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THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK: THE BIRTH OF AN AMERICAN TERRORIST GROUP

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 9 years, 10 months ago

11 June 2010 THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK: THE BIRTH OF AN AMERICAN TERRORIST GROUP by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Houghton Mifflin, August 2010, 176p., ISBN: 978-0-618-44033-7 

 

"Although the actual [membership] number for the secret organization will never be clear, this much is known: large numbers of white Southerners willingly joined the Ku Klux Klan not because the Klan frightened or intimidated them but because another kind of fear drove them to join."Today, psychologists explain that people who join groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are insecure and feel a need to belong to something that makes them feel powerful or superior.  Perhaps W.E.B. Du Bois, historian and Civil Rights leader, understood Klansmen best: 'Those human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something,' explained Du Bois.  'Of what?  Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime."

 

This is an aspect of Susan Campbell Bartoletti's powerful and thought-provoking new book that I so appreciate: the parts in which she seeks to bring meaning to why these things happen -- how we came to have homegrown terrorism in America and why it gained such extensive levels of support. 

 

THEY CALLED THEMSELVES THE KKK is a tough book for me.  I saw too much pain and anger on the evening news as a young child in the Sixties; my childhood innocence was scarred by the unforgettable images and film of those who so hated or feared black people.  And I know, from firsthand experience, that too much of that hatred and fear still remains.  

 

As Professor Christopher Parker of the WISER Institute at the University of Washington recently reported, in discussing a political science poll studying racism in America:

 

ÔÇťAmerica is definitely not beyond race. For instance, the Tea Party, the incipient movement that claims to be committed to reining in what they perceive as big government, appears to be motivated by more than partisanship and ideology. Approximately 45% of Whites either strongly or somewhat approve of the movement. Of those, only 35% believe Blacks to be hardworking, only 45% believe Blacks are intelligent, and only 41% think that Blacks are trustworthy."

 

It would seem that in order to write outstanding nonfiction for young people, there are a couple of things that one needs to accomplish really well .  One is the need for impeccable research, including extensive exploration of primary source materials, the probing of multiple points of view, the ability to sort through myth to find fact.  The other is having the perspective and understanding to transform a lot of great information into a memorable and honest story.  The author succeeded on both counts with her previous book, HITLER YOUTH: GROWING UP IN HITLER'S SHADOW which, among other awards, garnered a Newbery Honor, a Sibert Honor, an Orbis Pictus honor, and a Sydney Taylor Notable.  She thoroughly succeeds again here.

 

"The ranks of the Klan filled with former Confederate soldiers, including generals and cavalrymen who had shared a common bond during the war.  The Klan drew members from all classes of men -- wealthy planters, small farmers, and poor laborers; doctors and lawyers; judges and sheriffs; merchants; clergy and church members; educated men and illiterate men.  These men from diverse backgrounds were united by their belief in limited government, white supremacy, and a fear that white people would suffer personal loss if black people enjoyed the same rights and privileges,  They wanted to restore the South to the proper hands."

 

For some, a book is over when you get to the beginning of the back matter.  But in this case, the "Bibliography and Source Notes" is absolutely essential reading as Bartoletti brings it all into the here and now while explaining about her travels, her researching, and the trail of literature she followed in crafting this masterwork of understanding what happened and why it happened. 

 

It is, of course, through reading a book like this -- and understanding the "Why?" -- that we gain the insight necessary to help stop the flames of hatred and fear from spreading in whatever direction they next travel.

 

Richie Partington, MLIS
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FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.

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