The Knights of the White Camellia was a secret organization of White men formed in the lower Southern states in the Reconstruction period. Its members were pledged to support the supremacy of the White race, to oppose the amalgamation of the races, to resist the social and political encroachment of the so-called carpetbaggers, and to restore White control of the government. The order was organized in New Orleans in May 1867 by Col. Alcibiade DeBlanc and soon spread throughout the lower South, reaching as far west as Central Texas and as far east as the Carolinas. Though similar in some respects to, and frequently confused by the public with, the Ku Klux Klan, the White Camellias denied any connection whatsoever with that order. Their activities were confined almost solely to the southern parts of the Southern states, a region farther south in general from that occupied by the Klan. The White Camellias operated with less publicity but with perhaps even more effectiveness than did the Klansmen, although they did not employ such violent methods. They are thought to have been even more numerous than the Klansmen, and their secrets better kept. They were typically better organized than the Klan, and their membership, which was generally from a higher social stratum, included newspaper editors, physicians, lawyers, law-enforcement officials, public figures, and even a few former officers of the Union army living in the region. Many of the members freely admitted their membership, and officers sometimes identified themselves as members before congressional or legislative committees and detailed their organization and some of their activities. Though some renegade members committed atrocities, many others left the order because of its lack of militancy.
Like the Klan, the Knights had an elaborate secret ceremony and ritual, and their customs included signs, grips, and passwords. The society's name was taken from the snow-white bloom of a Southern flowering shrub, which, of course, was intended to symbolize the purity of the White race. The constitution of the order, adopted at a convention in New Orleans in June 1868, provided for an organizational structure similar to that of the Klan, albeit with more conventional nomenclature. Individual members were organized into councils, the membership of which might vary from five up to several hundred. Each council in turn had a commander, lieutenant commander, guard, secretary, and treasurer, all elected for a period of one year. In Texas the membership of the Knights appears to have been concentrated in East Texas, particularly in those counties along the Louisiana border, though councils were found as far west as Waco. As in other areas of the South, the order tended to draw its members from the more respectable parts of society, who generally shunned the activities of outlaw gangs such as those of Ben Bickerstaff and Cullen M. Baker. By 1869 the Knights of the White Camellia were on the decline. There was some discussion of reorganizing the Knights in late 1868, after a Republican newspaper had exposed its rituals, passwords, and signals. A convention was held in New Orleans in January 1869, but by that time many of the councils had already disbanded. Some of the more strident members joined the Klan or the White Leagues, and by 1870 for all intents and purposes the Knights had ceased to exist as an organization.
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James Smallwood, "When the Klan Rode: White Terror in Reconstruction Texas," Journal of the West 25 (October 1986). Allen W. Trelease, White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction (New York: Harper and Row, 1971). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Knights of the White Camellia,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 18, 2020