tv Lectures in History Edward Ball Life of a Klansman CSPAN November 11, 2021 2:32pm-4:15pm EST
c-span fan, and every purchase helps support our non-profit operation. shop now or any time at c-spanshop.org. >> best selling author edward ball talks about his books "slaves in the family" and "life of a klansman" and of course taught at the citadel military college that looks at why a new african-american history museum is being built in charleston, south carolina. >> mayor, do you want to welcome once again edward ball to our classroom. >> indeed, professor. thank you very much. i'm so grateful and honored edward ball has so generously given his time to return to our class today. it's such a wonderful example of
the power of a book, you know, power of a great book. having written the book and known about the book and known the book, the international african-american museum would not be under construction. and it's well under construction and will be finished during july of next year, and that's all because of edward ball's powerful work and wonderful work. i'm sure all of you have questions and comments about the book, so i hope you'll take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. questions or comments?
>> hello, mayor. thank you for inviting me to come visit with you all. i'm happy to do a q&a if you like. and i thought it would also be appropriate just to start by reading a couple of pages from this book that you all have in your hands. the passage that i think is resonant more than many others in the book is one about the last day of enslavement on one of the plantations. and i thought i'd read a couple of pages describing that day
because it's the day when back of slavery was broken and people breathed the air of liberation in many ways for the first time. there's a place called limerick plantation as you can probably remember from this book, 25 miles north of charleston on the east branch of the river. the last day of slavery came as limerick on february 26, 1865. william ball, that's the master of the place sat in the dining room with a bible in front of him reading aloud to his family and a few of his people. there were several african-americans in this dining room on that day, the morning of sunday, february 26th. william read church services for gatherings at home. it was sunday and everyone in the room black and white knew
the end was upon them. before long a dispatch of grease city yankees as william's son isaac called them would arrive outside the door. the prayer group numbered about ten seated around the stable where william's mother, his sister and wife and daughter. beyond the wife along the plastered walls was an elderly black woman, the plantation's black matriarch who lived nearest the family. she brought up williams four sons and raised her own children on the side.
the bible reading was from the back of lamentations. it was a mournful passage about the fate of jerusalem condemned by god for its sins. she shafs great among the nations and princess among the provinces, read william. she weepeth sore in the night. the white people in the room thought the bible passage fit their predicament. a week after the victors arrived, they sent raiding parties to the plantations. as william was reading from the
bible the cavalrymen rode up to the mansion, threw open the door and demanded to talk to the black village. among the group was henry, a 9-year-old boy with a broad face and light skin. years later henry would recall this day in a letter to mary ball. a young woman named sylvia one of the plantation's seamstresses also came down. a gardener who kept the yard and flower bed. and the rest came down and the yankee told the crowd they were free. the ball women at this time evidently worried about rape. throughout the war the press have stoked morale with charges if the southerners gave in yankees would ravish the south and would hint that free black men would do the same. mary ball wrote when the
celebration began outside she and her sister-in-law, jane, ran upstairs. each put on two heavy dresses loading themselves down in a way that would frustrate sexual attack. william ball had buried the -- in a swamp near the house. grabbing the last pieces that were still in the house mary and jane put them in cloth bags and stowed the loot next to their bodies under layers of petticoats. the yankee soldiers arrived and perused through the house. commander of the yankee black company, a colonel james beacher, came from a family of anti-slavery activists in the north. his half brother was an abolitionist and pastor at
plymouth church in brooklyn. a similar scene was repeated as each was raided by yankee troops. the balls feared the worst, but in the end the soldiers didn't free people, just snatched a few hands. the single exception came at buck hall plantation formerly home to william ball's cousin. the buck hall mansion, work buildings and crops were burned to the ground by federal soldiers and freed ball slaves. despite the slaughter of the war no one not even on buck hall was hurt. and so it was. it's possible to look into the telescope into the past and see
how slavery came to an end on specific places at specific times, and it's a fascinating story. and i told this story just now from a diary kept by a woman who lived on this plantation. but elsewhere i spent a lot of time with a family named lucas in charleston whose predecessors, great-grandparents, had been on that very place, limerick plantation, on that very day and who handed down oral tradition and stories describing that very day. in terms that were nearly identical to the ones that were written down by women who were in that dining room when the yankees showed up on the lawn.
