Humanities › History & Culture Timeline History of the Ku Klux Klan Share Flipboard Email Print The Black Freedom Struggle Introduction Slave Revolts, Abolition, and the Underground Railroad Nat Turner's Rebellion How Slaves Resisted Abolitionist Pamphlet Campaigns The Underground Railroad The Fugitive Slave Act Women Abolitionists The Missouri Compromise and Dred Scott John Brown and His Raid Slavery and the Civil War Emancipation Reconstruction Resistance to Black Codes Radical Reconstruction The Black Church Opposition to Reconstruction: The Rise of the KKK and Other Hate Groups Early 20th Century Rise of Pan-Africanism The Harlem Renaissance Black Soldiers in WWI and WWII Understanding the Jim Crow South The Black Press and Jim Crow The National Association of Colored Women The Southern Civil Rights Movement The SCLC SNCC The Black Panthers 1950s 1960 - 1964 1965 - 1969 Freedom Songs Black Power Politics and Race in Late 20th Century Redlining and Housing Segregation Black Representation in Government: Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisolm, and more Affirmative Action Resisting Racism in Policing and the Justice System Rodney King The War on Drugs The Million Man March Police Racism, Violence, and Black Lives Matter Resisting Racism Today Charles Phelps Cushing / ClassicStock / Getty Images By Tom Head Civil Liberties Expert Ph.D., Religion and Society, Edith Cowan University M.A., Humanities, California State University - Dominguez Hills B.A., Liberal Arts, Excelsior College Tom Head, Ph.D., is a historian specializing in the history of ethics, religion, and ideas. He has authored or co-authored 29 nonfiction books, including "Civil Liberties: A Beginner's Guide." our editorial process Tom Head Updated December 14, 2020 The Ku Klux Klan was and is undeniably a terrorist organization—but what made the Klan an especially insidious terrorist organization, and a threat to civil liberties, was that it functioned as the unofficial paramilitary arm of Southern segregationist governments. This allowed its members to kill with impunity and allowed Southern segregationists to eliminate activists by force without alerting federal authorities. Although the Klan is much less active today, it will be remembered as an instrument of cowardly Southern politicians who hid their faces behind hoods, and their ideology behind an unconvincing facade of patriotism. 1866 The Ku Klux Klan is founded. 1867 Former Confederate general and noted white supremacist Nathan Bedford Forrest, the architect of the Fort Pillow Massacre, becomes the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan murders several thousand people in the former Confederate states as an effort to suppress the political participation of Black Southerners and their allies. 1868 The Ku Klux Klan publishes its "Organization and Principles." Although early supporters of the Klan claimed that it was philosophically a Christian, patriotic organization rather than a white supremacist group, a cursory glance at the Klan's catechism reveals otherwise: Are you opposed to Negro equality both social and political?Are you in favor of a white man's government in this country?Are you in favor of constitutional liberty, and a government of equitable laws instead of a government of violence and oppression?Are you in favor of maintaining the constitutional rights of the South?Are you in favor of the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South, and the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights, alike proprietary, civil, and political?Do you believe in the inalienable right of self-preservation of the people against the exercise of arbitrary and unlicensed power? The "inalienable right to self-preservation" is a clear reference to the Klan's violent activities—and its emphasis, even at this early stage, is clearly white supremacy. 1871 Congress passes the Klan Act, allowing the federal government to intervene and arrest Klan members on a large scale. Over the next several years, the Klan largely disappears and is replaced by other violent white supremacist groups. 1905 Thomas Dixon Jr. adapts his second Ku Klux Klan novel, "The Clansman," into a play. Although fictional, the novel introduces the burning cross as a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan: "In olden times when the Chieftain of our people summoned the clan on an errand of life and death, the Fiery Cross, extinguished in sacrificial blood, was sent by swift courier from village to village. This call was never made in vain, nor will it be to-night in the new world." Although Dixon implies that the Klan had always used the burning cross, it was, in fact, his invention. Dixon's fawning adoration for the Klan, presented less than a half-century after the American Civil War, begins to revive the long-dormant organization. 1915 D.W. Griffith's wildly popular film "Birth of a Nation," an adaptation of Dixon's "The Clansman," revives national interest in the Klan. A Georgia lynch mob led by William J. Simmons—and including numerous prominent (but anonymous) members of the community, such as former Georgia Gov. Joe Brown—murders Jewish factory superintendent Leo Frank, then burns a cross on a hilltop and dubs itself the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. 1920 The Klan becomes a more public organization and expands its platform to include Prohibition, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, anti-Communism, and anti-Catholicism. Spurred on by the romanticized white supremacist history portrayed in "Birth of a Nation," bitter White people throughout the country begin to form local Klan groups. 1925 Indiana Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson is convicted of murder. Members subsequently begin to realize that they may actually face criminal charges for their behavior, and the Klan largely disappears—except in the South, where local groups continue to operate. 1951 Members of the Ku Klux Klan firebomb the home of NAACP Florida executive director Harry Tyson Moore and his wife, Harriet, on Christmas Eve. Both are killed in the blast. The murders are the first high-profile Southern Klan killings among many during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—most of which either go unprosecuted or result in acquittals by juries of all White people. 1963 Members of the Ku Klux Klan bomb the predominantly Black 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little girls. 1964 The Mississippi chapter of the Ku Klux Klan firebombs 20 predominantly Black churches, and then (with the aid of local police) murders civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. 2005 Edgar Ray Killen, the architect of the 1964 Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner murders, is convicted on manslaughter charges and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Sources and Further Information Chalmers, David Mark. "Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan." 3rd ed. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1987.Lay, Shawn, ed. "The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s." Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.MacLean, Nancy. "Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan." New York NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.