klux Klan is still a threat to the citizens of this country. The Ku Klux Klan has played a major role in United States history. As the south was undergoing the era of Reconstruction after the Civil War, the votes of newly emancipated black Southerners put the Republicans in power throughout the state. White Southerners resorted to brute force to preserve the white supremacy they once had. The Klan was originally arranged into secret societies that terrorized local white and black Republican leaders. They also threatened all African Americans who violated the old ideas of black inferiority. Sworn to secrecy, its members wore white robes and masks and adopted the burning cross as their symbol. The Klan members seemed to be most active during election campaigns, when they would either scare people into voting for their candidate or get rid their opponents entirely. They were noticed for their horrible acts of violence that they called nighttime rides. These attacks included murder, rape, beatings, and warnings and were designed to overcome Republican majorities in the south. Due to the fear of a race war, state officials were unable to suppress the violence. Law enforcement officials were Klan members themselves and even when the law officers were legitimate, Klan members also sat on juries where criminally accused members were often acquitted.(Harrel,47-52) The Klan was popularized through literature and film in the early nineteenth century. Its influence spread with help from Thomas B. Dixon's The Clansman (1905) and D.W. Griffith's movie The Birth of a Nation (1915). (Harrel, 85) Harrel felt that this eventually "led to the establishment of a new Ku Klux Klan, which spread throughout the nation and preached anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-black, antisocialist, and anti-labor-union Americanism" (87). Harrel stated that the Klan's two million adherents exercised great political power, "often taking the law into their own hands, mobs of white-robed, white-hooded men punished immorality and terrorized un-American elements" (88). The Klan erupted as a secret organization employing its secrecy to mislead the public and inquiring newspapers. Therefore, they were labeled the invisible empire. Harrel urges the idea that in certain regions the Klan did not have enough influence to become politically triumphant (307). "But where it was strong the Invisible Empire elected scores of local officials, state legislators, a few governors, several national representatives, including Earle B. Mayfield of Texas, William J. Harris of Georgia, and Hugo Black of Alabama, to the United States Senate." (Harrel, 307) The Klan was extremely hungry for political gain. The best way to promote the growth of an organization of this sort would be the expansion of a network with prominent political and investment resources. "The limitation of immigration, maintenance of national prohibition, restriction of the political influence of the Catholic Church and minority groups, clean government, and maintenance of community morals, were goals which violence and intimidation alone could not achieve." (Harrel, 305) It is seemed necessary that in order to have a prosperous organization, the Klan would have to infiltrate the political offices held by the liberals. This is a task easier said than done. "The Invisible Empire excluded from membership, and thus insulted, Catholics, Jews, Negroes, and the foreign born, groups which totaled forty per cent of America's population during the twenties... Despite the fact that Klansmen looked upon the groups they excluded from membership as 'second class citizens,' America's minority groups together constituted a potentially powerful voting bloc which could grind the Klan under if sufficiently aroused." (Harrel, 305) An effort to enlist officials with both local and state authority was adopted in this state of Louisiana from successful attempts in Atlanta. "They first enrolled the Adjutant General of the State of Louisiana, L.A. Toombs, and then inducted several members of the state legislature, a number of local and district judges, sheriffs, district attorneys, and police officers." (Harrel, 309) The idea of public officials having involvement in the Ku Klux Klan is frightening, and still today it is present. In the early decades of the nineteenth century people were not sensible in their views of society as they are now. In present time people are more open minded, racism does exist, but it is totally unacceptable for society to tolerate bigotry from a political figure. A native of Louisiana, David Duke has been a considerably active politician. As Duke introduces a broad political campaign he does not leave behind his ties to bigotry. Still affiliated with white supremacist groups Duke has been "convicted of inciting to riot.." ("Lousisiana's... 27). His history has linked him to a variety of neo-nazi organizations. "As a member of the KKK at Louisiana State University, where he received his BA in history in 1974, he became an enthusiastic admirer of Adolph Hitler, and by 1975, he had risen to grand wizard of the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan" (Mackenzie, 40). Duke was always searching for a different approach to express his ideas. Methods of the Klan were no longer effective in stopping civil rights as they were in the sixties (Mackenzie,40). "Duke quit the Klan in 1980, and founded the National Association for the Advancement of White People" (Mackenzie,40). Duke broke into the national spotlight in 1987, when he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, from the district of Jefferson Parish. While serving his term as a state legislator, "he was caught selling Nazi books from his legislative office. One of them, "Did Six Million Really