so there's black oral tradition and white written tradition. and they came together to make a fuller portrait. anyway, with that, have you all gotten anything on your mind from this book that you want to raise with me? >> yes, sir, i have a couple of questions. but i'll keep it to one for you. i was wondering if you could touch on the relationship of previously enslaved african-americans with like their previous owners and just how that kind of dynamic was. because i understand service or whatever, but i wonder your experience on that. >> i think it was as various as people and families themselves. my best estimate is that one half of emancipated african-americans left the
plantations where they had been enslaved and staked out new lives elsewhere. north carolina, in georgia or tennessee they fled or they went to spartanburg or somewhere because they wanted to get as far as they could from that home place. and one half remained on the plantations and became share crop farmers when the enslavement -- the plantations where many of them became share crop operations. and my experience talking to dozens of african-american families who have oral tradition about the reconstruction period is their experiences varied.
some wanted to remain if you like in proximity to their former enslavers because those white families were a principle source of income and resources and not least a place to live. and the community of african-americans remained largely intact. and so they staked out relationships with the former enslavers that were in some ways had points of resemblance to ones that they had just broken by freeing themselves. and on the other hand, there were those families who detested what they had been forced to experience and wanted to get as
far away from mr. and mrs. ball as they could. so i think it varied, taylor. >> thank you. >> sure. >> hello, mr. ball. i wanted to thank you for coming out once again. i appreciate your time. well, actually, i had the pleasure to present my project to my fellow peers last week. and this research consisted of -- >> oops, we lost you, melanie. >> sorry. anyways, i had the pleasure to share with my fellow peers my mid-term project that we had, and i wanted to touch on that, like your research. i wanted to applaud you like last time i applaud you on how deep you went in with your
history and the accuracy of the history. i wanted to ask questions about the research in general. i know it's a very general question, but i found it difficult, you know, doing this research. and i was assigned five people and i only had one person that i could really find more information on. so how did you go about all of that research you did throughout the book? how would you explain that process or all of that? >> you had five people from what period that you had to research? >> i believe the census i looked at would be from 1840s up until 1950s because i have some sources here. i'll just give you that range, not that accurate but --
>> yeah. well, i had the advantage of writing this book of 3 1/2 years of full time labor, and i was able to go to archives and hold the papers of the plantations i wrote about as well as the papers of white families who controlled hundreds of other plantations. the key was a piece of good fortune, being able to identify where an african-american family lived. and if you can do that using oral tradition or circumstantial
evidence from the year 1870 and 1865, and i can describe exactly what kind of evidence i'm referring to, then you can with some luck find the papers of the wife who had -- which then might have anecdotal stories about enslaved individuals. and that's what it would have been painstaking to accomplish. but around 1870 as you know, melanie, the census records show for the first time the use of surname by african-americans, the first use of surnames by african-americans. and using those surnames let's
say you have the name betty hampton, you could be lucky enough to find in the plantation records from five years earlier lists of enslaved people that include betty and her children. and using the census records which has been named hampton and betty and her children you can match these records to the plantation records. that was the crux of what the slaves in the family did. there are other places where you can find the magic key. one of them is in the records of the friedman's bureau, which was the agency established in 1866 to try to help african-americans transition to a life of freedom. and in the records of the
so, they were given the names and maybe a connection to either a city directory or a census record? and then they were charged with building a profile based on mostly ancestry.com research. >> yes. >> and i think all of us struggled with it tremendously. when we were able to make the connections, i think there was fabulous revelations that were made but i think it also just gave us a little window into -- you know, it was an edward ball-inspired project, frankly. and it gave us a little window into the work that you did so long ago. >> right. i see. i understand. yeah. well, ancestry is a marvelous resource. and yet, the public records that you're able to retrieve at your
finger tips now are sometimes inadequate to constructing family narratives. they are very partial. they are a first step. and constructing a family narrative with some flesh on it does require talking face to face with folks and finding folks that it will have family memories from a hundred years ago. and with their participation and collaboration. using those oral traditions to make a flesh and blood family history. >> right. if it's okay, i'd like to ask another question. >> of course.
