Burning of Cross

Burning of Cross

Burning of Cross

The burning of a cross in America is a symbolic act associated with hate, prejudice, and many, many injustices. The burning cross emerged during a time when racial tension was at its highest and members of the Ku Klux Klan used this as a symbol for their hatred of African Americans. In the South there has always been a major racial divide that still exists until this day. During a time when African American were fighting for equality and to live in a society free of discrimination while the opposition, some Southern White Americans, and members of the white supremacy group, the Ku Klux Klan fought to keep African Americans as second class citizens.


Burning of the cross originated from Scotland when warriors would light a cross as a symbol of faith for their journey into the battle (Adams, 1993). The Scots also used the cross as a warning with marauders or enemies attempted to bring battle to their doorstep. The Klan began in 1866 in Tennessee as a group similar to the Knights Templar as a mysterious society who dealt out justice in the countryside as they saw fit. The name of the Ku Klux Klan was derived from the Greek word kyklos, meaning “circle,” and the Scottish-Gaelic word “clan,” which was probably chosen for the sake of alliteration (Adams, 1993)

Originally the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan the group claims burning a cross is a ritual of the group based on an ancient ritual designed to create an unconquerable race of men. The Ku Klux Klan believes white men are this unconquerable race and should be the most powerful race on earth. Back when the Ku Klux Klan originated blood sacrifices were made to the fiery cross to ensure the white race would prevail. When the group originated in Pulaski, Tennessee as a secret society they wore masks to hide their identities.

The first burning of the cross occurred when William J. Simmons, the founder of the Klan in its second incarnation (1915-1944), cobbled together a cross and burned it at a meeting of the newly-established Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 (Adams, 1993). Flaming crosses have been a Klan trademark ever since but were not originally intended to intimidate but to instead honor the traditions of past Scottish clansmen. Overtime the use of the cross changed when people began to associate the burning cross with the Klan. The burning cross was then used to warn anyone who went against the Klan but especially against minorities after the Civil War.


The burning of the cross will always be a symbol of a terrible time in American history. White supremacy groups would burn crosses in front of the homes, church, and businesses of African American citizens who dared oppose their goal of white racial superiority. The KKK was determined to create fear through violence and burning crosses. African American citizens quickly began to understand the symbol of the cross. The burning cross in the front yard of an African American citizen’s home or business was designed to intimidate and force the African American citizen to vote the way to group wanted.

Cross burning began as a ritual of the Ku Klux Klan but ended up as a tool used for violence and intimidation. African American citizens with burning crosses in their front yards understood this was a warning from the white supremacist group and people that did not comply would mysteriously disappear or later be found hanging from a tree. The burning cross quickly became a symbol of hate and represented the ignorance of the people in the South before the social and political change that was ushered in with the Civil Rights Movement. While cross burning is a medieval practice, in the South it became a Racist practice perpetuated by Christian in the South.

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