As one who enjoyed the opportunity to arrest, and later help convict, the former Grand Dragon of the Pennsylvannia chapter KKK (Roy Frankhouser of Reading PA, for a conspiracy with another great American, Lyndon LaRouche) I'm often amazed at how the Reconstruction era birth of the Klan gets demonized as a result of the violent bigotry it exhibited in later years.
I was further amazed at the bloviation of the encyclopedia article linked earlier. At the end of the Civil War, one of the acts passed by Congress, which has not even been mentioned by anyone, was the Act of Reconciliation. It required an oath be taken in support of the United States government, before any male, black or white, could vote. It further stated that no person serving in the Confederate armed forces could take the oath for ten years after the surrender. Its practical effect was to give the vote to only black males and any Northerner who could get South in time to take the oath and vote. The result was that for the ten years the Act was in effect, every State in the South had almost their entire political hirearchy filled with black Governors, Senators, Congressmen, Sheriffs, aldermen. etc. (You will often note, but never look up, the statement "First black _______ since the Reconstruction"... it saves really messy explainations).
Next, began a chapter that has not been mentioned in any history book for many years. There was an outbreak of rape by Federal troops against Southern women, that spread rapidly and was fed by the belief that the women deserved it for previouly owning slaves. There were several problems with this thought, in that most of the women raped were not of the slave owning class, and the rapes were primarily done by black troops.
The Southerners reacted by forming the Klan, and began shooting Federal troops in the act of rape. The Federal Provost Marshall response, seeing active rebellion in the offing, and realizing that even though they had won the war, armed guerillas could inflict serious damage on a peace-time Federal occupation force that was already being challenged by the Native Americans out West, began to investigate the behavior of it's own troops, shooting 11 black and 8 white troops for rape in 1869 alone. It was at this point that Forrest disbanded the Klan, as the executions made an impression on the Federal troops, and the rapes subsided.
Unfortunately the damage had been done. The black politicians, being lured by the wealth and corruption of absolute political power, were unprepared for the onslaught brought by the secession of the strictures of the Act of Reconciliation ten years later in 1876, and no Southern white man was bound to forget.
D. W. Griffith attempted to portray this period as the "Birth of a Nation" in the first full length motion picture and has been castigated as a "Racist" ever since, yet, as one who knows, it's hard to protect the truth and freedoms we enjoy today, if we only know history that's convenient.
This is all open knowledge, and can readily be accessed on the net. I'm sure one can find the racial make up of the post-Civil War Congress and State legislatures, the Army records of executions, and the wording of the Act of Reconciliation, but apparently not in Encarta.
(Incidently, Roy got out of prison after five years, and recently was named in a Federal enjoinment, requiring him to provide a written apology to some black folks he had maligned in a series of public pronouncements).
The Klan has moved into several areas of Constitutionally protected activities;
Religion- with the rise of the Christian Identity Movement, which believes that the Lost Tribe of Israel, was really a group of Anglo-Saxons who made it to America before the Asian "Indians" crossed the Bering Strait (a view which got a helluva boost recently, with the discovery of the Kennibuck Man skeleton and the Farmville, VA sites, pointing to the existence of a an earlier European "Native American" civilization 5 thousand years before the Asians crossed).
Free Speech- Newspapers and the Web, which thankfully due to education required to read, or access the net, has not resulted in any great increase of Klan membership. (I am further amazed at how Klan membership is vastly overreported by anti-Klan groups seeking donations and visability. My own investigation, covering several years, demonstrated that most of the Klan groups were made up of the same essential membership but with a different uniform and leader. The Morris Dees outfit was reporting on the Klan in PA that had some ten groups with some two hundred members. In fact, it was some ten idiots, each with their own klan, and the other nine idiots belonging to it.
Freedom of Assembly- political and group activities which, until they show signs of breaking a law, allow them to form militia groups, and run through the woods, shooting blanks at imaginary black rapists...