>> so, through my reading, i kemt referencing back to earlier in the story, whenever you mentioned the plantations. i am from monk's corner. so, was wondering if, off the top of your head, anything significant that happened or stood out to you about monk's corner and research you did? >> whew. yeah. well, monk's corner was you know 150 years ago, a cross roads, and it was a place where mr. monk had a general store at
the corner of what is now what? 51 and -- >> highway 52 and the canal. >> that's where it was, yeah. but they were talking 250 years ago. a lot of black folks leaving the plantations on copa river settled along and around what is now 52 and by sweat and tears, you know, were able to acquire tiny homesteads. sometimes from the former slave owners on the west branch. you know the geography as wellads anybody. so, you can picture what i'm talking about. one of the things that is exceptional about this history,
along the copa river, is the fact that it survives at all. you know that when the raiding parties from the union army came in from charleston and went up the ashley river and burned most of the plantations along the ashley river, whereas, they went up the river and they did not burn. they only burned one, which was the one i described in this reading, buck hall. and almost all the others survived. as a consequence, i think that the outcome was actually somewhat more stable on the river than the ashtly river after the civil war. so, i don't have a hair-raising anecdote that i can toss to you, taylor.
and i'm not inclined to make one up. so, it's interesting that, you know, monk's corner was one thing, 150 years ago, and it's now something else. is monk's corner predominantly african-american? or half and half african-american? half white? >> i'd probably say 50/50. you have larger sections of the city that are predominantly african-american. >> right. yeah. and i think that fact dates from right after the civil war, when african-americans left the plan
orientations and established new lives. some of the white folks who owned the plantations on the west branch bordering monk's corn were not eager to sell little parcels of land to african-americans. and that was again a matter of chance. a matter of family disposition. how this white family experienced their loss of status and how the next white family experienced their loss of status. whether they wanted to help some of the african-american families that they'd enslaved or not. and so, yeah.
those are just some thoughts here and there about monk's corner. >> thank you. i was just -- whenever i was reading it, i was reading about the plantations that didn't get burned. i don't know if you know of [ inaudible ] plantation. er for it's a huge one in monk's corner. i didn't know if anything effected them because it's so large. i would assume they would have a backlash, in a sense. >> i don't know the specifics about given plan orientation. but there were 50 plantations up and down the river and on either side of it. of course, i'm not in charleston. i'm in connecticut where i live. i'm not in the holy city.
but my heart is with you and i wish i could be with you. when the epidemic finally lifts, i'll make my reservations immediately to come spend some time once again. i want to talk today about the kluklux, refers to the militia. words that share familiarity that only people who knew actually marauders in the white supremacist movement could use. members of the ku klux klan from 150 years ago, when they first came together, did not see themselves as founders of movement.
there's a lot of denial or unwillingness to look it in the face. when i started to work on this book, i began to meet african-american family after african-american family who had oral tradition that said my great great grandfather was man named ball and he came from this particular plantation. for reasons that you describe, there are few paper trails that you can follow that leads to the coupling of a white enslaver and
enslaved woman. there are many african-american families who know who their white cousins might be and yet there's there's a difficult evidence trail. i knew i wanted to write about some of the families that had this experience and this oral tradition with their collaboration, participation and yet i could only write about those families if i had enough persuasive evidence that would convince a reader that our family was related.
