Thursday, March 21, 2013
While driving back to NY for Presidents’ Day Weekend, my mom and I tuned in to Terry Gross’ Fresh Air on NPR. She was interviewing author David Cunningham on his newly released book, Klansville, USA: The Rise And Fall Of The Civil Rights-Era Klu Klux Klan. Beginning with an old recording, which is described as one of the “popular original songs played at North Carolina Klan rallies,” Cunningham traces through a historical overview of the KKK and their power amongst southern states during the civil rights movement. Listen to the recording of the interview provided on NPR’s website and you will hear this song within the first couple of minutes. Be warned, it is extremely disturbing.
I wanted to share this with all of you because it is a part of civil rights history that we have yet to discuss. I think that this is a difficult topic to talk about for many reasons. For me, I feel as if most of what I know about the KKK is from movies or television. We briefly discussed Django Unchained earlier this semester, but Tarantino’s portrayal of the Klan in this film completely rubbed me the wrong way. I understand that he was going for humor in the scene with Jonah Hill, but it made light of the horrific real life attacks of the KKK (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWZL1FJSkvk).
In this Fresh Air interview the author discusses the rise of the white supremacist group during the civil rights era and how they targeted black Southerners. “At first, the KKK's aims bent toward amusement, especially the playing of ‘pranks’ on local black residents… Groups of klansmen would embark on nighttime rides, paying unwelcome visits to black families.” These outings were not simply for the harmless pleasure of Klan members, explains Cunningham, they were an attempt to implement tactics of the antebellum patrol system. “Like those slave patrols, early klan activity maintained racial subjugation by terrorizing the black population. In much of the Reconstruction-era South, black freed persons remained subject to curfews limiting free assembly and especially the formation of schools. Klan members would beat and whip violators of such racial codes.”
The goal of the KKK was to instill fear in the black community, and, to ultimately, eliminate their human rights. The song that Gross plays at the beginning of this segment may be seen as a form of expression, some may even call it music… But in contrasting those horrifically disturbing and hateful words to the poetry, music, and art we have looked at in class, one can better appreciate the civil rights movement. Its leaders and activists attacked racism with confidence, compassion, and a love for humanity that completely counteracted the mission of the KKK. The anger and desire of black activists to see what they believed to be a better America was turned into beautiful paintings, momentous speeches, and unforgettable songs, not murder and fear.