Confederate Veteran, Vol. 26 No. 8, August 1918, pp. 337. The Confederate Veteran was the official publication of the United Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Confederated Southern Memorial Associations, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans
THE KU-KLUX KLAN IN ALABAMA.
[An address delivered before the Tampa Rotary Club by W. J. Milner.]
I am requested to tell you in a few words something of the most remarkable organization perhaps known to history—remarkable in that the political and social conditions which brought it into being were unique, remarkable in the rapidity with which it grew, the swift and silent methods of its operation, and also in its complete and thorough dissolution when its work had been done. That work was the rescuing from destruction of the civilization upon which the prosperity of the South has since grown.
Belgium in her distress has the sympathy and has received the help of the civilized world. She is further aided by two powerful allies who stand at her elbow, and she has a gallant army still fighting for her liberty under command of her own king. England, when the Boers laid down their arms, approached them in a spirit of love, gave them the means to rehabilitate their wasted farms and their homes, and placed over them as administrators of the law their own officers who had been leading them against her armies. It was left for “Uncle Sam,” whose glorious flag, which I love so much, as the emblem of liberty everywhere, when his hungry children asked for bread to give them a stone.
No historian has portrayed or can fittingly portray the plight of the Confederate soldier when, after his fight to the finish for the right of self-government, he returned to the desolation which was his home. If any one needed a helping hand, it surely was he; but events were to show that his woes were just beginning. The help which our conquerors sent to us was a flock of vultures of whom the Hon. Jeremiah Black, of Pennsylvania, a former Attorney-General of the United States, said: “They contrived a method by which to insert their felonious talons into the hearts of unborn babes.” They are known to history as “carpetbaggers,” a tribe of odious memory. Among those carpetbaggers were the Freedmen’s Bureau agents, who had authority and exerted absolute control over the negroes. They, like the others with whom they consorted, were usually men wholly without principle and were here solely for the enrichment of themselves. Their purposes were to prevent any harmony or cooperation between the races and to produce between them as much friction as possible. With this end they corralled their deluded wards into midnight assemblies, where the most vicious thoughts were instilled into their minds, producing in due course the inevitable and intended consequences. Every act of violence, every outrage that could be chronicled as occurring in “rebel” territory and reported to Washington—whether true or untrue mattered not—served to enhance the standing in Washington of those in charge at the point involved, and it was so easy for them to collect any kind and amount of testimony wanted. Lest I may be thought to have exaggerated the foregoing statement, I give below a quotation from the letter of a scalawag governor of Alabama, published in one of the papers of that day, criticizing some of the governor’s former pals with whom he had disagreed. It is sometimes comforting to think that when thieves fall out honest men may learn the truth. Says the governor: “My candid opinion is that Sibley (the carpetbag sheriff) does not want the law executed because that would put down crime, and crime is his life’s blood. He would like very much to have a Ku-Klux outrage every week to assist him in keeping up strife between the whites and the blacks, that he might be the more certain of the votes of the latter. He would like to have a few colored men killed every week to furnish semblance of the truth to Spencer’s libels upon the people of the State generally.”
The Spencer mentioned above was the infamous George E. Spencer, of Ohio, who occupied a seat in the United States Senate, drawing the salary and enjoying the perquisites as Senator from Alabama. When his term expired he slunk away to his home, in Ohio, unwept and unhonored. He never returned to Alabama.
To one knowing the negro character it is sufficient to leave to the imagination the quality of thought and desire generated in their minds by this teaching. It is also needless to add that the whites were not slow to protect their women from insult and outrage.
Out of this soil blossomed the “Invisible Empire,” better known to history as the Ku-Klux Klan. To Gen. George W. Gordon, of Tennessee, I think, is due the credit for the conception of the plan and its preparation. The organization was perfected at a secret meeting at Nashville, and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was made head of the Klan. No roll of membership or other records were kept. The members were known only to each other, and its personnel comprised the best of the manhood in the communities where they operated. Only those were admitted whose courage had been thoroughly tried and whose integrity was well known—the best among the old Confederate veterans. Could I say more? Gen. W. J. Hardee; who attained great distinction as a Confederate officer, was commander of the Department of Alabama.
Their methods were simple and direct. The offender was visited by a committee of a few determined men, well disguised, who warned him of what he must or must not do and thoroughly impressed him with the danger of disregarding such warning. They resorted to violence seldom and only when it was thought to be the only effective means to results. The superstitious fears of the negroes were played upon through many ingenious devices. Their operations were limited to the rural districts, and their activities were greatest where the negro population was most congested. They sometimes appeared unexpectedly on horseback, garbed in their ghostly robes and moving in solemn and stately procession in localities where they would be sure to be seen and talked about. Their marches were so conducted as to greatly magnify their numbers in the estimate of those who saw them. Indeed, I do not think their numbers were ever so great as was believed. It has been stated that their number reached over half a million, which is undoubtedly a great exaggeration.
So discreet and circumspect were their movements that I do not think any of them were ever convicted of crime, notwithstanding the terrible statutory anathemas hurled at them and the zeal of the officials who sought vengeance upon them. It was after their disbandment that others, adopting their name and posing as such, did many lawless acts which were credited to the original Klan. Some of these fell into the hands of the law and suffered.