the specifics of the researcher are almost so obscure. there's a master that showed he's unmarried. there's a woman on the place named harriet and she has a son and james ball, the unmarried james ball sells the plantation, buys another place and moves to it and the only person, according to the paper record that goes with him is harriet
and her son. they resettle there. further more james ball dies and the record shows that he leaves $500 to harriett and to know other african-american. things like that have kind of -- which is circumstantial evidence but persuasive. in the case of a couple of families, i would find photographs of james ball and of family berkeley county. had a photograph of their great grandfather who was purported to be the son of james ball. i compare these and it was strong family resemblance. it's very difficult to excavate the details of this very painful
wilson to your family? >> it was deep. she was the matriarch of the halston family, if i'm not mistaken. she was a case of, like the one i was just describing with james ball. her enslaver was a man called john harlston who was a cousin in the family. indicate wilson was his partner, if you like, on a place called elwood plantation up on the east branch -- i'm sorry, the west branch, i think. what's extraordinary about these two indicate wilson and john holston is they had eight children over a period of 25
years. it's not a relationship that was consensual. a relationship that kate wilson underto do with willingness and a relationship characterized by love. it has to be described in a complicated way. the evidence suggested it was not a relationship that was based upon sexual assault. if it survivored for 25 years and produced eight children and these eight children received money and education from their deceased white father.
about that. how was that handled in a white family? >> yeah. >> it was handled in a variety of ways. there's two models that come to mind. one is there's a white couple. slave owning couple in the big house. there are 50 african-americans who live in right adjacent to the big house. the husband in that white couple is of a personality that wishes to avail himself of sexual pleasure.
he does so either by force or threat or some kind of bargaining, quid pro quo relationship with women on the slave street. the white wife is probably aware of her husband's nighttime -- perhaps he's not doing this all the time but perhaps he actually establishes a second family, plantation. it sounds like this is one template, to me. the wife is aware of it and it's just an awful kind of poison circulating in the household, in the white household.
not to mention on the slave street. that's one template. another template is the young son, this is probably more common. the young sons of the white land owners often had their first sexual experiences as 16, 17-year-old men with enslaved women. that was a kind of institutional at aspect of the slave master relationship that a young white man became actually apprenticed or took advantage of young black women on the plantation for his own sexual experience. as we know from our own memories in history of the south, white
women were not, for generations and generations, allowed to be sexually active. young white men are forbidden from socially and many other ways forbidden from sexual love with white women. enslaved african-american women are often the mothers of children. we all know the story of strong thurman. strong thurman resembled the template almost exactly. he was an 18-year-old kid and fathered a child with the one of the cooks in the family home.
i think those are the two main templates. >> any other questions of edward? >> you want to talk about the hard stuff. you want to talk about the real nitty gritty. >> i have a question. >> i read a lot of the ball slaves did not take after the ball name once they were freed. they were treated pretty well, like they were educated. i was wondering why do you think a lot of slaves didn't take on your family name.
>> yeah, well, the former -- the people formally enslaved by the ball were not universally treated well and not universally educated. there is a pattern that a lot of african-americans did not carry the names of their former enslavers. in alabama and mississippi, it's much more common that african-americans carry the surnames of their former enslavers. there is tradition that goes as follows. the biggest slave master at the end of the civil war, his name is william ball. he owned 12 plantations and
enslaved 900 people. did not, actually, he actually presented himself to huge meetings of the former ball slaves and said, do not take my name. perhaps he did this in a strict way or perhaps he was more gentle about a request. i just don't know. his desire was that former ball slaves do not carry the name ball. in 95% of the cases, former ball slaves do not carry the name ball. it's about 1 in 20 that did use the name ball.
i don't believe it's widely true. this was a point in the life of man and a woman and they had this enormous sense of possibility and they could select a name of their own choosing. use it publicly and use it legally and share it with their children. millions of african-americans chose names. in the case of the low country family, you'll see by looking at the lists of sharecrop contracts and the census record themselves
that people chose surnames that were being used by white folks elsewhere. they did not choose surnames that came from the family of their former enslaver. they might have chosen the name of a simmons. they night have chosen the name simmons, a white family that lived 25 miles away whom they had some regard for. they might have chose the name of hanson, a white family they had some regard for. that's how it -- that's one way that it worked. >> thank you. >> sure. sure. >> we might have time for one more quick question before we leave to take a break and invite the larger public into the class. anyone with a final question?
