The Library of Virginia

Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan


Reconstruction was extremely unpopular among most Southern whites. White resistance following the war took several forms, among them the Klan and local legislation which supported the white establishment.

The Klan was variously organized throughout the South as a white underground resistance to the forces of Reconstruction. In 1867, Nathan Bedford Forrest consolidated the Klan into the “Invisible Empire of the South.” Dressed in white robes designed to frighten victims and protect the identity of the members, the Klan fought to restore white supremacy utilizing intimidation and direct violence against black freedmen and white supporters. Eventually even white communities grew alarmed by the Klan's excessive violence. Responding to this shift in public opinion, Forrest ordered the Klan to disband in 1869. Local branches remained active throughout the 1870's.

The Klan resurfaced again in the years preceding the First World War; and again during the height of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960's.

After Reconstruction, Southerners continued to cling to the notion that nonwhites were inherently inferior to whites. “Jim Crow” laws, passed in every Southern Legislature, supported this belief and enshrined it in the legal code. The Supreme Court agreed, striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. In 1896 the High Court legitimized the notion of “separate but equal” societies in America.

Legalized segregation and the subsequent disenfranchisement of American blacks, as well as the illegal terrorist activities of the Klan in its several incarnations, received heavy criticism in much of the American press, black and white. The Planet opposed segregation on several fronts.

editorial cartoon

[July 19, 1919]

This editorial cartoon by Geo. H. Ben Johnson, which appeared in 1919, is a good example of Mitchell's fundamental conviction that racism was destructive to the nation as a whole. It underscores his basic position:

"When separation is based upon conditions, we accept it because we can improve our conditions. When it is based upon physical characteristics stamped upon us by the Creator and for which we are no ways responsible, we are opposed to it." [Harry M. Ward, Richmond: an Illustrated History, (Northridge, CA, 1985), p. 154.]

The following images are representative of the "fighting editor's" battle against racial injustice. Of particular note are Mitchell's own editorial cartoons, which satirized the situation of the day.

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