01 March 2011

They Called Themselves the KKK

They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

Having grown up in a time where race relations are markedly different than they were when my parents were my age, and having grown up in a place where the majority of the kids look like me (read: suburban white kids) I can’t say that I’ve had much contact or experience with the KKK – something I’m quite thankful for.  In her book, They Call Themselves the KKK, Bartoletti presents a comprehensive history – well, as comprehensive as is possible.  Because of the extremely secretive nature of the group, it is difficult to find information about the inner-workings of the club.  The information is based on Bartoletti’s research of thousands of slave narratives, newspapers, reports and diaries of people affected by the Klan.  While there is an obvious bias to the book, Bartoletti does an excellent job of showing the “white” side of the coin as well – after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, most wealthy plantation owners had nothing – their land had been ransacked by the Union Army, and their “property” had been taken away from them by people who lived far away and did not understand how things worked in the south.  All of a sudden, they no longer had workers to sow and harvest their crops, and they had competition in the market from their former slaves.  Bartoletti shows how the fear of losing their livelihood drove many whites to use propaganda and terror to try to maintain their power – and their way of life. She also shows how the former slaves refused to give up their newfound freedom and were willing to do everything they could to keep it.  And lastly, she showcases the unfailing courage of many men and women – regardless of the color of their skin – in the face of the rising terror created by the KKK.

This book was a wonderful read, even though many of the images and descriptions gave me nightmares.  Bartoletti not only gives a clear picture of the historical events surrounding the early years of the KKK, she also gives keen insight into the mindset of the various groups and their struggles during that time.

**This book was a finalist for the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction

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