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The idea of violence during Reconstruction by now conjures up a stereotyped mental picture. Invariably, the time is midnight. Scattered clouds allow the moon brief glimpses of the earthbound scene. But the light from even this hidden source is sufficient to reveal the silent band of draped figures riding through the night. The group surrounds a tiny cabin and the muffled voice of the leader calls a Negro to the porch. Almost invisible in the shadows, the victim emerges from the deeper gloom of the door. Perhaps merely a lashing awaits him, though he may face an impromptu lynching, a load of 00 buckshot, a pistol ball, or a mutilating Bowie knife. After the deed is done, two blasts of the leader's whistle signal a general remounting of the hooded figures. Then, in a stillness broken only by horses' hoofs or possibly the sounds of agony from the mass of raw flesh which had once been a human being, the still silent band departs.

Yet such Ku Klux Klan visitations formed only a small part of the turbulaence in Reconstruction Alabama. Federal soldiers, white and black individuals, and secret Klan-like organizations of blacks and whites shared a taste for violence to which Alabama played host. Though life undeniabliy continued (farmers worried about poor crops, politicians about elections, and nearly everybody about hunger and destitution brought on by the war), turmoil formed the backdrop against which the play was held.

There were many reasons for the violence. The frontier tradition and the Old South left a legacy of ferocity. Specific problems called for a solution, with force seemingly the only instrument available. Political supremacy called for power to maintain or overthrow it, giving both sides an excuse to utilize extremities. While most of the violence came from political rivalry, the most basic reason ws the elemental emotion of fear, regardless of the perpetrators. A combination of these and other factors produced lawlessness on a large scale in certain areas of Alabama. To understand the extreme conditions which permeated life in Alabama during this era, the fabric of interwoven reasons must be investigated.

Publication Date


Document Type



Alabama State Department of Archives and History


Montgomery, AL

Publication Title

Alabama Historical Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3 & 4, Fall & Winter, p. 181-202

Publisher Statement

Copyright 1968 Alabama Historical Quarterly, Alabama State Department of Archives and History


Alabama, Antebellum, 1815-1861, higher education


United States History

Violence: An Instrument of Policy in Reconstruction Alabama

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