Today in History – April 20

Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.

With passage of the Third Force Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

Founded in 1865 by a group of Confederate veterans, the KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government’s progressive Reconstruction Era-activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African-American population. The name of the Ku Klux Klan was derived from the Greek word kyklos, meaning “circle,” and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan,” which was probably chosen for the sake of alliteration. Under a platform of philosophized white racial superiority, the group employed violence as a means of pushing back Reconstruction and its enfranchisement of African-Americans. Former Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was the KKK’s first grand wizard and in 1869 unsuccessfully tried to disband it after he grew critical of the Klan’s excessive violence.

Most prominent in counties where the races were relatively balanced, the KKK engaged in terrorist raids against African-Americans and white Republicans at night, employing intimidation, destruction of property, assault, and murder to achieve its aims and influence upcoming elections. In a few Southern states, Republicans organized militia units to break up the Klan. In 1871, passage of the Ku Klux Act led to nine South Carolina counties being placed under martial law and thousands of arrests. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Act unconstitutional, but by that time Reconstruction had ended, and the KKK had faded away.

The 20th century would see two revivals of the KKK: one in response to immigration in the 1910s and ’20s, and another in response to the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

Excerpt from the 1915 silent motion picture Birth of a Nation that depicts the inspiration for the Ku Klux Klan:

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