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Read more about the origins of the Ku Klux Klan, by the Southern Poverty Law Center

The Ku Klux Klan information web page for the African American History Museum is a source of information for how the Ku Klux Klan influenced African American History from the time of the Reconstruction following the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and today



Aliens, Esther and the KKK: A Lesson on Brotherhood

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If you ever go to Lexington, Kentucky, don't park under a tree!

The aliens landed in a cow field. According to their computer, the year was 1989 and they were somewhere in North America. "Tennessee, I think," said Gork. Jebly and Nebly pushed open the door of their spaceship, and all three ventured out. They activated their invisible shield and started walking. Gork, who'd been to Earth before, took the lead. He knew they were close to a town, and he was anxious to point out to the others a real human! Jebly and Nebly had heard all his stories and couldn't wait to see those weird things he'd described: eyes, noses and - what's that other thing? - mouths.

Stephanie visits Fort Negley in Nashville, one of the meeting sites of the KKK
As they turned a corner, however, they all stopped. There, marching around what looked like the center of town was a group of…what? White, pointy hooded "things!" Gork stared at them for a while, then whispered, "I think they're humans dressed up in some kind of a costume." Jebly and Nebly were very disappointed. They couldn't see their faces or make out anything remotely interesting.

Just then, a young human appeared. She tugged at Gork's spacesuit and smiled. "Are you with them?" she asked as she pointed to the hooded procession making its way across the town hall. "No, we're not," Gork replied (using his simultaneous translator), then gasped. "You can see us! Oh no, our invisible shield must have failed!!" He took off, and then stopped to look for his companions. Nebly and Jebly were still there, transfixed by the little human! They poked her, then smiled and shook her hand. By the time he made his way back over to them, all three were laughing.

"Who are those people?" asked Jebly. "Oh, they're members of the KKK." "The what?" "You know, the Ku Klux Klan," replied the little girl. "The white people who hate anyone who doesn't look like them." As she said this, she pointed to her own chocolate brown skin. "They hate people like me. They scare us and they've even killed us before." Nebly looked down at her own green scales and shuddered, "They probably wouldn't like us either, right?" "Nope," replied the girl. "But I do." And with that, all four of them ducked behind a building and hid from the hooded people.

The little girl told the aliens about the KKK. "Every year they come here to Pulaski and march. They protest against everything - black people, Latinos, Catholics, Jews, you name it." The aliens were confused. Weren't they all humans? How could they not like their own people? "They don't think we're all humans. According to the KKK, the white race is superior to everyone else. They don't like the fact that black people like me live and work near them. They want us back in chains."

Fort Negley, Daphne noticed, was kind of creepy, even during the day
Fort Negley, Daphne noticed, was kind of creepy, even during the day
Chains?!? What chains? What was she talking about? The little girl looked at them quizzically and said, "You're not from around here, are you?" Gork, Jebly and Nebly smiled sheepishly and shook their heads. "It's OK. Your secret is safe with me. Come. Follow me." She took them to the side of the building and pointed to a bronze plaque. "This marker used to read 'Ku Klux Klan Organized in this, the Law Office of Judge Thomas M. Jones, December 24th, 1865.' It listed the names of the six men who founded the KKK. But the man who owns this building decided to turn the plaque around because he didn't want this to be a place of pilgrimage to the current members of the KKK. To those people," she said as she looked toward the marchers. "You see, the KKK started right after the Civil War." She paused. "Do you know about the Civil War?" With that, Gork loaded an encyclopedia program into their helmets, pressed a button, and within moments, had transferred all the relevant information into their brains. "Yes," they replied in unison, "we know about the Civil War."

The infamous plaque, turned backwards
"At the end of the War, all the slaves were freed, including my great-great-great-grandmother, Esther, after whom I was named," she continued. "Many people in the South were very upset. After all, the blacks had been their property only years before. And now they were considered people! And they could vote! And hold office! And sue, marry, go to school, and do whatever they wanted! White people were offended and humiliated. To them, the idea of white supremacy was ingrained so deeply in their thinking that they couldn't bear to accept people like me as equals." Gork, Jebly and Nebly were shocked! They didn't understand how some humans could consider themselves more human than others. Couldn't black people walk, talk, and do all the things that white people could? What was the difference? Blacks even fought during the Civil War," Esther added. "But when it came time to claim their rights, the South wasn't willing to give in so easily."

A statue of Nathan Forrest can be found in a park in Memphis…yech!

"So after the war, a group of ex-Confederate soldiers got together and started a social club, which they called the KKK. Their leader was a former general named Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became the 'Grand Wizard of the Empire' in 1867. I've heard many explanations for the name, but the one that seems to fit is that it comes from the Greek word kuklos, which means band or circle. One of the members suggested splitting the word in two, and another proposed that they add the word clan, with a "k" for consistency, because they were all of Scottish descent."

