Faculty Mentor

Dr. Dee Gillespie, Dr. George Justice

Proposal Type

Oral Presentation

Start Date

2-11-2019 2:10 PM

End Date

2-11-2019 3:10 PM

Location

Nesbitt 2211

Abstract

In 1872 the Gwinnett County courthouse was burned by the Ku-Klux Klan. The events leading up to the arson offer insight into the motivations and nature of the Reconstruction-era Klan in a county at the intersection of Georgia’s Black Belt and Upcountry. While it certainly functioned as an instrument of terror wielded by the political elite to respond to the threats posed by Reconstruction authorities and the newly freed African American population, the power structure of the Old South was never fully established in Gwinnett County, and it was consequently relatively unaffected by Reconstruction. Much of the Klan violence which occurred in Gwinnett County, while still targeting African Americans, was tied to criminal activity associated with the lower classes, such as bootlegging and gambling, and therefore less connected and often at odds with the ideological motivations of the wider ‘organization.' Although violence was limited in comparison to many other locations, the evident ties to organized criminal activity and the willingness of the Gwinnett County Klan to attack the center of a government which remained under local control contrasts with traditional narratives of tacit acceptance by Southern authorities and offers a unique insight into the complex and disorganized nature of the Reconstruction Klan or, as this paper proposes, Klans.

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Nov 2nd, 2:10 PM Nov 2nd, 3:10 PM

Drunken, Desperate Men: The Klans of Gwinnett County, Georgia, 1868-1872

Nesbitt 2211

In 1872 the Gwinnett County courthouse was burned by the Ku-Klux Klan. The events leading up to the arson offer insight into the motivations and nature of the Reconstruction-era Klan in a county at the intersection of Georgia’s Black Belt and Upcountry. While it certainly functioned as an instrument of terror wielded by the political elite to respond to the threats posed by Reconstruction authorities and the newly freed African American population, the power structure of the Old South was never fully established in Gwinnett County, and it was consequently relatively unaffected by Reconstruction. Much of the Klan violence which occurred in Gwinnett County, while still targeting African Americans, was tied to criminal activity associated with the lower classes, such as bootlegging and gambling, and therefore less connected and often at odds with the ideological motivations of the wider ‘organization.' Although violence was limited in comparison to many other locations, the evident ties to organized criminal activity and the willingness of the Gwinnett County Klan to attack the center of a government which remained under local control contrasts with traditional narratives of tacit acceptance by Southern authorities and offers a unique insight into the complex and disorganized nature of the Reconstruction Klan or, as this paper proposes, Klans.