John W. Jordan to John A. McDonnell (1868)

This letter was written with concern about one of the first appearances of the Ku Klux Klan in Staunton, Va.
John W. Jordan
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 8.

I have the honor to call your attention to certain demonstrations made by an organization here known as the “Ku Klux Klan” and which have caused a vast deal of dangerous excitement, especially among the colored population and which if not promptly suppressed will culminate in serious and deplorable disturbances of the public peace. 

This Klan made their appearance in the Streets of Staunton about 1 o’clock Sunday morning last, mounted and the Klan being enmasked in white sheets or something of the kind, and being armed caused no little consternation among the colored people and much serious annoyance to the respectable whites. Their operations were attended with the discharge of pistols and  also by cheers or yelling, which of course occurring as it did almost in the center of the town aroused almost the entire population. 

On yesterday I addressed a formal communication to the Mayor upon the subject who has informed me that every effort is being made by the Civil Authorities to ferret out the guilty parties in the matter, who I am assured will be brought to punishment and the operations of the Klan suppressed at once. 

The colored people are very much excited upon the subject and but little is needed to bring about a serious state of things here. I would also remark that I have reported the facts to the Military Comander for this Division also. 

This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/papers/B1147.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    Who is Capt. John W. Jordan and what is his primary concern in writing the letter?
    Capt. Jordan is employed by the Freedmen’s Bureau, writing out of concern over the rise of the domestic terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan, in 1868.
  2. Question
    How does the text detail violence or fear in relation to the event? How does the text suggest different accounts of how the event was perceived?
    The text reads that African Americans were “very much excited” by the Klan’s provocations, meaning that they were actively concerned and opposed to the situation. The document suggests that African-American residents were particularly concerned because the group threatened their lives and safety.
  3. Question
    Why might the African Americans listed in the letter have been “very much excited” about the event, and what does this say about African Americans’ fears and hopes in the postwar years?
    This document suggests that postwar African Americans faced violence and that the 13th Amendment secured terror even after their freedom. Both physical violence and deadly challenges to their political rights were daily realities in the years and even decades following the Civil War.
  4. Question
    Why would the Ku Klux Klan have paraded around Staunton, Va., in 1868? How did violence and public spectacle play a role in the postwar context of white supremacy and African Americans’ freedom?
    The year 1868 was an election year, and the Klan intended to suppress the African-American vote with violence and terror. The public spectacle was the antidemocratic strategy to maintain white supremacy at the voting booth as African Americans sought to cast their votes across Virginia.
Reveal Answers
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