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December 24, 2015

24 Dec 1865: Ku Klux Klan formed

Happy 150th birthday to one of the most terrible (yet influential) groups in American history: the Ku Klux Klan! Six Confederate veterans founded the nativist organization on this day in 1865.

There have been several different iterations of the Klan; at its peak in the 1920s, it claimed between 4 and 5 million members. Today, the number of Klan members is estimated at 5,000.

From a poster for D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). Wikimedia Commons

The KKK plays a large role in the Sherlock Holmes short story The Case of the Five Orange Pips. Some more details on the group:

  • its main goal was to hinder Reconstruction by threatening and murdering blacks, carpetbaggers (northerners who moved south), and scalawags (southern whites who favored Reconstruction)
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard, inspired the name of Forrest Gump
  • the Civil Rights Act of 1871 – also known as the “Klan Act” – gave the federal government tools to suppress the KKK, including the ability to suspend habeas corpus
  • the Klan rose again in 1915 thanks to D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the original group
    • the first leader was William Joseph Simmons
    • the members adopted the apparel shown in the film
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