But a social club isn't so bad, thought Nebly. "At first, they just wanted to have fun," continued Esther. "They had nothing to do after the war - no job, no money - and they were bored. So they created all these rules, titles, and ceremonies. But then…" Esther's voice trailed off as she looked apprehensively over at the marchers, who were by now packing up their signs and posters. "Then, they realized they could use the costumes they'd devised to intimidate blacks. After they'd paraded with their horses down the streets of Pulaski as a joke, they were told that black people hadn't found it funny. Instead, they thought the riders were Confederate ghosts!"

Some of the KKK's original costumes
Some of the KKK's original costumes

"Why didn't they tell them it was all a joke?" blurted Jebly. Gork sighed. "Think about it, Jebly. They hated the fact that black people were now free, and they wanted to do something about it. With the KKK, they found a way." Esther nodded, "You're right. What better way to frighten the freedmen than by playing on their superstitions?"

Esther continued, "A new member had to pass a series of tests. He was taken to a meeting by an existing member, then blindfolded and asked a series of questions. If his answers were correct, the other members played a few tricks on him, then made him take an oath of secrecy. Once membership grew, the leaders made up a bunch of official titles, such as Grand Wizard, Grand Dragon, Grand Titan, Grand Cyclops, Grand Magi, Grand Turk, and some others that I can't even remember." The three aliens had to keep from laughing aloud. "Grand Cyclops!" exclaimed Nebly. "That sounds so…what's the word?…dumb!" "I know, I know," Esther said. "The whole thing was so silly. Unfortunately, though, they took their roles very seriously." She hung her head low and wiped away a tear.

"My great-great grandpa was lynched by these people. Real bad. He died on the spot. He was trying to vote, but a mob of men dressed just like that," she nodded again at the marchers, "stopped him and told him to go home. He wouldn't, though, and they got angry." Everyone was silent. After a while, Esther continued, "The KKK took matters into their own hands anytime they saw something that offended their southern sensibilities," she said sarcastically. "My great-great grandpa wasn't doing anything wrong. He just wanted to vote, but they killed him for it."

Nebly couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Couldn't someone report this to the authorities? Couldn't anyone help him?" Esther laughed sadly, "The police wouldn't have been much help. They agreed with the KKK. In fact, many policemen belonged to the Klan. They wanted to put black people back in their place just like everyone else."

The trekkers pose with Uncle Sam in Pulaski
The aliens looked at Esther, then at each other. They'd come to Earth hoping to find intelligent life and to learn from them. What they found instead was a race divided. They didn't know what to say. "It's OK," said Esther, sensing their disappointment. "The KKK isn't very popular anymore. People change, times change. Now, most of us hate everything they stand for. And we fight them. Today, for instance, all the businesses in Pulaski closed in protest. The town just shut down." The aliens looked around and indeed, Pulaski looked like a ghost town. Except it was draped in orange-colored banners. "But what about…?" Gork asked. "Oh, I forgot to mention. Orange is the international color of brotherhood. It symbolizes that we're all brothers and sisters, that we're a family regardless of skin color. There's nothing open because no one wants their business. The McDonald's, the Wal-Mart… everything is closed. They can't eat or buy anything here. They can't even pee." And with that, Esther giggled.

"Why are you here?" Nebly asked. "Well…I couldn't resist. I wanted to come and take a peek." Esther's eyes narrowed. "I wanted to see with my own eyes what my ancestors had to endure. I want to see so I can remember. So I never forget what my people fought for. What they died for." She paused. "I don't ever want to take my freedom for granted. And as long as there are people like that around, I won't. Instead, I'll rally back. I hope that by the time my great-granddaughter is born, the KKK will be something she'll learn about in school but never see with her own eyes."

Daphne chats with Mrs. Moody, one of Pulaski's longtime residents
Daphne chats with Mrs. Moody, one of Pulaski's longtime residents
Esther looked at her watch and exclaimed, "Oops, I'm really late. I have to go; otherwise, my mom will worry. Bye!" With that, she turned and ran off. As she did, she grabbed a piece of orange streamer and wrapped it around her arm. The aliens looked at each other once more. Perhaps they had learned something, after all. "The past," said Gork, pointing at the marchers. "The future," whispered Nebly, as she watched Esther disappear down the street.


Please email me at: daphne@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Taking freedom back
Nick - Sojourner's Truth marches on
Teddy -Reading, writing, and making freedom real
Stephanie - African American Home on the Range
Rebecca-Americans torturing Americans
Kevin - Welcome to New York. Now get in line for delousing