african-american to investigate their family histories. to investigate your family history has a therapeutic effect. it gives an unusual and unexpected strength to learn about the hard parts of one's family history. i'm describing the african-americans who find time to do this as well as white folks who want to look into the hard parts of their family
narrative. it has a therapeutic effect. i'm optimistic that the family history center will spread some of that therapy. >> i am too, edward. thank you so much for your generous time. this part of the afternoon we'll take a break and be back at about 3:30, is it? >> that's right. we'll take about a five or six-minute break. we'll come back and get started at 3:30. >> super. >> thank you very much, edward. >> my pleasure. >> thank you, edward. wonderful. >> good afternoon and welcome to our class, or back to our class. we're delighted to have all you with us today for a very special occasion, a wonderful
professional staff. we could never have gotten this far without the many contributions of the dedicated faculty. thank you so much. i'm honored to welcome author edward ball to our class today. edward has generously offered to spend two class sessions with us this semester. edward's book "slaves in the family" won the 1998 national book award is the reason why we're building the international african-american museum. reading this book opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to history, the history most in our
country do not know. it inspired me to set out on a 21-year quest to find out our country's true history. during these years i was blessed with an extraordinary team who were dedicated, workers, benefactors and staff who brought us this far on our way. edward, writing this book has done a great service to our country and will for years to come. thank you very much. this afternoon edward will discuss his latest book "life of a klansman."
in this book edward ball returns to the subject of slaves and families, the mechanisms of white supremacy in american and it's understood through the lives of his own ancestors. he tells a story of a warrior of ku klux klan, a carpenter in louisiana who took up the cause of radical racism after the civil war. ball, a descendent of this klansman, paints a portrait of his family's anti-black militant that is part history, part memoir, rich in personal detail. edward, welcome back. thanks for being with us.
>> thank you, mayor riley. good to be with you. thank you for this invitation to talk once again to the wide circle of your admirers and to join with charlestonians in looking at the past in the way it has influence on the present. of course, i'm not in charleston. i'm in connecticut where i live. i'm not in the holy city, but my heart is with you and i wish i could be with you. when the epidemic finally lifts, i'll make my reservations immediately to come spend some time once again. i want to talk today about the
kluklux. it's a phrase my grandparents used in louisiana to refer to the militia. words that share familiarity that only people who knew actually marauders in the white supremacist movement could use. members of the ku klux klan from 150 years ago, when they first came together, did not see themselves as founders of movement. they would not have thought that their great, great grandchildren would talk about them. and yet, not only are we talking ku klux klan, the angry and vicious gangs of reconstruction, men who disguised themselves and
hurt and sometimes killed people. not only are we talking about them, we are circulating ideas today that recall those of the ku klux and we are perpetrating acts resembled by those carried out by the first klans. i hope you can see some pictures on the screen. let me take you to el paso, texas in august 2019 where a marauder, white supremacist killed 22 people, ruining the
lives of hundreds' and this marauder writes a manifesto that talks about white supremacy as his guiding idea. i'll take you to charlottesville, virginia, august 2017, when white supremacists took over a city, beat up a lot of people and killed one person. these people used language that klansman once coined and symbols that announced white racial identity. the number 14 on the shield is a fairly new symbol. or sign. it refers to a creed that is housed in a sentence, the 14-word manifesto written by david lane, founder of a supremacist cell in the 1980s called "the order." the 14-word sentence, we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children. we're all familiar with the events of june 2015 at emmanuel a.m.e. on calhoun street.
the 11 people there have their books open at the prayer meeting to the parable of the sewer, as he sews, so shall he reap. the killer in that massacre also wrote a manifesto calling for a separate white nation. let's go to january 6, 2021, and the u.s. capitol where a marauding mob, a large gang, carried white supremacist symbols during the storming of the capitol. now, the assault on the capitol was not a klan operation, but it drew energies from the barely submerged river of white
supremacist thought and action that originates with the ku klux klan. we are in a moment, or a phase, which has lasted several years, that is punctuated by violent white supremacy. since 2015, some 250 people have died from white supremacist violence that announces itself as racial vengeance and that does not include the police killings of unarmed african-americans. the status of those killings in a discussion of racial identity can be argued. recent years seem to me like a return, like a remembrance of things past. they seem familiar, despite the
grotesque uniqueness of these many acts. why are these things familiar? today, i want to tell a story about where it all began. when i was a boy, i lived for a lot of years in louisiana, in new orleans. that's the home of my mother's family. my mother's people have lived in new orleans for about 200 years. my father's family are all from charleston and they have been there for about 300 years. i lived with my family in charleston for a different part of my childhood. in new orleans, my mother's family have been and remain to this day plain people, clerks, tradesmen, school teachers, nurses. nobody at all with a higher education for 150 years until the 1970s.
