The following educational document corresponds with Unit Eight: Planters, Poor Whites and White Supremacy in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.
The Ku Klux Klan was a complex organization that worked in different ways at different times and places. An older view held that it was originated by planters to stop African American crime but that soon lower-class whites took over and began indiscriminate attacks on innocent African Americans, prompting the "better class" of whites to withdraw from the organization. More recent historians tend to see the Ku Klux Klan as including both planters and poor whites; sometimes the planters were in a position to direct the organization's actions, and other times they merely tried to take advantage of opportunities created by the actions of poor whites. While the Ku Klux Klan targeted politically active African Americans and those who sought economic independence from whites, it also played an important role in policing white solidarity. White Republicans were less often killed, but were frequently forced to publicly renounce their party affiliation.
In the excerpt from the 1871 Congressional inquiry below, the Ku Klux Klan attacks a white man who was not necessarily a Republican, but who had simply tried to help his black neighbors.
The Ku Klux Klan Attacks a White Man Assisting Blacks
By the CHAIRMAN:
Question. State the whole history of that transaction as it was disclosed in the testimony, the original case in which the Judds were parties.
Answer. The Judds were freedmen who formerly belonged to a gentleman named Henderson Judd. Their names was Judd. They assumed the name of their former master, as most of them do down there.
Question. What had he done for them?
Answer. When they were liberated he divided off some land for his former slaves, and told them that they had been good servants, and he desired to make some provision for them; he gave them assistance--oxen and means of cultivating the ground. They had been laboring there; they raised cotton and corn, and had accumulated some means, and some of them had bought buggies and horses, with which they could go to church on Sundays. They had built them a church on the land of Anderson Dickens, who gave them an acre of land for that purpose.
Question. Who had built the church?
Answer. The colored people, and also those white people who inclined to favor them in having a house of worship. After the church was built and they had employed a minister to preach for them, after they had held service there for some time, was the occasion when these disguised men took Judd and his family, and Stokes Judd and Anderson Dickens, and abused them.
Question. Was Dickens a negro or a white man?
Answer. He was a white man. He was the man who gave them the ground to build them the church on, near where the Judds live--in the same neighborhood. Soon after that these disguised men, as appeared by the evidence of Mrs. Dickens and her husband, went to the house of Anderson Dickens, and with fence-rails broke down the doors of the house and went in, compelled Dickens and his wife to get up from the bed in their night-clothes, and with threats of violence compelled them to take fire from their own place and carry it to the church. There they compelled Dickens to take benches that were in the church and pile them in the middle of the floor, and compelled his wife to gather brush and sticks from the woods around and kindle the fire. The fire was kindled, and the church was soon in flames. They were ordered to go home and never mention to any living being what had happened. This was the testimony given by Mrs. Dickens before the commissioner, as near as I can remember.
Source: Testimony taken by the Joint Select Committee appointed to inquire into the condition of affairs in the late insurrectionary states, North Carolina (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1872), p.14.
Questions to Consider