They Called Themselves the K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

They Called Themselves the K.K.K. by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Author:Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The freedmen’s school depicted here was burned in the Memphis, Tennessee, riot of May 2, 1866. Similar burnings and other atrocities against teachers occurred throughout the Reconstruction period.

Harper’s Weekly, May 26, 1866; Library of Congress

After fire destroyed two black schoolhouses in two Alabama counties in one night, the Grand Cyclops blamed a comet. “All of its flaming tail dropped off upon three or four negro schoolhouses, set them on fire, and utterly annihilated them,” said Ryland Randolph. “The antics of the tail of this wonderful comet have completely demoralized free-nigger education in these counties; for negroes are so superstitious that they believe it to be a warning for them to stick, hereafter, to ‘de shovel and de hoe’ and let their dirty-backed primers go.”

As whippings occurred nightly in many Southern states, teachers begged for protection. But the widespread Klan violence proved difficult for Republican law enforcement and other officials. By the early 1870s, few federal troops remained in the South, just six thousand soldiers in all, spread among the eleven Klan-infested states, a land area that totaled more than 790,000 square miles.

Even sheriffs with military experience found themselves outmanned and outgunned. “When I gather my posse, I could command the posse, and I could depend upon them,” said an Alabama sheriff, a former captain in the Confederate army. “But as soon as I get home, I meet my wife crying, saying that they [the Klan] have been there shooting into the house. When we scatter to our houses, we do not know at what time we are to be shot down; and living with our lives in our hands in this way, we have become disheartened, and do not know what to do.”

Some of the greatest opposition to public schools occurred in Mississippi. The American Missionary journal reported that one of their teachers received this warning from a Mississippi Ku Klux Klan den:


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