so, when my family arrived in new orleans, as i was a child, about 10, we moved in with my grandmother into her bungalow, which was raised up against the floods that plague new orleans. it's near tulane university. if you know the city, in the carrollton district. and living with my grandmother also was a woman named mod, my grandmother's sister, mod lacorn. it was with aunt mod, as we called her, that i first learned about our klansman. in the south in many families, whether white or black or mixed
race, there is often a family historian. aunt maude was that person. she was about 75 years when i first paid attention, a school teacher, unmarried, never married. she wore horn rimmed glasses and had a closet of gingham dresses with long sleeves. come here, boy, let me tell you about our people. our people, they came from brittney on the west coast of france. the first man was called eve lacorn, the first immigrant, and he was a sailer in napoleon's navy. as you will learn in school, napoleon was involved in war from one end of the earth to the other, and eve was one of his junior officers. so the emperor napoleon sent ships because there was an uprising in the place they now call haiti. when the ship arrived, eve got off and never got back on. he put down his roots here. he found himself a bride, who was about 19, whose name was marguerite zurang.
marguerite zurang. this is eve lacorn's grave and signature. shortly after he arrived in new orleans, in 1820. after this man married marguerite, he married himself into a fine creole family, who had this plantation on the mississippi river. but he married one of the daughters who was from a branch that was less wealthy than the other branch. her branch of the family was in decline. so, eve and marguerite moved into a creole cottage in the french quarter and had five children. my aunt maude continued the story. they had five children and among them was my grandfather,
constant lecorn. constant lecorn. he was a redeemer. redemption, as she said. that was after the civil war, when the colored people had taken over the state and they were starting businesses. they were acting as those everything was theirs and they were voting. the redemption was after the time they call reconstruction, that awful time. reconstruction was not when the south tried to build itself up again after the war between the states. no. reconstruction was when they put colored people in the state of power. the redemption were the people who resisted that. my grandfather, he was a redeemer. he wanted to restore white supremacy. he got tied up in that white
league. the white league, the only difference between the white league and the ku klux klan is that the ku klux klan were secretive and the white league were not. thank god for the white league because they put the negro out of the seat of power. it was from aunt maude, the family historian that i first learned about our klansmen. 30 years later maude having died, my parents having died, i'm cleaning out the family house and find a batch of files. i began reading and i make a decision to tell the story of our klansmen. i go back and forth from connecticut to new orleans to look into the archives. i hire a researcher to help and the story takes shape.
constant lecorn was born in 1832 to a french family in new orleans. he's the second of three sons. his parents gave his older brother the education and constant goes into a trade. he grows up a small, thin man, nervous and alert with sharp features, skinny nose and beautiful hands, an underbite and a furrowed brow. constant's parents were of the white class who start high and then lose their economic
advantage. in new orleans, his parents were among the one quarter of whites to enslave people, however they enslaved 5 people, not 55. one of them was a man named avid. avid, who constant inherited just before the civil war began and then sold because he wanted to build a house and use the money from the sale of avid to build a house. constant's father dies at age 54 when he is 8 and his mother cannot make the family work. she has five minor children without the five enslaved people that they own. she hires them out. she rents them to whites more prosperous than she is, and that becomes the family income. at age 24, in 1856, constant marries a woman named gabrielle, age 19, and orphan of french decent from the caribbean island of martinique.
in come steam boats on the mississippi. as the civil war approaches in 1860, constant and his wife gabrielle live in a rented house with their two children. his parents are dead. his mother when she died gave him two of her enslaved people. avid and dina. he sells avid, holds on to dina and the war begins. constant goes to fight with the confederacy, as do 50,000 other white men in louisiana. he and his wife invest in the fight, buying confederate bonds, and they lose all their money. when he comes home after three years, he's sick, exhausted, and bitter, and he arrives in a city, as my aunt maude called it, full of carpet bagger and with the negroes twice as numerous.
