Ku Klux Klan calculated to strike fear and terror in Oxford Freedmen
During the Reconstruction period, several Ku Klux Klan chapters were formed in Lafayette County at a meeting in the law offices of Col. R.W. Phillips which was located in what would later become the offices of the Stone family law firm. This was on April 4, 1868.
Former Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest made a trip down to Oxford from his home in Memphis for the purpose of establishing dens of the Oxford and Lafayette County. He held the position of Grand Cyclops of the order. The Grand Cyclops of the order was the highest rank you could obtain in the newly formed Ku Klux Klan.
Remember the end of the Civil War came in April 1865. Presidential Reconstruction would last until 1868 when Adelbert Ames would be appointed provisional governor of Mississippi and enter into an era of Congressional Reconstruction. Congressional Reconstruction was more limited with respects to the former foe of the Yankees. This is when the Klan started to make a name for them in north Mississippi. Soon, six more dens were established in Lafayette County.
Those other dens were located at Lafayette Springs, Graham’s Hill, Paris, College Hill, Dallas and one near Taylor. There would later be a den made up of University students and one with about nine young men of Oxford who wanted to join with members closer in age to them. Charles Arthur Williamson, in his history of the Klan in Lafayette County during Reconstruction, states of the formation of the Oxford den “was the largest, having at one time more that seventy members, all of whom were of the best families of the State.”
As with most fraternal organizations, the Klan had no degrees to learn to become a full-fledged member. The only thing required on a ritual basis was the oath, grip and password. The oath was very binding and the improper use of this oath carried the penalty death. In the oath the member “swore to protect the life and property of the whites and pledged themselves to stand for white supremacy.”
Williamson, who interviewed several men who were part of this organization, so I think one could consider this a primary source.
He states in his history of the Klan in our area, “There is only one case when a man was initiated by degrees, and he took only one degree and then moved to Arkansas.”
He goes on to report, “The Ku Klux Klan interfered with the workings of the radical party (the Republican) so much that a large reward was offered to any one who would give away the secrets of the order, by the federal authorities.” In the county there was a “ne’er-do-well,” who made application for membership, which in itself, gave him away for no one joined without being solicited.
This incident was doomed from the start. The man who wanted to join the organization, Stormy Jordan, set a time in which his first degree was to be taken. Stormy was taken deep into the woods, where he would be initiated into the order. He was “fastened to a log and given a sound whipping with a stirrup strap with a buckle on it.”
After the beating, Jordan’s ropes were loosed and he was told to come the next Friday night for his second degree. Needless to say Jordan wanted out of his predicament and swore he would be there for the second degree, but he added, “But if somethin’ happens that I can’t come, just go on with your business and don’t wait for me.”
Williamson states, “Had they delayed business on Stormy’s account … the organization would have died then … for Stormy never came for the second degree but quit the State.” Stormy Jordan went to Arkansas, never to return to Oxford.
As for the grip Jordan would have learned, “It was a simple one.” It consisted of a slight pressure of the index finger across the lower part of the wrist of the one with whom you are shaking hands. It could be so skillfully managed that no one but a Ku Klux could detect it done in error.
As for the Klan password, it changed every meeting. The den in Oxford and other areas of Lafayette County would last until the election of 1875 when the northern troops began closing Freedmen Bureaus throughout the State of Mississippi. I’ll be passing along some of the historical points that may interest you on the actions of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Klan during this period from 1868 to 1875.
Jack Mayfield is an Oxford historian and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.