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A Former Klansman Describes Why He Joined the Ku Klux Klan

In a 1977 interview, Edward McDaniel, a white southerner, relates his experience being inducted into the Ku Klux Klan some fifteen years earlier, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Looking back on his experiences, McDaniel expresses a surprising amount of initial ambiguity about the Klan, but eventually became an enthusiastic convert.

Mr. McDaniel: I knew the relationship between the whites and the blacks in my hometown. I knew that it wasn't like it was being portrayed on the national news. Of course, I didn't say anything about it…. Then the [James] Meredith deal hit on September thirtieth, 1962, where the federal government used the excessive power of just forcing one person, whether he was black or white it didn't matter. But the way they did this, not letting it go through the process of the courts like it should have…. And I got very bitter towards the federal government… We had witnessed what happened in Little Rock under the Eisenhower administration. And then this happening here at home. It really upset me and it upset a lot of other people. But it seemed like every way you'd go your hands were tied. So one day I was delivering some freight in a little town of Clayton, Louisiana. We was discussing the civil rights situation. Everywhere you'd go people were cussing the federal government and the blacks and everything else. Hatred was building up….

Dr. Caudill: This really dominated their thinking, did it?

Mr. McDaniel: It really did, it really did and even mine. I must admit now I see what was taking place, now, but I didn't see it then. This gentleman asked me, he was a good friend of mine, he says, "Eddie, you're really uptight about this. You're upset about it." I said, "I sure am." And he said, "How would you like to come to a meeting?" And I said, "What kind of meeting?" He said, "Well, just a meeting. White people got to get together." Boy, I said, "Yes sir, I'm ready for it." The following Tuesday night he told me to meet him at a restaurant across the river and I met him. It was he and two other guys. I didn't know the other two. And I noticed that things were strange. He didn't introduce me to them or anything else. And we got in his car and we started riding. We went to the old river, which was where the main river used to go. There was trailers and things back in there, you know, dark, and I said, "Now, do I really know this fellow?" …. I said, "Now, what's going on here?" And this is when "Klan" first dawned on me…. And I got a little shaky. And we sat there and talked a while, and then about that time a guy come out, and he was robed out. I didn't know who he was. And he went through the process of wanting to know if I wanted to join the Klan and how I felt about the situation with the Klan and could I hold it in confidence and all of this. I had to think about a lot of these questions. And finally I agreed that that was what I wanted…and then I went in, was sworn in by the Klan, and I guess thirty or forty guys that was robed out and everything. It was a real experience. And when they took the robes off, I knew half of them or more. But up until then it was sort of a hairy situation, sort of a spooky situation, not knowing. You know, you've always heard the bad things about the Klan. Then I guess I got more at ease after I found out that there were some friends there and all of that. They asked me to---this was the old original Klan, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. And they told me that I was the first man to be sworn in the Klan from Mississippi in the '60s.

They asked me would I come back to Mississippi and organize the state of Mississippi. I told them I'd think about that, and I'd let them know in a few days. They told me the meeting would be such-and-such a time and I would be a member of their local group across the river until we got chartered in Mississippi. So I went back to the meeting, and I had made up my mind that I'd do all I could to organize the Klan. I, along with the help of two or three other guys, in about six months we had organized in seventy-six counties in the state of Mississippi, and I had worked every day.

Source | Edward L. McDaniel interview, 12 August 1977, University of Southern Mississippi, Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, http://www.lib.usm.edu/%7Espcol/crda/oh/mcdaniel.htm.
Creator | Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive
Interviewer | Orley Caudill
Interviewee | Edward L. McDaniel
Item Type | Oral History
Cite This document | Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive, “A Former Klansman Describes Why He Joined the Ku Klux Klan,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 22, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/962.

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