now with three children he finds his livelihood wrecked and their enslaved woman dina is free and gone. louisiana is occupied by the u.s. army and new orleans is crowded with black free people who left the sugar and cotton plantations north of the city. about 350,000 african-americans in louisiana are emancipated. many thousand moved to new orleans, and constant the carpenter now competes with black craftsmen to make a living, and he does badly. lecorn, this is my great, great grandfather, and i will call him by his surname now, lecorn felt himself a victim. he saw the new world as anathema, and he descended into resentment. the government, the occupation government, was pro-negro and
the coloreds actually held office, which seemed to him to be a genuine perversion. reconstruction, as we call it, was the name of the first attempt to remake the united states as a racially mixed democracy. to some, not least to 4 million exslaves, it meant power sharing with whites, perhaps wealth sharing, and somewhere in the distance, shared humanity. these fantastical ideas called radical reconstruction by their millions of white opponents, met with mass obstruction and violent defiance. that's one of constant's houses. the ku klux klan arose in tennessee, probably in 1866, soon after the end of the civil war, and it was a resistance movement. it was an armed militia that wanted to return to a world run by whites, dominated by whites,
with only whites in economic and political authority. the name ku klux derives from greek, circle, and gangs, as everyone knows, often dressed in costumes and masks. klansmen made a cult of disguise, wearing hoods to avoid identification by the army occupiers. klansmen also knew their victims personally and preferred to torment them anonymously. in louisiana, the klan used other names. the knights of the white camellia yeah was one. the white league, another, the innocence, a third. in mississippi, there was the
white line. in north carolina, the red shirts. the ku klux klan is as wide as the south for about eight years, and along side it, there were all of those parallel militias that i just named. now, an early disguise of the white brigades was the ranks of volunteer fire companies. volunteer firemen joined in great numbers, in great numbers, confederate veterans joined volunteer fire companies, which became overstaffed and armed and were like a kind of seed bed for the white supremacist movement. constant lecorn's fire company was called home hook and ladder, which was made up of his former company's 14th regimen louisiana infantry. constant took the extreme step and joined this armed resistance. he became a guerilla fighter who wanted to return the south to
white rule, and he became a foot soldier in that campaign. the first major explosion in new orleans occurred in july 1866, and circumstantial evidence is preponderant that constant lecorn was there. at the mechanics institute, a meeting hall for tradesmen during a convention to agitate for the black vote, home hook and ladder was among the fire companies on the scene sent by the mayor, the white mayor, to break up this political meeting. the shooting started, an assault on the klan, an assault of the klan, the incipient klan, consisting of fire companies and ranks of unnamed gangs left 200 black people dead, according to
one newspaper editor, who was witness to the events, and it was a massacre about voting rights. it's relevant to observe that much of the fight during the election of 2020 was about voting, who gets to vote, whose votes are counted, especially about when it is black people who are voting. during the next eight years, evidence shows lecorn and perhaps 5,000 others in the state, all of them known as ku klux in the newspapers, raided, marched, and beat people. lecorn seems to have joined a group called the knights of the white camellia, led by a family friend. the knights of the white
camellia were costumed and hooded. they harassed people. they conducted night raids. they whipped people. they carried out individual killings. in the nighttime attack, lecorn and an armed gang of 20 surrounded a police depot in new orleans. the second group stormed the city's main armory but failed to overcome its u.s. army defenders. lecorn's gang held its position and the standoff ensued for days with the military camped nearby. if the klan could bring down the louisiana government, even for a week, then the u.s. army would shore up the new and precarious civil rights laws could be forced to withdraw from the state and white rule might be taken back. the army stormed the building and one man was killed. lecorn and the others were charged with treason and with violating the ku klux klan act. in washington, congress had
hoped the 1871 ku klux klan act would stamp out the white gangs. the klan penalty was five years. the treason penalty was hanging. constant lecorn was not the only one in the family who fought for white rule. his cousins, his nephew, his brother-in-law joined him in the coup attempt. in addition, several of his french cousins played greater or lesser roles in the militia with the medieval name the knights of the white camellia. the treason case was being argued and a sympathetic white judge freed lecorn and his
