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Letter to the Teacher
As all of you know, in the wake of the Civil War the Ku Klux Klan was born in Tennessee in 1866 as a social club. Led by Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan became a powerful force against the efforts of those pressing for Reconstruction.  A series of increasingly stringent federal laws aimed at the Klan culminated in the Ku Klux Klan Hearings and finally, on April 20, 1871, in the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act.
The simulation described below is a fairly simple one and is intended to take no more than a day and a half of class time.  Each student will be assigned one or two Harper's Weekly documents and then expected to testify before the Ku Klux Klan Congressional Committee.  (Students double as both witnesses and as members of the Ku Klux Klan Congressional Committee.)  If possible, I would not assign the readings randomly.  Some are quite extensive, some are very brief.  Some are much more offensive than others.  Some articles - particularly the editorials - are written with a powerful vocabulary.  You know your students well; match the material with their talents.  Depending on the nature of the material assigned , each student may describe  what he or she has read, may make recommendations to the Committee, or even do both.  Very bright students may decide to turn the obvious bias of Harper's Weekly on its head and defend the Klan's activities.
This latter suggestion may be seen as wildly incorrect politically, but a teacher using this material with some subtlety could help a student pull it off.  I have made a decision to try to keep the most offensive material out of this collection.  That said, there is much left here that could offend many: after all, the Ku Klux Klan wasn't an equal opportunity employer.
Depending on the level of responsibility of your students, you may decide to ask them to write a précis of their anticipated testimony.  That way you can fix up any problems a particular student may have before he or she testifies.  However, if you have taken some care in your original assignments this may not be necessary.  I have not included the mini-paper in the description of the activity below aimed at the students. 
The next part of the activity is critical.  Every student must testify before the committee.  (You can limit the time this will take by arbitrarily announcing that each presentation may take no more that one minute or two minutes - or you can even vary the amount allotted to each student based on the length of the material assigned.)  However you do it, the activity must culminate with a paper to ensure that the students are listening carefully to each other.  The paper should describe, in detail, the recommendations for new legislation (if any) to address the issues raised by the existence of the Ku Klux Klan.  It should also explain why the legislation should take the form it does.  Evidence and support for this paper may only be drawn from the presentations made in class. If you don't take this position firmly, students will simply turn to encyclopedias, textbooks and other secondary resources, or the internet to come up with the "right" answer.  Of course there is no right answer.  There are only well-written and well-defended papers or poorly completed efforts.
After the students have completed their papers, you should turn to the text of the Ku Klux Klan Act, provided as Appendix A to this letter, and ask the students to compare their efforts with the legislation passed by Congress.  Doing so should put a marvelous cap on the activity and will ensure that the students don't confuse the real events  of the late 1860's and early 1870's with the simulation as played out in class.  (The language of the Ku Klux Klan Act is rather opaque and I have provided a simpler version as Appendix B if you believe it is necessary to use it with your students.)
Lastly, remember that this is your activity.  For example, I have chosen to provide material on the Klan from Harper's Weekly written after the April date of the Ku Klux Klan Act.  I did so because much of the material between May and December 1871 is rich with detail. My decision may offend your historical sensibilities.  Fine.  Just don't assign that later material.
In addition, there are a number of other exercises you could do with the same primary source material.  Students could write a textbook section on the Klan.  They could contrast their understanding of the Klan with the coverage in the textbook the class is using.  They could undertake a debate on the appropriateness of the Government stepping into a "state or local matter" such as actions of the Klan and then contrast that discussion with similar issues today.  You might hold off on a discussion of the Klan during this period and wait until the birth of the new Ku Klux Klan in 1915 to compare the two.  There is no one right way to approach what can be a very sensitive topic.  However you decide to do it, the Harper's Weekly material included in this simulation can be an important educational aid.

Very truly yours,

Eric Rothschild


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