White Supremacy, the KKK, and Charlottesville

If you’ve never watched the documentary, The Ku Klux Klan: A Secret History, now would be a good time to do so. There are some historical inaccuracies in it, but overall, it provides a revealing look at the KKK’s history.

One of the most important parts of the documentary is the first twelve minutes. Before considering the KKK’s history, the filmmakers focused on the modern-day (circa 1990s) Klan. In interviews with Klan members and through video of Klan rallies, viewers see and hear firsthand the organizations’ rhetoric and ideology. [1]

The documentary came to mind immediately when I saw the news about the “alt-right” rally on the University of Virginia campus. In the opening segment, Klan members discuss the Christian cross’ meaning to them. One can’t miss the similarity between the night-time ritual and racist rhetoric of the Klan and the events of last night.

In the eighteen years that I’ve used this documentary, most of my students have acknowledged that their impression of white supremacy is what you see in this segment: what appears to be a largely lower-class, less-educated group. Of course, the Klan has evolved over the decades of its existence, from a small regional organization in the Reconstruction era to a much larger and powerful national organization in the 1910s and 1920s.

With the Klan of today but a small portion of the white supremacist movement in the United States, I’ve wondered if showing the opening segment of this documentary was still worthwhile. I think I have my answer.

1. In reality, the Klan is not one organization but many.

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