Klan violence was prominent in North Carolina during and after Reconstruction. Most of the violence, although racially charged, had to do with political, economic, and social gains for white Southern Democrats. Despite the efforts of the federal government, blacks and Republicans often lived in terror for years after the Civil War ended. White Supremacist groups dominated the Southern landscape until well into the late 19th century. The KKK was the primary white supremacist group, and their campaign to terrorize and disenfranchise blacks and others who disagreed with their politics often made living in the South at this time a dangerous and frightening endeavor.
The violence inflicted by the Klan was not just directed at blacks in the South, but also toward whites who consorted with blacks or who voted Republican. The evidence heard by Congress demonstrates the level of chaos in the South because of the constant Klan attacks on people of different political beliefs or social standing. The level of sexualized violence committed on females, black or white, demonstrates the Klan’s fervor to terrorize those in opposition to them, and restore what they saw as the hierarchy in the South, by any means necessary.
The local governments of North Carolina counties sometimes tried to work with the federal government in order to put a stop to Klan violence, but that was often unsuccessful due to either law enforcement involvement in Klan activity, or the elusiveness of the Invisible Empire. When the federal government enacted laws such as the Enforcement Act, it did not do much to stop the anarchy in the South. Because there was not enough money and people to send to investigate, the best the federal government could do was gather testimony from witnesses, victims, and Klan members themselves. Hundreds of accounts were gathered via testimony by the United States Congress in the early 1870s, and that succeeded in at least making knowledge of the violence in the South more widely available to those who did not live there, and eventually violence involving Klan members dwindled until the group all but disappeared in the early 1890s. Yet the handling of testimony by the examiners showed a disturbing amount of concern with the character and reputation of victims of violence, and seemingly little concern about them being unwarranted victims of violence. Especially when the victims were female, the examiners wanted to emphasize in the testimony that these women were of a lower class and had reputations of being “unchaste.”
Black resistance to Klan activity was not completely successful in reducingthe amount of violence, but their efforts were not always in vain. Many were able to protect their families and their neighbor’s families from Klan violence, and black armed resistance remained an important part of black Southerner’s lives until the non-violent counteraction of the Civil Rights Movement. Through the ability to testify to Congress, African Americans were able to recount the atrocities committed on them by Klan violence, which they had not been able to do just six years prior. That in itself was its own form of resistance.