|Location(s):||Lincoln County, Georgia|
|Tag(s):||Ku Klux Klan, Democratic Party, Racism, Reconstruction, White Supremacy|
|Course:||“Civil War and Reconstruction,” Juniata College|
In 1868, a Klan member from Lincoln County, Georgia sent a letter to African American elected official Davie Jeems. In this letter, the anonymous Klan member threatened Jeems with both physical and mental harm to “show Jeems his place.” He warned that he had his eye on Jeems every single day and advised him not to make any wrong decisions that would anger the KKK. The Klan member sent this letter with the intention of coercing Jeems to conform to the political beliefs of the Democratic party and to create fear into the African American people. The letter stated, “We nail all, radicals up in Boxes and send them away to KKK – there is. 200 000 ded returned [sic] to this country to make you and all the rest of the radicals good Democrats and vote right with the white people.” The letter ended with the use of a racial slur and the warning that the safety of every African American depends on whether or not they join the Democratic camp. The Klan member implored Davie Jeems to take heed and act accordingly.
With the end of the Civil War and the dramatic shift in political power, the southern Democratic party chose to resist Reconstruction. Thus, former Confederate general, Nathan Bedford Forest joined with others and founded the Ku Klux Klan to “keep the order” in the southern states. Through various acts of violence, the Klan tried to undermine the Republican party and restore white supremacy. Over ten percent of the African American legislators elected during the 1867-1868 constitutional conventions fell victim to the Klan’s acts of violence during Reconstruction. The Klansmen wanted life after the Civil War to resemble the Antebellum South. They could not accept that African Americans gained their freedom and citizenship rights as human beings, and they hated all of the changes that came with Congressional Reconstruction.
This specific letter embraces the issues of racism and political pressure during this time. While the threat to Davie Jeems reflects the Klan’s hatred toward African Americans, it also reflects their hatred toward change. According to historian Eric Foner, “[The Klan] aimed to reverse the interlocking changes sweeping over the South during Reconstruction.” They intended to restore the black labor force and racial subordination throughout the South as a way to orchestrate the black man’s every move. Part of these ambitions stemmed from their paranoia about a black uprising. For this reason, the Klan mainly operated in counties with an even black to white ratios or white majorities. In addition, the Klan helped the Democratic party by suppressing the black vote and directly opposing the Republicans. The KKK’s violent actions earned them the reputation as the terrorist arm of the Democratic party. Due to the KKK’s pressure in the South, the Republicans lost a lot of ground during Reconstruction in these areas.