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Rise of the KKK during Reconstruction

Created by:
David Evans
Galloway Township

Kevin Krumaker
Galloway Township

Civil War/Reconstruction

Grade Level:
6 to 8


The Klan, originally a social fraternity, was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866. In 1867, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the Empire, converted the Klan into a paramilitary force that served to directly oppose the formation of Republican governments set up by Congressional Reconstruction acts.

As Republican governments sprouted up, so did the spread of Klan orders throughout the South in mostly rural areas. Organized locally, Klan orders were not centrally controlled, and instead each order was free to act independently.

Historical Context

Reconstruction of the United States is considered one of the most controversial periods of the nation's history. Begun immediately after the Civil War ended in 1865, this catastrophic plan would not end until 1877. The problems created by Reconstruction, however, are still haunting the country today.

The Northern states, though they had won the war, were left with the dilemma of how to bring the nation back to some semblance of unification, as Lincoln had promised. The approaches of Radical Republicans who controlled the U.S. Congress would cause bitterness and anger which still linger today.

Having lost the war was a bitter pill for Southern citizens to swallow, but the Reconstruction Plans of Radical Republicans inspired even more violent reactions. One of the most of these was the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.

The KKK was founded by Nathaniel Forrest and a few of his close friends who met in a small home in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866 with the primary goal of undermining the objectives of the Radical Republicans. Feeling disenfranchised and helpless, and fearful of revenge by newly freed slaves and of possible retaliation by Northerners embitterned over the deaths of their soldiers in civil war prisons such as Andersonville, these Sons of the South felt they had to stop the goals of Northern Reconstruction.

The early Klan used non-violent methods to intimidate Blacks from voting and participating in local, county, state, and federal elections. As KKK membership grew so did their methods of intimidation. In fact, methods became so brutal that Forrest and several other early Klansmen would quit the Klan out of disgust. Less than a decade after the Civil War, Klan activity became so widespread and intolerable that the Federal government intervened, passing legislation to outlaw the Klan in 1871.

The original goals of the Klan are difficult to ascertain with certainly, but there is no question that their actions did not justify their goals. The Klan resurfaced in 1915 and continue to this day to reemerge from time to time to spread intolerance and fear throughout the nation.


hate, bigotry, supremacy, intimidation, terrorism, Jim Crow laws, racism, Reconstruction Amendments, Freedman's Bureau, Black Codes, Radical Republican, immigrant

Goals and Objectives:

Following this activity, students will be able to:

1. Describe the atmosphere during Reconstruction and how it contributed to the rise of the Ku Kux Klan.


STANDARD 6.1 (SOCIAL STUDIES SKILLS): all students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (CIVICS): all students will know, understand,and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities,and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

STANDARD 6.4 (UNITED STATES AND NEW JERSEY HISTORY): all students will demonstrate knowledge of United States and New Jersey history in order to understand life and events in the past adn how they relate to the present and future.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

computer access to Internet


Details of Activity

DAY 1:

The teacher will present several images of the Ku Klux Klan in an overhead presentation and allow students time to digest the images.

Students will receive a teacher-made handout including a brief explanation of the goals of the original Klan with a Timeline of the Activities of the organization's growth from its date of origin to its collapse in l871-72.

Students will be directed to create 3 questions related to their impressions of the images presented in class.

DAY 2:

Students bring their 3 questions from the previous day which will be assessed and shared with the class.

They will be given Key Vocabulary Words related to the theme of lesson to be completed for the following day.

DAY 3:

Vocabulary words assigned yesterday will be assessed and reviewed to prepare students for a test on Day 5.

Students then view clips from the History Channel's Documentary "KKK: A Secret History".

DAY 4:

Divide students into groups of 3 or 6 and ask them to assume the role of a Klansman, a Carpetbagger, or a Freedman and discuss what they experienced during the period of Reconstruction. One student will be the designated recorder in each group and ask to make an informal summation of the discussion made within their respective groups.

Remind students that there will be a test tomorrow on lesson.

DAY 5:

Students will be tested.

PLEASE NOTE: This lesson should be presented following lessons specifically focused on Reconstruction.

Practice and Reinforcement

Review of key themes through class discussion. Role play interest groups involved in Reconstruction.


John Hope Franklin, Reconstruction: After the Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).

History Channel, Ku Klux Klan:A Secret History (A&E Home Video, 2005).

Web Links:
People & Events: Rise of the Ku Klux Klan

White Men Unite:Violence and Intimidation

War of Terror

The Negro Question-Uncertainty

Ku Klux Klan Timeline

History of the KKK

History of the KKK:Part 2

For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here