THE KU KLUX KLAN AND BLACK LABOR
The distinguished Afro–American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois wrote an aptly descriptive subtitle to his chapter “Back Toward Slavery” in Black Reconstruction: “How civil war in the South began again—indeed has never ceased; and how black Prometheus bound to the Rock of Ages by hate, hurt and humiliation; has his vitals eaten out as they grow, and yet lives and fights (p. 670).” There is little doubt that secret anti–black organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan were symbolized by the Du Bois vulture.
The violence which marred life in the South during the immediate post-Civil War period arose out of the broader struggle for political control between the Democratic and Republican parties. As long as Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson permitted some southern white elites to participate in politics, southerners believed they could continue to control ex-slaves. But when the advent of Radical Reconstruction made this impossible, these reactionary southerners resorted to violence. Bands of armed men, who considered themselves as guerrilla fighters, made life miserable for agents from Washington in 1866. When it became apparent by 1867 that southern white control would be replaced by Radical Reconstruction, these secret societies multiplied and spread. Scores of them with names such as the White League, the Knights of the White Camelia, the Pale Faces, the Constitutional Union Guards, and the ’76 Association—to name a few—spread fear, destruction, and sometimes death, wherever the struggle to control the Negro and to secure home rule called them. It was the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, however, who became so associated with this movement that contemporaries labelled all such activities “Ku Kluxing.”
The extent of the violence against defenseless blacks is still a source of revulsion. Enough contemporaries were concerned enough in 1871 that Congress established a select committee to investigate secret societies in the defeated states. Selected portions of the testimony given before the committee are reproduced in Part VI. The investigators discovered a breakdown in law and order which seemed nearly complete. In the nine South Carolina counties examined by the committee, the Klan had lynched and murdered thirty-five men, whipped 262 men and women, and otherwise shot, maimed, or burned the property of 101 persons. During this same time, Negroes killed four men and beat one other. In Jackson County, Florida, 153 murders were recorded, and accounts proceed in a similarly grim manner. The testimony reveals that over 2,000 people were killed, wounded, or injured in Louisiana within a few weeks’ period prior to the elections of 1868. In St. Landry County Louisiana, the Ku Klux Klan killed and wounded over 200 Republicans, most of whom were black.
As a result of the rising public pressure to suppress this wave of violence, President Grant recommended and received the Ku Klux Klan enforcement of April 20, 1871, which declared acts of conspiracy to be tantamount to rebellion and punishable accordingly.
Although there have been many studies of the Ku Klux Klan, little or no attention has been given to its effects upon the labor movement. The documents reproduced in this section offer a small step toward filling this void.