The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction

By Elaine Frantz Parsons

400 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, 4 figs, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2542-3
    Published: January 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2543-0
    Published: November 2015

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

Awards & distinctions

2016 Willie Lee Rose Prize, Southern Association for Women Historians

The first comprehensive examination of the nineteenth-century Ku Klux Klan since the 1970s, Ku-Klux pinpoints the group's rise with startling acuity. Historians have traced the origins of the Klan to Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866, but the details behind the group's emergence have long remained shadowy. By parsing the earliest descriptions of the Klan, Elaine Frantz Parsons reveals that it was only as reports of the Tennessee Klan's mysterious and menacing activities began circulating in northern newspapers that whites enthusiastically formed their own Klan groups throughout the South. The spread of the Klan was thus intimately connected with the politics and mass media of the North.

Shedding new light on the ideas that motivated the Klan, Parsons explores Klansmen's appropriation of images and language from northern urban forms such as minstrelsy, burlesque, and business culture. While the Klan sought to retain the prewar racial order, the figure of the Ku-Klux became a joint creation of northern popular cultural entrepreneurs and southern whites seeking, perversely and violently, to modernize the South. Innovative and packed with fresh insight, Parsons' book offers the definitive account of the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction.

About the Author

Elaine Frantz Parsons is professor of history at Kent State University.
For more information about Elaine Frantz Parsons, visit the Author Page.


"Extraordinarily well-researched. . . .interesting and illuminating."--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A superb, important new interpretation of the history of the first Ku Klux Klan. . . . Highly recommended for those interested in the history of the South, Reconstruction, and American racial violence.”--North Carolina Historical Review

“Provides an interesting and insightful view of how the Klan phenomenon was portrayed in different venues and by different kinds of actors.”--American Historical Review

“As much a cultural history as it is an institutional history, a refreshing departure from a vast literature that has long cataloged the political, social, and economic implications of Reconstruction violence.”--Journal of the Civil War

“A provocative reevaluation of the Ku Klux Klan that is essential reading for anyone studying the Reconstruction South.”--Journal of Southern History

“Essential reading for scholars focusing on the Civil War, Reconstruction, or racist violence in America.”--H-Net Reviews

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @ProfEFP.

Elaine Frantz Parsons is a historian of manhood, race, and violence in the nineteenth-century United States. Her book Ku-Klux argues that the postwar Klan was produced by northern and southern interests and media alike, and that its victims struggled not only against the Klan itself but against widespread skepticism of reports of Klan violence, and widespread white sympathy for its goals.

Parsons' current book project is a history of "thugs" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This will be both a labor history and a cultural history of men (and women) whose profession was to commit or threaten violence on behalf of others. She is beginning this project with a series of articles focusing on Pinkertons and other strikebreakers.

Parsons' first book, Manhood Lost: Drunken Men and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), claims that temperance discourse, by questioning men's autonomy and agency, created a space for women's relative empowerment both in the home and the public sphere.

Parsons' articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, the Journal of Southern History, and the Journal of Social History, among others. She has also written several short pieces for HNN, We're History, and Dame Magazine.

Parsons is a proud member of the Elsinore-Bennu Think Tank for Restorative Justice at State Correctional Institute-Pittsburgh. She is editing a collection of essays and poems written by members of the group, most of whom are serving life sentences without the chance of parole, about how their identities have transformed as a result of their experiences of incarceration.

Parsons is the review editor for the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and the director of the Women's and Gender Studies Center at Duquesne University.