The KKK in the 1870s

Historical content: 
Civil War and Reconstruction
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence



Use the background information, the documents below, and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.

Background Information: In the 1870s, the secret organization known as the Ku Klux Klan intimidated, terrorized, and used violence against African Americans and other minorities throughout the South.

Source text: 

Document A: This excerpt is a description of the Ku Klux Klan by someone identified as “a Southern writer, residing at Columbia, South Carolina.” This writer was quoted as part of an editorial published in the New York Evening Post in 1872. 

“The best informed persons in the most disturbed districts in this State estimate that from two-thirds to three-fourths of all the white men, between the ages of sixteen and fifty, are members of the Ku-Klux order. . . . Each chief and Klan knows and receives orders from his district chief and his assistants, but does not, except by accident, know who the higher officers are. So district chiefs know the officers next above them in rank, but not necessarily those of higher grade. Special grips, passwords and signs, known only to the district and division chiefs and to those of higher grade, make it possible for them, when necessary, to make themselves known officially to the subordinates."

Document B: This excerpt is part of a testimony given by teacher Sarah Allen to a special committee of the U.S. Congress investigating the Ku Klux Klan in 1871. Allen describes how the Klan threatened her after she was brought by the Freedmen’s Bureau from Illinois to Mississippi to teach newly freed slaves.  

“I taught six weeks, until I think the 18th of March, when I was told to leave; warned to leave between 1 and 2 o’clock at night by about fifty men, I think; they were disguised . . . They told me to get up. I went to the window and asked them what they wanted. They said I should leave . . . Monday morning. That was Saturday evening . . . They did not want radicals there in the South; did not want northern people teaching there; they thought the colored people could educate themselves if they needed any education . . . they [wore] long white robes, a loose mask covered the face, trimmed with scarlet stripes. The lieutenant and captain had long horns on their head, projecting over the forehead . . . They advised me to leave because I was a white person teaching a colored school.”

Question 1: Many Americans were concerned about the growth of the Ku Klux Klan.  How does Document A provide evidence of this?

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence that many Americans were concerned about the growth of the Ku Klux Klan? 

About the Assessment

Like Opposition to the Philippine-American War, this assessment gauges students’ ability to reason about how evidence supports a historical argument.  Students must explain how an 1872 editorial describing the organization of the Klan and a testimony given before Congress describing Klan intimidation both support the conclusion that Americans were concerned about the Klan in the 1870s.