Knights of the White Camellia
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The Knights of the White Camellia was a secret organization of white men formed in the lower Southern states in the Reconstruction period. They were considered much more conservative than the Klan and they were generally less violent. Its members were pledged to support the supremacy of the white race, to oppose the uniting of the races, to resist the social and political seizing of the carpetbaggers, and to restore white control of the government (Cantrell, 2005).

The Knights of the White Camellia was organized in New Orleans in May 1867 by Col. Alcibiade DeBlanc and soon spread throughout the lower South, reaching as far west as Central Texas and as far east as the Carolinas. Though similar in some respects to, and frequently confused by the public with, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Camellias denied any connection whatsoever with that order. Their activities were confined to the southern parts of the Southern states; a region farther south in general from that occupied by the Klan. The White Camellias operated with less publicity but with perhaps even more effectiveness than did the Klansmen, although they did not employ such violent methods. They were thought to have been even more numerous than the Klansmen, and their secrets better kept. They were typically better organized than the Klan, and their membership, which was generally from a higher social stratum, included newspaper editors, physicians, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, public figures, and even a few former officers of the Union army living in the region. Many of the members freely admitted their membership, and officers sometimes identified themselves as members before congressional or legislative committees and detailed their organization and some of their activities. Though some renegade members committed atrocities, many others left the order because of its lack of militancy (Long, 2002).

“The Ku Klux Klan was founded on Christmas Eve in 1865. It was six former Confederate military officers that started it all in Pulaski, Tennessee. The Civil War had been over for eight months, and men were looking for a way to relieve their postwar boredom. Someone suggested that they form a club. They decided on a Ku Klux Klan and then designed outfits made of white robes. As the Klan spread, its members began attacking blacks”(Bridges, 1994, p.36).

“The Ku Klux Klan consisted of a grand wizard and ten genii at the top; the order was governed by such officers as grand dragons, hydras, titans, furies, and night-hawks. The activities of the KKK took less form of a general conspiracy than of local efforts to destroy radical political organizations by intimidation and terrorization. Night rides of white robed and hooded men on sheeted and masked horses went out as pranks and partly as ghostly intimidation of superstitious Negroes. The victims, seeing through the disguise, were terrorized by the real danger of violence rather than the ghoulish affect of supernatural power. Klansmen occupied themselves in destroying Union League councils, breaking up bands of Negroes, whipping Negro militia men, forcing victims to pledge non-support of the Radical politicians, scaring black men away from the polls, and bribing individual carpetbaggers and scalawags” (Randall & Donald, 1969, p.682).

Like the Confederate army, in whose ranks many Klansmen has served, the Knights of the White Camellia secretly recruited members from all classes of Southern white society. Among its leaders were two dozen or more Confederate generals and colonels headed by Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klans “Grand Wizard.” By 1868, the Klan had evolved from a harmless fraternal order into a hooded terrorist organization dedicated to the preservation of white supremacy. It punished freedman who left their employers or complained of low wages or acted in an insolent manner toward whites. The Klan and similar groups, such as the Knights of the White Camellia, became in effect “the military arm of the Democrat party” (McPherson, 2001).

Like the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights had an elaborate secret ceremony and ritual, and their customs included signs, grips, and passwords. The societies name was taken from the snow-white bloom of a Southern flowering shrub, which of course, was intended to symbolize the purity of the white race. The constitution of the order, adopted at a convention in New Orleans in June 1868, provided for an organizational structure similar to that of the Klan. Individual members were organized into councils, the membership that might vary from five up to several hundred. Each council had a commander, lieutenant commander, guard, secretary, and treasurer, and all were elected for a period of one year (Long, 2002).

In Texas, the membership of the Knights appeared to have been more concentrated in East Texas, particularly in those counties along the Louisiana border, although councils were found as far west as Waco. As in other areas of the South, the order tended to draw its members from the more respectable parts of society, who generally shunned the activities of outlaw gangs such as those of Ben Bickerstaff and Cullen M. Baker (Long, 2002).

By 1869, the Knights of the White Camellia were on the decline. There was some discussion of reorganizing the Knights in late 1868, after a Republican newspaper had exposed its rituals, passwords, and signals. A convention was held in New Orleans in January 1869, but by that time many of the councils had already disbanded. Some of the more determined members joined the Klan or the White Leagues, and by 1870 for all intents and purposes the Knights had ceased to exist as an organization (Long, 2002).

The White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan may have ceased before the 1900s, but now there are many groups who still operate as the Ku Klux Klan in 2005. Times are very different now but some people ideas and beliefs are still the same. For example, an active group in Cleveland, Texas goes by the name of the White Camelia Knights. Its led by Charles Lee, along with the Texas chapter of Thom Robbs Knights of the KKK, has been linked to a number of incidents of racial intimidation and harassment in Vidor, Texas. These incidents, which occurred in 1992 and 1993, involved efforts to prevent the desegregation of an all-white Federally assisted housing project in Vidor. Among the reported acts of intimidation was the threat to blow up a housing unit to prevent its integration; residents of the project additionally alleged that the White Camelia Knights carried automatic weapons on a bus they drove through the housing complex and that one Klan member offered white children $50 to beat up African-American children. The Texas Commission on Human Rights

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