Question of the Month:

What Are Codes Four?

September 2004

Q:  What are Codes Four? I believe they had something to do with the Klan in the 1950s.

-- Walter Kingman, Chicago, Illinois

A:   The impetus for a resurgence of the Klan arrived May 17, 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Brown decision angered Southern whites. Racial violence occurred when black students arrived to integrate "white" schools. In some cases, state government officials orchestrated the resistance to Brown, thereby inviting federal intervention. As the Civil Rights Movement grew in the 1960s, the Klan responded violently to the freedom rides, sit-ins and mass demonstrations.

KKK Between 1954 and 1967, Klansmen were suspected of over 200 separate bombings and dozens of homicides. On June 21, 1964, for example, members of the Ku Klux Klan killed three civil rights workers (Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney) who were investigating the burning of a church in Longdale, Mississippi. The Klan referred to its system of escalating violence as "Projects." Code One was harassment, usually a threatening telephone call, racist graffiti, or a cross burned on the target's property. Codes Two were physical assaults. Codes Three were fire bombings -- often when the building was unoccupied. Codes Four were assassinations. Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were victims of a Code Four Project.

Today, Klan organizations claim to be nonviolent, white advocacy groups. Publicly, they disavow violence; however, privately they praise violence against Blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and other Klan enemies. The brutal killing of James Byrd Jr., a black hitchhiker, illustrates how Codes Four continue to be used. Three white men, with ties to the Klan, beat Byrd, cut his throat, chained his ankles to the back of a truck and dragged him to his death. His head, neck, and right arm were found about a mile from his mangled torso. They left his body near a predominantly black church. This act, which occurred on June 7, 1998, shocked many Americans who believed that Klan-inspired terrorism had ended, but Byrd's death was not an anomaly. In April 1997, Klan members were arrested for plotting to blow up a natural gas refinery near Fort Worth, Texas. The next year, three men with ties to the Klan were arrested for planning to poison water supplies, rob banks, plant bombs, and assassinate Klan enemies.

Many excellent books have been written about the Klan. We recommend the following books:

Blee, Kathleen M. Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.

Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan. Durham: Duke University Press, 1987.

Dobratz, Betty A. and Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile. White Power, White Pride! The White Separatist Movement in the United States. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.

Ezekiel, Raphael S. The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen. New York: Viking, 1995.

Ridgeway, James. Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1995.

Wade, Wyn Craig. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1987.


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