Friday, January 15, 2016

Elaine Frantz Parsons's "Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction"

Elaine Frantz Parsons is associate professor of history at Duquesne University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction is about who Ku-Klux Klansmen thought they were, and why they committed violence against freedpeople and their allies in the way that they did. Defeated white men after the Civil War put on many different sorts of Klan costumes while attacking their black neighbors. Some had horns and animal skins. Some included elaborate masks with fake tongues and facial hair. Some used carnival colors and patterns and reflective materials. Some wore blackface, and many wore women’s dress.

These costumes worked differently, but all of them said that the man who wore them was out of control, and was not going to follow civilized rules. White southern men who dressed as Ku-Klux were saying that they were willing to use any sort of violence that would be useful to them: this would include murder, rape, theft, and a wide array of sadistic violence.
Hidden behind the Ku-Klux’s mask was a savage violence that, in the years immediately after the war, many were not yet willing publicly to acknowledge. Ku-Klux opponent Hugh Bond was horrified to learn, through accounts of Klan atrocities, that “the beast was so close under the skin of man.” Many Ku-Klux themselves seem to have conceived of the relationship of their violent to civilized aspects in a similar way.
Ku-Klux hid their violence under a costume, which not only removed the violent acts from their day-to-day identities, but also allowed it to appear a performance, which could make victim complaints seem less credible. In other parts of the book, I discuss how these costumes worked to turn individual attacks into “terrorism.”

This passage brings out a broader theme of the book: the Klan was so effective in part because it was able to exploit broader cultural ideas, ideas that often fascinated northern whites, to justify and frame its violence against black southerners. It also shows how different the first Klan (1866-1872) was from its revival in the 1920s in the wake of the 1915 release of Birth of a Nation. The second Klan was much more organized and less chaotic; in place of the terrifying carnival-like quality of the first Klan’s costumes, they purchased uniforms which were terrifying instead because of their military-like sameness.
Learn more about Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue