Although many histories have been written about the American Civil War, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan, one particular school of interpretation, based on the pro-Confederate leanings of William A. Dunning and a belief in "negro incapacity," relied heavily on uncritical acceptance of self-serving, anecdotal reports from Confederate sympathizers and the exclusion of contradictory or conflicting evidence. The Dunning School held academic sway for the greater part of the twentieth century. It has only been in the last thirty years that a more critical re-evaluation has taken place, placing the interpretations of such historians as William E.B. Du Bois (1863-1963) and Howard K. Beale in the forefront.
"Early in the twentieth century a group of young Southern scholars gathered at Columbia University to study the Reconstruction era under the guidance of Professors John W. Burgess and William A. Dunning. Blacks, their mentors taught, were 'children' utterly incapable of appreciating the freedom that had been thrust upon them. The North did 'a monstrous thing' in granting them suffrage, for 'a black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.'" The views of the Dunning School shaped historical writing for generations.1
Susan Lawrence Davis and Albert Pike
Susan Lawrence Davis has been cited by some anti-masonic writers as an authority for the claim that Albert Pike was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan.
Her claims regarding Albert Pike are suspect, not because of her partisan reportage but because that partisanship allowed her to accept, unquestioningly, self-serving testimony without corroboration, confirmation, or documentation.
In her Authentic History, Davis records the only claim that Albert Pike lead the Arkansas Klan, quoting the reminiscences of two Arkansas Klan organizers.2
A believer in the justness and righteousness of the Klan, and having known many members of the original Klan, Davis brings no critical analysis to the information gleaned from these Klansmen. "The purpose of the "Authentic History Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877,' is in justification of the men and measures adopted which led to the redemption of the Southern States from Radical, Carpet-bag and Negro rule as was imposed by the Federal Governments reconstruction measures upon them after the surrender of the Confederate States Army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, 1865." [p. v.] She later says, "...I recall the sense of protection afforded by the Ku Klux Klan in my childhood." [p. 4.]
She denigrates Ku Klux Klan, Its Origin, Growth and Disbandment, written by John C. Lester and D.L. Wilson, mainly because Wilson altered Lesters manuscript to imply that the Klan had partially failed and that the Klan had disbanded in 1869 when in fact, she claims, the Klan disbanded in 1877, after completing the re-establishment of white supremacy of the South.
She was also not pleased with Walter L. Flemings reprint of Lester and Wilsons history: "Mr Flemming [sic] was born in Alabama in a country quite remote from the origin of the Ku Klux Klan, and seems to know very little about the work of the Klan; and certainly added nothing new in his edition save a few names of the members of the Ku Klux Klan. He chose to retain the erroneous impression placed in the manuscript by D.L. Wilson, who stated that the Ku Klux Klan disbanded in 1869 instead of 1877." [p. 5.]
In her Introduction she gives credit for much of the information in her Authentic History to Lesters notes for an unpublished, rewritten and complete history, as well as "Major James R. Crowe [b. January 29, 1838 - d. July 14, 1911], Capt. John B. Kennedy [b. Nov. 6, 1841 d. Feb. 13, 1913], Judge William Richardson, Capt. Robert A. McClellan, Major Robert Donnel, Capt. DeWitt Clinton Davis, the wives and daughters of many of the original Ku Klux Klan, by my father, Colonel Lawrence Ripley Davis, Colonel Sumner A. Cunningham [b. 1843 - d. December 20, 1913] and General John B. Gordon, and other Ku Klux." [p. 3.]
John C. Lester and Davis differ on a number of points. Davis gives December 24, 1865 as the founding date of the Klan, Lester says May, 1866, while D. L. Wilson (in Century Magazine, July 1884) says June, 1866.
Davis writes:"The parades which had attracted much attention were recommended by General Nathan B. Forrest to be continued, and he issued an order to the Grand Dragons of the Realms for a parade to be held in each province on the night of July 4, 1867." [p. 89.] Note that Lester writes otherwise.
General Order No. 1, issued according to Davis on October 20, 1869, but noted by Lester as being issued in January of that year, "was the only one written by General Forrest." [p. 125.] It ordered the destruction of all masks and costumes and prohibited demonstrations, whippings, interference, terrifying, breaking and invading jails, and the writing of letters in the name of the Order. Although Lester refers to it as dissolving the Order, Davis says otherwise, allegedly quoting from the order: "This was not to be understood to dissolve the Order of the Ku Klux Klan, but it is hereby held more firmly together and more faithfully bound to each other in any emergency that may come." [p. 126.] 3
She notes: "This order as above given was presented to me by Major Robert Donnell, who was Grand Scribe of the "Invisible Empire" in 1869, for this history, and he stated that the Ku Klux Klan was not disbanded until 1877, but this order was General Forrests method of misleading those who were attempting to dissolve it after the Anti-Ku Klux Act was passed." [p. 128.]. Note that Lester writes otherwise.
