The Republican Fight against the KKK Tyranny
February being Black History month, we continue a review of the long relationship between the Republican Party and black Americans. In the previous two articles, we discussed the establishment of the Republican Party for the specific purpose of ending slavery, and the backlash from pro-slavery Democrats (including a slavery critic being beaten almost to death by a pro-slavery senator) which ultimate led to the commencement of the War Between the States.
We noted the 13th (ending slavery), 14th (extending rights to former slaves) and 15th (securing voting rights for blacks) Amendments, as well as the first Civil Rights Act (passed in 1866) all have a common thread…they were passed by Republicans and viciously opposed by Democrats. Democrat President Andrew Johnson would refuse to enforce the law, and a Democrat-appointed Supreme Court would later rule them unconstitutional. Over the next hundred years following the passage of these amendments and the Civil Rights Act, Democrats fought Republican efforts to secure equality for blacks at every turn, often by violent means.
When Republicans began impeachment proceedings against Democrat President Andrew Johnson, he famously declared “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government of white men!” It surely must have galled Johnson when, less than two months later, Pinckney Pinchback and James Harris attended the Republican National Convention, the first black men to ever serve as major party delegates. In the fall of that year, the Democrats announced the slogan for their national convention, “This is a white man’s country: Let white men rule”. It was roundly denounced by the Republican Party.
The most well-known opposition to black equality (well, other than the Democrat Party itself), was and is the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan originally formed in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, and used violent tactics to terrorize blacks and Republicans into abandoning the pursuit of racial equality. While technically separate organizations, the KKK and the Democrat Party had a symbiotic relationship; virtually every member of the Klan was an active member of, or sympathetic to, the Democrats.
In an effort to combat Democrat efforts, either directly as a party or through their terrorist arm known as the KKK, the Republican Congress established the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute those persecuting blacks, in the process protecting blacks and the rights that had been extended to them. As history chronicles, this turned out to be more difficult than Republicans had hoped, taking another century before widespread and open violence against blacks by their Democrat tormentors would come to a merciful end (by then the party had learned to apply more subtle tactics to keep blacks oppressed).
Though Republicans continued passing laws protecting the rights of blacks, the power and influence of the Democrat Party/KKK rose over the coming decades, often through violent intimidation. High profile blacks and Republicans were targeted for violent reprisals, and injury and bloodshed common. One such incident was the case of Octavius Catto, a black man who had worked within the inner circles of the Republican Party and had helped organize one of the first volunteer companies in the Union Army, comprised of black soldiers. He was a vocal and vigorous opponent of slavery and the Democrat efforts to reinstitute it, which was perhaps why he was such an inviting target. On October 10, 1871, gangs of white Democrat thugs roamed the streets of Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods, intimidating them from turning out to vote, beating and murdering those that defied their tyranny. Local police refused to protect the blacks, which only encouraged the thugs.
Yet Catto would not be intimidated, and walked defiantly up the steps to his voting precinct, where he met Frank Kelly, a local Democrat operative and close friend of the Democrat Party boss. As he strode up the steps to vote, Kelly (having recognized Catto) drew his gun and fired several shots at Catto, with one entering his heart and killing him. Catto’s murder outraged many of Philadelphia’s citizens, and Kelly fled the city. Kelly was found six years later in Chicago and extradited back to face murder charges. Tragically, Kelly was protected from punishment, acquitted by an all-white jury sympathetic to his racist hate, despite the testimony of six eyewitnesses to the murder.
In his book “A Short History of Reconstruction,” renowned historian Eric Foner, Professor of History at Columbia University, said the following of the Klan: “Founded in 1866 as a Tennessee social club, the Ku Klux Klan spread into nearly every Southern state, launching a ‘reign of terror‘ against Republican leaders black and white…In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy. It aimed to destroy the Republican Party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, reestablish control of the black labor force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life.” Foner would also quote Democrat Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan (and descendant of the man of the same name who served as the first Grand Wizard of the KKK) from the September 1928 edition of the KLKK’s “The Kourier Magazine,” “I have never voted for any man who was not a regular Democrat. My father…never voted for any man who was not a Democrat. My grandfather was…the head of the Ku Klux Klan in reconstruction days… My great-grandfather was a life-long Democrat…My great-great-grandfather was…one of the founders of the Democratic Party.” As one can easily see, the Democrat Party and the KKK were inseparably intertwined, Siamese twins of tyranny in the eradication of blacks and Republicans.
The violence would continue for many years. In 1874, Democrats stormed the Louisiana state house in protest of the racial integration in the administration of Republican Governor William Kellogg, killing 27 people. Ultimately, the Ku Klux Klan and Democrats would murder, oppress, and torment untold thousands of black Americans. Cross-burning and lynching would become synonymous with the groups. One of the most notorious murders was the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers, shot and killed by Democrat and Klan member Byron De La Beckwith, who in turn escaped justice for more than thirty years after two all-white juries failed to convict him. He was finally re-tried in 1994 following the exhumation and autopsy of Evers, and was convicted at last, serving only six years in prison before his death in 2001.
After the turn of the century and for many more decades, Democrats unapologetically condemned equality for blacks, proudly declaring their philosophical brotherhood with the Klan in denying equality to blacks. Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, serving from 1959 until his death in 2010, was a former member of the KKK, rising to the ranks of Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops. Byrd famously wrote, “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.” Byrd was the same man who spoke for more than fourteen hours in a filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was Republican Senator Everett Dirksen who broke the filibuster, having worked tirelessly to invoke cloture and force a vote on the bill. Democrats often referred to Byrd as “The Conscience of the Senate”.
Despite its history of racist and violent oppression of blacks, including outright murder, the Democrat Party today is seen as the protector of blacks in America. Such a claim could only be the result of stunning ignorance and brilliant propagandizing. In next’s week’s final article in the series, we’ll take a look at what many white Democrat leaders really feel about the blacks who vote for them, and why Democrat policies have led to institutionalized poverty and the destruction of the black family. Stay tuned…