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FBI Files: Former Louisiana Governor Arranged Payments To KKK To Stop Violence During The 1960s

The Advocate reported: how a former Louisiana governor arranged payments to the Ku Klux Klan to avoid violence by Civil Rights opponents:

“As Louisiana’s governor in the mid-1960s, John J. McKeithen was behind payments to Ku Klux Klan leaders that were meant to suppress the racial violence swirling throughout Louisiana at the time, FBI records show... the declassified FBI documents, obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act, point to McKeithen’s use of the Louisiana State Sovereignty Commission, which was created by the Legislature to keep state control of civil rights issues, to send the privately raised money to Klan leaders.”

Several states formed sovereignty commissions, including Mississippi. Learn about the Louisiana State Sovereignty Commission (LSSC). FBI refers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For those unfamiliar with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), background from

"A group including many former Confederate veterans founded the first branch of the Ku Klux Klan as a social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866. The first two words of the organization’s name supposedly derived from the Greek word “kyklos,” meaning circle. In the summer of 1867, local branches of the Klan met in a general organizing convention and established what they called an “Invisible Empire of the South.” Leading Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest was chosen as the first leader, or “grand wizard,” of the Klan... The organization of the Ku Klux Klan coincided with the beginning of the second phase of post-Civil War Reconstruction, put into place by the more radical members of the Republican Party in Congress... From 1867 onward, African-American participation in public life in the South became one of the most radical aspects of Reconstruction, as blacks won election to southern state governments and even to the U.S. Congress. For its part, the Ku Klux Klan dedicated itself to an underground campaign of violence against Republican leaders and voters (both black and white) in an effort to reverse the policies of Radical Reconstruction and restore white supremacy in the South... n 1915, white Protestant nativists organized a revival of the Ku Klux Klan near Atlanta, Georgia, inspired by their romantic view of the Old South as well as Thomas Dixon’s 1905 book “The Clansman” and D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.” This second generation of the Klan was not only anti-black but also took a stand against Roman Catholics, Jews, foreigners and organized labor. It was fueled by growing hostility to the surge in immigration..."

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) also provides information about the KKK:

"Since the 1970s the Klan has been greatly weakened by internal conflicts, court cases, a seemingly endless series of splits and government infiltration. While some factions have preserved an openly racist and militant approach, others have tried to enter the mainstream, cloaking their racism as mere "civil rights for whites." Today, the Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members..."

You can find a link to the Advocate article on the SPLC Facebook page. Now, back to the Advocate news story, which was unclear whether the payments came from the former governor's personal funds or from state funds. Payments were made to both the KKK and to:

"... the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense, an armed African-American group that protected demonstrators and civil rights workers."

The payments were made:

"In an apparent attempt to camouflage the Klan payments arranged by the Sovereignty Commission, recipients were paid through Fountain Insurance Agency in Baton Rouge, which no longer exists. The owner of the agency, identified by investigating FBI agents from the New Orleans field office only as a member of the Sovereignty Commission, would mail “insurance checks” to Klansmen’s homes and later be reimbursed by the commission. Another way the payments reached the Klansmen, the FBI noted, was through the Monroe police chief at the time..."

Were these payments ethical? Was it the right thing to do? Thankfully, somebody filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to bring the issue and documents to light. A logical next question is: were the payments successful at avoiding or minimizing violence? The Advocate reported:

“Whether McKeithen’s anti-violence strategy worked is unclear. U.S. Department of Justice and FBI investigations detail at least a half-dozen Klan-related homicides, scores of beatings and dozens of fire bombings in central Louisiana between 1964 and 1969. Whether it would have been worse without the payments will never be known... the KKK soon soured on McKeithen, whose moves toward improved race relations and rights for black people did not sit well in Louisiana Klan circles. By 1967, handbills circulating in Bogalusa accused McKeithen of asking for the Klan vote and then double-crossing them. The Klan called for McKeithen and other Louisiana officeholders to be “tarred and feathered.” ”

The News Star also reported the story. It would be great if graduate Business schools added this as teaching cases to their curriculum to prepare future leaders. It raises several interesting questions:

  • Were the payments ethical?
  • Were there more payments than the $10,000 cited?
  • Were payments from the governor's personal funds or from state funds?
  • Is it appropriate to make payments to a terrorist organization?
  • What other states (or governors) made payments?
  • Is this leadership?
  • Do the ends justify the means?
  • What next in Louisiana?

That these payments were made reinforce the fact of just how violent the KKK was, and how widely it was known for violence. Given this shameful history, making amends is always a good first step toward reconciliation. This news report reinforces my opinion that the second biggest threat to humans after climate change is: ethics.

What are your opinions?


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