Original Klan Activity in the Shoals Area


Community; Crime; Ku Klux Klan


This is a collection of articles related to the original Ku Klux Klan that formed just after the Civil War.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in late May or June of 1866 by six bored ex-Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee: J. Calvin Jones; Frank McCord; John C. Lester; John B. Kennedy; James R. Crowe (who died in Sheffield, Colbert Co., AL in 1911); and Richard R. Reed. These men young men wanted to found their own fraternal order similar to the Freemasons or Odd Fellows; they chose the Greek term kuklos or “circle” as their name. One of the members then suggested calling themselves ku klux and someone else suggested affixing the term klan at the end, to create ku klux klan. Like the members of other fraternal orders fanciful costumes were worn (originally red, black, etc., with hoods or masks). By early-mid 1868 this group had evolved into a clandestine vigilante group which used violence and intimidation to terrorize local freedmen and their white Republican allies. By mid-1868 the primary goals of the Klan were to oppose US Reconstruction and intimidate freedmen and radical Republicans into submission.

Tuscumbia had an organization of the Klan by April of 1868. Tuscumbia native Capt. Arthur H. Keller, a lawyer, newspaper editor, Confederate veteran, US Marshal and father of Helen Keller, was allegedly the first man in Alabama to "take the obligations of the Klan," which was supposedly organized in Alabama by WD Stratton, who served on Confederate Gen. Nathan B. Forrest's staff during the Civil War.

The original Klan "dens" as they were called, were often loose, informal groups with little organization and no contact with the original Pulaski den. According to author Allen W. Trelease in his history of the Reconstruction-era Klan *White Terror,* individual dens could range in size from "fewer than a dozen to nearly a hundred members." (p. 59) The "Grand Cyclops" or chief (if a den was organized enough to have one) was normally elected for a period of a few months or a year. Larger dens often had an advisory council to advise the chief and assist him. Membership was restricted to men 18 years of age or older who were recommended by a present member and, as with the more generic fraternal organizations, strict secrecy was enjoined on members.

The violence perpetrated by these early Klans was often unplanned and spur-of-the-moment. To help protect the secrecy and anonymity of their brother Klansmen, Klansmen from a nearby den would often carry out attacks for their brethren in their territories.

Tradition holds Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest as the first Grand Wizard of the Klan and eventually callIing for its disbandment in 1869 after its violence got out of hand however in her 2015 book "Ku Klux: the Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction" historian Elaine Frantz Parsons finds "no evidence that Forest associated himself with the Klan before 1868, after it had spread throughout the South. There is also no compelling contemporary evidence to establish that Forest ever exercised any leadership functions, besides offering himself up as a figurehead." (p. 50)

Local and national newspapers reported Klan activity in Florence and the larger Shoals area in November of 1868 and again in March of 1869. Different sources reported between 125 and 500 Klansnsmen who murdered "one very bad" black man named "Ellis" in Florence on November 21, 1868 however in this instance at least, the Klansmen may not have been from Florence-Lauderdale as the men, when asked to unmask themselves did so but weren't recognized by anyone.

Commenting on this incident in a March 1, 1869 letter to Alabama Governor Smith, Florence merchant, three-time mayor (1861-1862; 1869-1870; 1871-1873), future AL Secretary of State (1873-1874) and Unionist Neander H. Rice wrote:

"Our county is full of Ku Klux they are going about at night, much to the terror of many citizens--on last Saturday night week our town was visited by the Ku Klux to the number of 150 or more--they killed one negro [sic] in our town[,] whipped another and lectured several others[;] they awoke me up at my private residence at 11 o'clock to lecture me for what they asserted they heard I said about them--What the negro [sic] was killed for God only knows--Several persons have been killed in the County in a misterious [sic] way--in a word terrorism and anarchy reins [sic] in this County."

In 1868 Alabama's Reconstruction Government enacted an Anti-Ku-Klux statue. The Klan was officially disbanded in 1869 however this did not stop all Klan-attributed violence. On April 20, 1871 the US House of Representatives approved “An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and for other Purposes,” also known as the “Ku Klux Klan Act.” The third in a series of increasingly stringent Enforcement Acts, it was designed to eliminate extralegal violence and protect the civil and political rights of four million freed slaves.


(1) Moulton (AL) Advertiser
(2) Clarke County (AL) Democrat
(3) The Weekly North Carolina Standard (Raleigh, NC)
(4) New York Tribune
(5) Republican Banner (Memphis, TN)
(6) Lincoln County News (Fayetteville, TN)
(7) Madison, Wisconsin, State Journal
(8) Public Ledger (Memphis, TN)
(9) Athens (AL) Post
(10) Athens (AL) Post
(11) Public Ledger (Memphis, TN)
(12) Athens (AL) Post
(13) Nashville (TN) Union and American
(14) Athens Post
(15) Clearfield (PA) Raftsmans' Journal
(16) Tuscumbia, AL North Alabamian
(17-24) "Testimony Taken by the Joint Select Committee to Enquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, Alabama, Volume I
(25-26) "Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama"
(27-28) Florence Chapter, UDC


(1-16) Newspapers.com
(17-22) Online Books Page, Library of Penn State.
(23-26) The Reprint Company Publishers, Spartanburg, South Carolina
(27-28) Florence Chapter, UDC


Lee Freeman


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Ku Klux Klan Moulton Adv Fri Mar 20 1868 p 2.jpg
Ku Klux Klan has Organization in Tuscumbia from The News Clarke Co Democrat Thu Apr 2 1868 p 2.jpg
Rebel Outrage in Alabama The Weekly NC Standard Wed Jun 10 1868 p 1.jpg
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Incendiarism and the Gallows Rep Banner (Nashv) Wed Sep 23 1868 p 4.jpg
Memphis Lincoln Co News (Fayetteville, TN) Sat Sep 26 1868 p 2.jpg
Hanging of Three Negroes in Tuscumbia State Journal (Madison Wis) Mon Sep 28 1868 p 2.jpg
Interference of a Bureau Agent with the Course of Justice Public Ledger (Memphis) Mon Oct 5 1868 p 2.jpg
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On the Walk Again AP Fri Dec 4 1868.jpg
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The Ku Klux Klan NA Thu Jan 4 1906 p 1.jpg
Condition of Affairs in the Southern States Alabama Title Pg.jpg
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Condition of Affairs in the Southern States Alabama pp 179.jpg
Condition of Affairs in the Southern States Alabama p 180.jpg
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The Civil War and Reconstruction Title Pg.jpg
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KKK Regalia of Grand Cyclops UDC Florence Postcard.jpg
KKK Regalia of Grand Cyclops UDC Florence Postcard Back.jpg



“Original Klan Activity in the Shoals Area,” Shoals Black History, accessed March 1, 2024, https://shoalsblackhistory.omeka.net/items/show/675.