On this day: The beginning of the Klu Klux Klan

On this day: December 24 1865: the Klu Klux Klan is formed

By Jennifer Lipman, December 24, 2010

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, veterans of the Confederate side grouped together in Tennessee to form the KKK.

Also known as the Klan, the far-right organisation was ostensibly a private social club dedicated to returning the greatness of the antebellum Old South but soon became known for hunting down black people and other minorities under a mixture of nationalist and white-supremacist ideology.

In the nearly 150 years since it was founded, the KKK has both flourished and floundered, essentially collapsing within its first decade but becoming revitalised in the 1920s and as the civil rights movement grew across America. It is not one organisation, but has appeared in at least three different incarnations.

Recognisable for the white robes and conical hats worn by members, over time the behaviour of people associated with the KKK has included burning crosses, torching buildings, bombings and murders. And at various points focused on opposing communism, Catholicism or homosexuality, KKK activity has also been directed at Jews since its outset.

Perhaps the most significant event involving the KKK and anti-Jewish behaviour was the Leo Frank case of 1913. Frank was a Jewish factory manager from Georgia who was falsely convicted of raping and murdering a teenage female employee. The case, with which the media had a field day, spurred antisemitism strengthened the KKK in the state.

Two years later, with his guilt in question, Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in jail. In response, a mob linked to the KKK abducted him from jail and lynched him.

Today, the KKK’s anti-Jewish activity tends to be in terms of links with neo-Nazi organisations such as Stormfront. In 2009, American white supremacist David Duke - a former leader of the KKK - was arrested in Prague on suspicion of denying the Holocaust.

Now classified as “a racist, antisemitic movement with a commitment to extreme violence” by the Anti-Defamation League, there are still some 40 KKK-linked factions operating today, with perhaps thousands of members across the US.

What the JC said: Somewhere in America’s South tonight — and every night — a fiery cross will be burning and white-robed men will be making antisemitic, anti-Negro and anti-Catholic utterances. And throughout the South, today and increasingly so every day, the Jews, wherever they may find themselves, will feel more and more uneasy and less and less secure…The Klan itself is but a small factor in this. It is the combined result of all the activities of all the segregationist groups in the South, and especially of the White Citizens’ Councils, despite the fact that Jews are members of some of them…However, few join the Council out of conviction, but rather out of fear.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 8:49am, December 24 2010