They Called Themselves The K.K.K.
You'd think we'd have achieved racial equality in America by the
twenty-first century. Some people like to pretend or believe that we
have. But in a world where black men are way overrepresented in the
penal system; black boys are more likely than white peers to be
classified as special needs, to be expelled or suspended from school,
or be shunted into the school to prison pipeline; and white police
officers shoot unarmed black youngsters that does not seem to be the
And, of course, you know that when you look back in this
nation's history you find quite a bit of racial baggage. Susan
Campbell Bartoletti, in her They Called Themselves The K.K.K. The
Birth Of An American Terrorist Group, introduces young readers to a
The idea for the book came to Bartoletti when she saw a statue
in honor of Nathan Bedford Forest who was the first K.K.K. Grand
Wizard. She wondered where the statues commemorating the K.K.K.
victims were. When she found out that none existed she began studying
thousands of pages of historical primary sources and became deeply
impressed by the bravery of all who went up against the Klan. I
reckon this book is her form of commemorative statue.
The Civil War ended with a lot of bitterness and fear on the
part of the defeated Confederacy. A way of life was, in the words of
the title of a best selling novel, gone with the wind. Not everyone
in the South had owned slaves. Very few had huge plantations. But
all whites, rich to destitute, had skin color superiority. At the
war's end there was a great deal of fear that the newly freed ex
slaves would see themselves as equal to whites, compete for education
and decent jobs, and even start the mingling of races.
Six returning Confederate officers seemed to find the enforced
peace harder to cope with than the war. "...Like most white
Southerners who had sided with the Confederacy, these men...believed
they had fought valiently for a noble cause: to preserve a government
and way of life that they considered superior and a covenant with God,
only to be defeated by a more powerful industrial North. The despair
they felt at their "Lost Cause" filled their letters and diaries. So
did defiance and fear at what the coming months might bring."
Those six good old boys started a club that rapidly got out of
hand. Dressed like ghosts, often riding similarly disguised horses,
they would ride at night terrorizing and punishing blacks who could be
whipped or hung for offenses such as registering to vote, teaching
dissent, acting "uppity," or even just turning a small piece of land
into a prosperous farm.
The scope of Bartoletti's research, as delineated in her
bibliography and source notes is amazing. Sadly not all her research
was limited to reading documents from the past. She attended a clan
conference in the Ozark Mountains.
"There began my weekend with the Klan, a weekend lit with fire-
and-brimstone speeches that warned of the dangers of racial
integration and Jews; that claimed America was intended for white
people; that condemned public schools and taxes; that burned with an
altar call of Klan members...dedicating themselves to their race,
their God, and their country and then shouting 'white power!'. The
weekend ended with a twenty-five-foot cross burning against the night
sky, surrounded by men and at least two women in white robes."
Bartoletti was chilled when a Klan woman told her that they no
longer need robes because, "a silent majority in America agrees with
us." If that doesn't give her book must read status I can't imagine
On a personal note, after an unseasonably warm December, Maine has
experienced a rather intense and brisk snow storm.
A great big shout out goes out to those who work to keep roads clear
(including my husband) and respond to emergencies (including my son).
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod