AP Photo/Sayre
This picture shows a nighttime Ku Klux Klan ceremony in Williamson, West Virginia in 1924.

Native History: KKK Act Passed; Made Private Criminal Acts Federal Crimes

Alysa Landry

This Date in Native History: On April 20, 1871, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the Ku Klux Klan Act, which authorized him to declare martial law and use military force against the Klan and other terrorist organizations.

Also known as the Enforcement Act of 1871, the bill came in response to a growing number of complaints about what a North Carolina senator called “disloyal or evil-designed organizations.”

A group of Confederate soldiers officially formed the KKK the day before Christmas in 1865—about six months after the Civil War ended.

In his 1969 book, Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan, historian Stanley Horn describes the beginning like this: “Six young men are sitting around the fireplace of Judge Jones’s law office in Pulaski, Tennessee. The war is over. They are bored. Somebody suggests forming a club.”

What began as a secret fraternity rapidly grew into a paramilitary force with a goal of reversing the federal governments’ progress in elevating the rights of African Americans.

In an 1868 declaration, the KKK claimed to be “an institution of chivalry, humanity, mercy and patriotism.” In reality, however, the group employed violence as a means of enforcing white racial superiority.


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