In 1866 the Ku Klux Klan, also know as the KKK, was formed in the United States. By 1870 the Ku Klux Klan could be found in every state in the South. Its formation was a resistance movement to the Republican Party’s reconstruction policies of seeking equality and economic growth for black Americans. The new America was being formed and the Klan was vehemently opposed. Through violence and terrorism against black citizens and white political figures, the Ku Klux Klan established an organization whose presence would continue into the 21st century. Although the members identities were often shrouded in white hoods and capes, their message of resistance was and is public and powerful.
In the moments leading up to the presidential election of 1868, the terroristic and violent activities of the Klan reached a high point as intimidation and murders peaked. In efforts to squash the political control of Republicans in southern states the Klan would be connected with over 2,000 murders in Kansas and even higher numbers in Georgia. The organization was committed to keeping the Republican presidential candidate, Ulysses S. Grant, out of political office. The Ku Klux Klan’s new America would not be realized. Grant was elected to the highest office and the Republican Party took control of the Congress. This led to the 15th Amendment that would give voting rights to black men of all states. Furthermore, the new Congress would pass the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which created strict controls over how the states of the South could form their new state governments. However, this political blow to the South and the Klan would not remove their influences on America.
Their presence was felt as recently as this week when it was reported that a high school in Florida named after one of the Klan’s former senior leaders, Nathan Bedford Forest, was to be renamed. In 2008, the Florida school board took up this same issue; but could not get a majority vote to change its founding name that was created in 1959.
On Monday December 16, 2013, the Duval County school board in Jacksonville, Florida voted to change the name of the school. Fifty-four years after the naming of the high school another new America is created as the Ku Klux Klan’s grip in the South slips yet again. At the December 16th school board meeting, the sitting Superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, indicated that the original student body wanted to name the school Valhalla. The pressures of desegregation and the political positions polarized around the civil rights movement led to the name Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Vitti noted that the current naming of the school was not the intention of the original students. The vote of the school board gave the student body and the public an opportunity to give a voice to those who were not heard in the beginning.
The voice that is being heard included an online petition launched on Change.org with over 170,000 digital signatures. Also of note is the voice and wishes of a school body composed of over 60 percent black students. Not to mention the voice of a nation that recently elected and re-elected a black president. The new America has turned another page in her history and yet the Ku Klux Klan continues to create membership in their organization and continues to speak out for their beliefs and vision of America. Perhaps the Klan will always be a part of the American memory, history and future?
A letter sent to the school board prior to the vote urged that they not change the name. Signed only by the initials DLW, the letter was sent on behalf of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The letter asked the educators to consider the true history of Nathan B. Forrest and asked that the history not be rewritten to pacify the politically correct. It is the allowance of such diversity in politics and ideas that makes the new America a truly great country.
By Anthony Clark