JULY 1, 1870

Congress created the Department of Justice to handle the flood of post-Civil War litigation. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Amos T. Akerman, whose priority became the protection of Black voting rights from attacks by the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups. 

Congress aided that fight by passing additional laws that gave the department powerful tools to fight these violent white supremacist groups. These new laws enabled Akerman to obtain hundreds of convictions across the South. On one day in November 1871, 250 men in a South Carolina county confessed membership in the Klan. 

Historian William McFeely wrote of Akerman, “Perhaps no attorney general since his tenure … has been more vigorous in the prosecution of cases designed to protect the lives and rights of Black Americans.” 

But instead of rewarding Akerman, Grant dismissed him, and the battle to preserve these voting rights became less of a priority.

More on this day


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.