In one scene of the film Django Unchained, the audience is introduced to a violent, although disorganized and tumultuous, group who weak white bags over their heads. Acknowledging the movie’s historical basis, one can understand that this mob is a fictional portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan’s predecessors. The Klan (known as the KKK) is a hate group that appeared during the Civil War in the 1860s (Belew). The KKK was a violent response to the conflict’s aim of eliminating slavery of black people.
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However, the history of the Klan did not end when black people received their right to become American citizens. The Klan’s existence could be divided into three periods, each of which was initiated by a change in civil rights that challenged the “white power” narrative.
The first Klan’s goal was simple – to retain their ownership of black slaves and maintain the status quo of white superiority. The group did not have a central power, but its fear of newly freed African Americans led to the creation of many small organizations in Southern states. White people were scared that their lives would never be the same, and their fear turned to extreme violence against black people. The tone of the violent acts that the KKK members performed was vigilant – supporters of white supremacy believed that they were punishing black people for crimes, whether the latter were real or not (Sullivan 36). As a result, while the movement was not systemic, its aggressive approach led to many victims.
Then, the movement appeared again after being suppressed for decades. The second KKK wave started in the 1920s, and its business-resembling system transformed the group of small chaotic mobs into an expansive network with mysteriously protected memberships (Gordon 40).
At this time, the hate group was not as focused on black people living in America as on groups that were seen as threats to the American culture and tradition. Fear of black people was followed by hatred towards Jewish people, Catholic Christians, and immigrants whom the KKK portrayed as un-American in contrast to white, Protestant, American-born men and women (Percy). As a result, the second wave was not as focused on violent practices and race hierarchy, but the ideological purity of the American nation.
Finally, one may see that the ideas of the KKK, namely white supremacy, persist in the modern world. The third KKK became active during another time when the make-up of the country was changing – the Civil Rights era. In the 1950s and 1960s, white supremacy organized its forces once again, responding to civil rights activists’ calls for desegregation and equality (Owens et al. 572). Again, the groups calling themselves the Klan were disorganized and violent, returning to lynching, protesting, and marching as ways of intimidation.
This wave of the KKK’s activity continues to the present day, with the groups responding to the rising Black Lives Matter movement for black people’s call to end police brutality (Belew). One can see that the connections between white people’s fear of losing political, economic, and cultural power and white supremacy are apparent.
The fluctuation of the KKK’s activity corresponds with the times when the United States’ politics moved towards racial and ethnic equality. The current Klan-based-organizations continue spreading their rhetoric under the guise of nationalism, although their ideas exclude American-born Jewish and black people, imagining a future for white, Christian society instead. All three waves of the KKK could be defined by their members’ fear of losing the full authority over economic and political processes.
The depiction of the future KKK members in Django Unchained, while comical, should not be dismissed as a simple joke – the level of organizing did not prevent the hate group from killing and torturing numerous people. The KKK’s resurgence is both a sign that the times are changing and equality is still mistaken for a threat to white people.
Belew, Kathleen. “The History of White Power.” The New York Times. 2018. Web.
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. Liveright Publishing, 2017.
Owens, Peter B., et al. “Threat, Competition, and Mobilizing Structures: Motivational and Organizational Contingencies of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan.” Social Problems, vol. 62, no. 4, 2015, pp. 572-604.
Percy, Leroy. “The Modern Ku Klux Klan,” The Atlantic. 1922. Web.
Sullivan, Sarah K. “Extralegal Violence: The Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction Era.” Elements, vol. 12, no. 2, 2016, pp. 35-46.