Die?" attempts to discredit the Holocaust" (Turque 53). Duke then made an attempt to unseat J. Bennett Johnston from his position in the United States Senate in 1990. He gave Johnston quite a scare, forcing a run off election and receiving almost forty percent of the vote in that election. Encouraged by that performance, Duke gave up his House seat to run for governor. Even though his strategy was hardly original, he managed to rally an entire campaign around the folklore that welfare spending was responsible for high taxes and blacks were taking away jobs from whites. Yet, in reality, the total outlay on aid to families with dependent children amounted to less than two percent of the entire state budget. He received thirty-two percent of the primary vote, which was enough to knock-off incumbent Buddy Roemer, who received twenty-nine percent, and get in a run-off with Edwin Edwards, who led with thirty-five percent. During this runoff, Duke received most of his media attention as he appeared numerous times on CNN and other political shows. Duke still lost the runoff to Edwards in 1991, yet he decided he would shoot for the White House the following year. But when Pat Buchannan entered the election, Duke lost the ultra-conservative, angry white male vote he was to capitalize on. Racism in the United States is outlined in elections of characters like David Duke. "The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson recently condemned former Ku Klux Klan Wizard David Duke's election to the Louisiana House of Representatives, calling it the result of a national problem of racism and one "the entire nation has to deal with" ("Duke election..." 7). It is the cooperation of leaders nation wide that use basis of moral understanding in striving to erase bias especially in politics. Today, the Ku Klux Klan does not just threaten minority groups on the political level. Nearly 100 African-American churches have been burned to the ground in the past year in a half. While some arrests made have not linked the Klan with the fires, many have. Two South Carolina Klan members have been arrested for burglarizing and setting ablaze two churches, the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal of Greeleyville and the Macedonia Baptist church of Bloomville. The two men, Timothy Welch and Gary Cox, had attended a Klan meeting only weeks before the fires. Welch was arrested with his Ku Klux Klan identification card in his wallet. The other, Gary Cox, lived with another Klan member in a trailer. When a local newspaper asked Welch's mother to comment on what her son did, she replied, "Those boys felt the blessing of the Klan...They take these young country boys who don't really know a lot and have never been out in the world, and they corrupt them" (Fields, 30 June 1996). The two men were not only charged with theft and arson, but were also charged with the beating and stabbing of a mentally handicapped black man who was waiting for a bus outside of a Wal-Mart. There is also Ernest Pierce and Brian Tackett. Pierce, an Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and farmer, was convicted and sentenced to 51 months in a federal prison for ordering Tackett to incinerate the Barren River Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Tackett, a younger member of the Klan, was sentenced to 115 months for conspiracy, arson, as well as auto theft, for stealing the car he used for his night's act. The African-American church arsons is the largest investigation the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, and Firearms is conducting; even larger than that of the TWA Flight 800 investigation. President Clinton signed a bill giving 12 million dollars to the ATF to investigate the fires. It also happens to be the FBI's largest civil rights investigation under way. (Fields, 7 Aug. 1996) The Ku Klux Klan is not only a threat politically and physically, but they also incite riots. In June of last year in Greenville, Texas, the Klan held a rally in which they "waived Confederate flags and complained about the U.S. government" (Taylor). Michael Lowe a leader in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was stated in saying, "It ain't about hate, it's about white pride" (Taylor). Another member was quoted in saying, "It ain't the white people, it's the damned government, the Jews, whose bringing this country down. It ain't the white people" (Taylor). Over 150 state and local policemen were present to control the crowd of anti-KKK as well as different KKK factions. Some policemen were dressed in riot gear, some were on horseback as they tried to control the mobs behind the barricades set up along the small town's street. The United States is known as the melting pot. Since its beginnings as small settlements, this country has always been a haven to those who need it. When many think of America they think of the land of opportunity, the land of the American dream. Where one can, no matter who they are or where they are from can make it rich. The Ku Klux Klan is everything the American dream is not. They are a sign of bigotry and hatred. They have strived for over a hundred years to shatter the dreams of so many people. Many believe that since the civil rights movement the KKK is no longer a danger. But, we must not forget racism and bigotry does not die with an amendment to the Constitution. There are still people like David Duke in office. There are still people like Gary Cox setting fires to churches. And there are still people like Michael Lowe who believe it is the Jews who bring this country down. We must not forget that the KKK is still alive, and we, as Americans, should do everything in our power to protect the American dream.

 



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