Report (and Testimony) of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (The "Klan Hearings")

Brian Powers

1. What is it? Describe its form and contents.

"The Klan Hearings" - or the Report (and Testimony) of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States - is a collection of the verbatim testimony gathered during the Congressional hearings to investigate the activity of the Ku Klux Klan in the antebellum South. It is a collection of 13 hardbound volumes of roughly 700 pages each.

2. When was it made? By whom? Why?

On March 21, 1871 the 42nd Congress issued a resolution for the appointment of a joint committee to investigate the current condition of the "late insurrectionary states" which included Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Although the committee was established with the goal to "investigate the condition of" these states, its real purpose was to investigate what they termed the "Ku Klux Conspiracy." This committee consisted of 7 Senators and 9 Representatives. The committee held hearings both in Washington DC as well as in the states of interest themselves. The testimony of all proceedings was published in 1872 by the Government Printing Office (Washington) as part of the Congressional Serial Set - a continual set of Congressional records and reports published and made available to the public in an effort to increase transparency (the Serial Set began in 1817 with the 15th Congress).

3. Who appears in it?

The source is a collection of the testimony from the hearings, so those that appear are the various witnesses called before the committee. The witnesses include local and state officials, suspected and know Klan sympathizers/members and local freedmen. There were up to 100 witnesses per state, so it is truly an exhaustive account made up of the testimony of a wide variety of people.

4. How is it organized?

The entire collection consists of 13 volumes. The first volume (Serial Volume No. 1484) is the final report of the Committee on their findings from all of the hearings which was submitted to Congress. It represents the views of the Committee members and includes sections of testimony that they deem important, incriminating or illustrative. The remaining 12 volumes are verbatim testimony from the various states. There is one volume for North Carolina (1485), 3 volumes for South Carolina (1486-8), 2 for Georgia (1489-90), 3 for Alabama (1491-3), 2 for Mississippi (1494-5) and one for Florida (1496). The final volume (1496) also contains miscellaneous testimony and documents.

5. How is it used? Does it have finding aids or supplemental material?

The first volume, the official report of the Committee, has an exhaustive index which cites people, places, incidents and themes discussed or referenced throughout the report. There is a similar index for the testimony from each state and it is located in the first volume for that given state but cites terms from all volumes.

6. How do you get access to it? Where it is physically located, and what strictures (if any) are placed on access?

The Report (and Testimony) of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States is part of the Congressional Serial Set. Consequently it resides in the Government Documents/Publications section of H-L Library which is located in the basement and through the glass doors towards the Hubbard stacks. The shelves to the left contain all of the Congressional Serial Set, sorted by volume number. As stated above, this portion of the set is comprised of volumes 1484-1496. Since this Committee was a joint committee of both House and Senate members there are two sets of volumes: one from the House and one from the Senate. The volume numbers mentioned above are for the Senate set, but the House set could be used as well. It is comprised of volumes 1529-1541. The distribution of States within these volume numbers is the same as for the Senate set.
These specific volumes are part of the small portion of the Serial Set that is under lock and key. Apparently, Serial Sets from this era contain rare maps and prints which lowly print thieves are just dying to get their hands on. (Fun Fact: When a notorious ring of print thieves was making its rounds through New England colleges Bowdoin escaped unscathed because these volumes were misfiled so the thieves were unable to locate them and steal the valuable pages) Because of this extra security a reference librarian, but not just any reference librarian must be available. The Government Documents librarian informed me that it is a particularly tricky lock to operate, and only her as well as a few other daytime librarians have mastered the task of unlocking it. Therefore, these volumes are accessible only during the hours of 9-5, M-F. However, if they are unlocked and removed from the shelves before 5, the librarian can lock the shelves and they can be returned to the circulation desk at any time (but you must let them know where they came from). These volumes are not for circulation and can only be read in the library.
While access would seem to be a pain, there is another way to access this source. The entire Congressional Serial Set has been digitized and is available through the Readex - Archive of Americana. The link can be found on the library list of databases under "U.S. Congressional Serial Set." The link takes you to a database of all of the Serials so to locate this specific source you would click on the link for the 42nd Congress and then search for "Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States." The search will return links to all of the volumes. The volumes are all available as fully searchable PDF files. The searching option is reportedly a little buggy, but could nonetheless be a huge timesaver.

7. What kinds of questions can it answer?

Due to its enormous scope and detail this source can answer a seemingly endless number of questions - granted they concern the Klan. It can provide information on incidents of violence which either were carried out by the Klan or targeted Klan members. It provides the names and occupations of the people involved in these attacks as well as their victims. It provides information about Klan organization and membership. It can be used to gather data regarding the size and sphere of influence of the Klan as well as the personal beliefs and motives of those who testified.