Davis makes a point of noting those of her heroes who were Freemasons:
Captain John Booker Kennedy, [b. Nov. 6, 1841 d. Feb. 13, 1913], was "Circuit Court Clerk of Lawrence County, Tenn., for twenty-two years. For fourteen years he was Secretary of Mimosa Lodge F. and A. M." [p. 18.]
Major James R. Crowe [b. January 29, 1838 - d. July 14, 1911], "attained the rank of Most Illustrious Grand Master of the Grand Council of Tennessee in 1866." [p. 20.]
In a biographical sketch of Forrest, Davis makes no mention of his brief masonic affiliation.
Her reference to Albert Pike is detailed and Davis includes a four-page biography for which she says she is "greatly indebted to Wm. L. Boyden...." [p. 275.]
"... the organization of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas, which was led by General Albert Pike." [pp. 270-271.]
"He joined Free Masonry in 1850 and in less than nine years became the highest ranking officer in this institution...." [p. 273.]
"General Pike organized the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas after General Forrest appointed him Grand Dragon of that Realm at the convention at Nashville, Tenn. He was also appointed at that time Chief Judicial Officer of the Invisible Empire." [p. 276.]
"General Pike appointed Mr. Henry Fielding and Mr. Eppie Fielding of Fayetteville, Arkansas, to assist him in organizing Dens in that state. They were members of the Athens, Ala., Klan from its beginning and went to Arkansas, to live in 1867. They were Confederate soldiers, and gave me much information about the powerful influence General Pike had over the people of Arkansas during the dark days of reconstruction." [pp. 276-277.]
Davis concludes her book with what she terms the real disbandment of the Klan:
"The Masonic Hall of the town [Athens, Alabama] had been damaged by the Federal soldiers and this hall [the "Pepin Hall" in the Home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Pepin] was used by the Masons. On the night General Forrest met with the Ku Klux Klan the last time this hall was used by the Masons, who first donned their Masonic regalia and an hour later their Ku Klux Klan regalia.
"General Forrest had orally communicated to the Grand Dragons of the Invisible Empire, his order of disbandment Number one (No. 1, September, 1877) after which he reverently approached the altar and kneeling led them in prayer." [p. 312.]
1. Wyne Craig Wade. The Fiery Cross, The Ku Klux Klan in America. Simon and Schuster, Inc. New York: 1987. [p 405.] ISBN: 0-671-41476-3 ^
2.Susan Lawrence Davis (1861-1939) Authentic History, Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877. Susan Lawrence Davis, Publisher, New York, N.Y.: 1924. [316 p.]^
3. Cf.: White Terror, The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction, Allen W. Trelease. London: Secker & Warburg, 1972. 556pp. "On January 25 1869 there followed a lengthy order from the Imperial Wizard, General Forrest, calling for the drastic curtailment of Klan activity." [p. 179.] This order stated explicitly that it was not to be understood as a complete disbandment of the Klan; on the contrary the organization should hold together more firmly than ever before to guard against any emergency." (n.: The Order is reproduced in Susan Lawrence Davis, Authentic History: Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1877 (N.Y., 1924) , pp. 127-27, where the author misdates the document and misunderstands its meaning. It carries the heading "Dismal Rea, 4th Green Day, Last Hour, C.A.R.N." According to the Prescripts this is translated as 12 O'clock on the fourth Monday of January 1869. That day fell on January 25. See Horn, Invisible Empire, pp. 37, 40, 356-57, 409. See also Thomas B. Alexander, "Kukluxis, in Tennessee, 1865-1869," Tennessee Historical Quarterly, VIII (1949), 217-18, or his Political Reconstruction in Tennessee, pp. 197-98.) "Nearly every authority on the Ku Klux Klan agrees that sometime between January and August of 1869 the organization disbanded, so far at least as a formal order could bring that about." [p. 183.] "Lester and Wilson, writing many years later, credited General Forrest with issuing a disbandment order in March as a reaction to Brownlows proclaimation of martial law" "Their summary of its contents, moreover, is so close to Forrests January 25 order as to arouse suspicion that they confusd the two." [p. 183]