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  • Description is exactly "These are a series of articles about James R. Crowe, a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Florence historian Lee Freeman: "A native of Pulaski, in Giles County, TN, James R. Crowe (1839-1911) relocated to Marion, AL in 1861 where he entered the law offices of his cousin, Charles C. Crowe. During the Civil War James Crowe served in the 4th AL Inf and 53 TN Inf, CSA, eventually achieving the rank of major before serving as purchasing agent for the Confederate government. On February 18, 1869 Maj. Crowe married Belle Towson of Nashville and the couple had six children, five still living by 1903. After the war Crowe returned to his native Pulaski before relocating to the new town of Sheffield, in Colbert County, Alabama, in 1886, where he engaged in the real estate business and assisted in the formation of the Tennessee River Masonic Lodge. He was a presiding elder and Sunday-school superintendent in the Presbyterian Church as well as serving as President of the Sheffield Board of Education for four years. Active in local politics, he was a Democrat. Crowe was also the author of several war songs, many of which he wrote for United Confederate Veterans reunions. Maj. Crowe died Friday, July 14, 1911 after a lingering illness of several weeks.

    Christmas Eve, 1865, James R. Crowe, and five other bored ex-Confederates--J. Calvin Jones, John B. Kennedy, John C. Lester, Frank McCord, and Richard R. Reed--met at Judge Thomas Jones' law office in Pulaski, Tennessee and after discussing ways to relieve their boredom, decided to found their own fraternal order similar to the Masons or Odd Fellows, as John Lester later insisted, "solely for amusement and diversion" (one author described their early meetings as more for "partying" than anything else). One of the men suggested the name "the Merry Six" however they eventually settled on the Greek word *kuklos,* which means "circle." Noting the alliteration of the words "kuklos clan" the name soon became Ku Klux Klan. As with most fraternal orders the men then developed secret rituals, many of them ridiculous and silly, and distinctive outfits to wear at meetings. This garb consisted of a tall, pointy hat with eye-slits, to increase the wearer's apparent height, and a floor-length gown or robe, which were originally multi-colored: the white robes and hoods came later, with the Klan's rebirth in the early 20th century.

    Frank McCord was appointed the Klan's first Grand Cyclops, while James Crowe was appointed the order's first "Grand Turk." According to author James Solomon, the Klan got permission to use the cellar of a house destroyed in a tornado as its first lodge hall. As there were no other houses near and the old mansion was in ruins, surrounded by a grove of trees also ripped apart by the tornado, the location developed a reputation as being rather mysterious and spooky. According to Solomon, members soon noticed that as they galloped through the streets of Pulaski at night in their Klan regalia, local freedmen were intimidated, or just downright scared, thinking they were ghosts, a view which the Klan soon began to encourage, at first for fun, but later in order to intimidate them.

    The order quickly gained members and spread to other towns and states, so that by 1867 the Klan extended from Virginia to Texas but though tied to Pulaski, each chapter was autonomous. Soon the Klan began viewing itself as a citizens' vigilante group, charged with opposing the Republican Reconstruction government of the South and keeping the freedmen in line. Both Tennessee Governor Bronlow (1865-1869), a Republican, and Pulaski's mayor John Ezell, attempted to shut down the Klan, with the Tennessee State Legislature even enacting anti-Klan legislation and curfews, but all to no avail, as the Klan was just too popular. Stories of Klan harassment and terrorizing of both "carpetbaggers" from the North, as well as local freedmen abounded. In early 1869, Grand Wizard and former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877) officially called for the Klan to be disbanded. Unfortunately the February, 1915 release of the DW Griffith film *Birth of a Nation,* which espoused a romanticized view of the Klan and white supremacy sparked a resurgence of the Klan in the early 20th century.

    In response to several erroneous newspaper reports on the history of the Klan in July of 1905 founding member James R. Crowe wrote his own account to the editor of the *Nashville American.* Crowe closed his account by saying that "So long as the original, genuine K. K. K. existed I never knew of an act committed by them that I am now ashamed to own." Regardless, Pulaski, Tennessee has had to live down its reputation as the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, in recent decades disassociating itself from and repudiating the Klan. It is doubtful that many residents of Sheffield are even aware that one of the Klan's founders died there in 1911."


    Sources:

    James R. Crowe's Sheffiield Reaper article of July 13, 1905, in which he refers to himself as one of the founders.

    Times of Giles County, (c) 1976 by James Solomon, pp. 101-108"
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