The Ku Klux Klan in Connecticut
Within months of the Union victory in the Civil War in 1865, a small band of soldiers from the defeated Confederate army gathered in Pulaski, Tennessee and formed an organization they dubbed the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Their primary focus was to oppose Reconstruction, and to that end, the KKK launched a campaign of terror in which its members killed thousands of African Americans. That campaign culminated in the complete defeat of Reconstruction with the Hayes-Tilden Compromise in 1877.
In the 150 years following the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, additional organizations using some variation of that name arose. The former Confederacy was always the base of the various Klans, but when the KKK experienced a dramatic revival in 1920, chapters emerged in northern and western parts of the United States, including Connecticut. The remarkable increase in Klan popularity—its membership reached five million during the 1920s—came largely from its branding itself as nativists defending an embattled pure American white race against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, Bolsheviks and immigrants who came to U.S. shores in large numbers in the preceding two decades.
The KKK Comes to Connecticut
The first reports of individuals in the ubiquitous white robes gathering in Connecticut, as well as of cross burnings (a telltale sign of an organized Klan presence) in the state, date to as early as 1924. The Klan regularly organized field days, and one held in Greenwich in 1928 attracted 200 people. One estimate placed the Klan’s peak membership in Connecticut in the 1920s at 18,000. The KKK declined in Connecticut as dramatically as it rose, however, and its membership by the 1930s was a fraction of its peak.
Klan activity in Connecticut was virtually nonexistent for five decades until 1980 when the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, one of a myriad of splinter groups, formed. The Invisible Empire established a chapter in and around Meriden and held a series of actions in that part of the state over the next two years. On each occasion, however, crowds 10 to 20 times larger gathered to protest their presence. In response to Klan activity, Connecticut pioneered legislation to ban paramilitary training camps.
The Invisible Empire also set up the Klan Youth Corps, a group for young supporters. Leaflets published by the Corps began appearing in high schools in the Meriden area around this time. Questions from students prompted the union representing many of the state’s teachers, the Connecticut Education Association, to publish a curriculum guide to bring awareness to the threat of the KKK.
Today’s Klan Activity
Though the Klan’s public presence in Connecticut soon waned, it resurfaced at various times over the next three decades, mostly in the form of flyers attributed to one faction or another. Such flyers appeared in Orange in 2012 and Milford in 2013. According to a report issued in 2014 by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there remained one Klan faction in Connecticut. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there has been no KKK activity in our state as of 2017, and the SPLC also shows no current operation.
Andy Piascik is a writer and Bridgeport native. His most recent book is the novel, In Motion, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.