co-conspirators. he returned to the street and to the fight. now, if you believe that to have a klansman among your relatives is a strange or deviant thing, think of this. in 1925, the ku klux klan could claim 5 million members, white and christian. now, it is likely for publicity reasons, this number was exaggerated. let's assume that actual klan membership stood near 4 million. the descendants of 4 million klansmen living in 1925, if you count forward 100 years to their grandchildren and great grandchildren in the year 2025, add up to about 135 million living white americans. 135 million form 50% of the white population of the united states. seen another way, that means that 1 of 2 whites have a family link to the ku klux. every other white person if he or she knew the name of ancestors and wished to research their lives could produce a
memoir. now, why retrieve from obscurity this bitter and bloody story about constant lecorn, a foot soldier in the first white malitia. i have a personal motive and that is that it bothers me. it feels like finding a corpse in the bedroom. i'm disgusted and ashamed. i had an inkling that my great great grandfather was a violent supremacy but i had not seen until recently what this family member had gotten up to. he could write an invoice for his carpentry work and that's about it. heentitlement that still
circulates but god knows he put poison in that idea and damaged the lives of hundreds. for public reasons and not personal reasons, why revive this filthy story and bring it back. one reason is to try to harness the tale of lecorn and repurpose it for some hope of shining a light on steps forward. it's been years after the end och the civil rights movement and the black and white divide nationally is costing. that's because the u.s. possesses a tragic history. some of which white americans tend to be unaware of. much of this tragic history lies in the prepressed parts of our collective history.
mr. people find it uncomfortable to speak about likeness. we find it being labels as a member of a race. that is because in part, the ku klux and people like lecorn suc in the redemption. they made whiteness a norm, part of the atmosphere. now, if you go think that i'm flattening all difference, making all white people the same as klansman i don't want do that. however, there is white supremacy and all the way across the spectrum there's something kinder, gentler, father knows best and it's permeating the social common. i think as soon as i stop talking which will be in one minute, someone is going to ask what can i do?
what can be done about white supremacy and one answer is not to see it as an alien phenomenon, but as something familiar. perhaps in my case, something familial. i wrote this book, "life of a klansman" to see it as familial and for other reasons. i do not think we're in the midst of a return to the barbarism of the race wars. in fact, i think we have reason to be optimistic. last summer, the mass marches showed the country something new. after the killing of george floyd, some 20 million people demonstrated in the street for weeks. sometimes for months. among the marchers were perhaps one-third of them white people. this was without precedent. during the civil rights
campaigns of the high years of 18 -- of 1966, '67, '68 when they involved the participation of whites, it was a ratio of 1 in 10. last summer, the whites who marched are whites who may be seeing their own racial identity in a new way. that is reason for optimism. so i have reason to hope. and as my aunt maude told me about the redemption, my grandfather constant lecorgne, he was a redeemer and the redemption was return to order. we have had since mid january as it may turn out a kind of redemption. the end of the previous administration was a pivot point. it is possible -- to turn a redemption that it is beginning to gather strength and i hope that the white militias and the
silent supporters the many fellow travelers are going to be turned back and the geyser pushed back under ground, beneath the surface. thank you all very much for taking this walk with me. thank you all very much for inviting me to talk. and that story i just told is in this book, which is about six months old now. something like that. and it's better told than the way i just told it, in that book. so buy this book. buy this book.
"life of a klansman", and edward, thank you so much. you generously agreed to answer questions. at this point, i'd like to invite any of our gets to put questions into the chat and i'll do my best to relay those to edward. maybe while we're waiting here, edward, can you talk a little bit about the relationship between slaves in the family and this current project, and, you know, i'm -- on any level. in terms of the research or in terms of what the -- those two major projects have meant to you personally. >> yeah. yeah. sure. well, my book "slaves in the family" was published 22, 23
years ago, and it tells the story of the ball family of charleston and their 25 rice plantations as well as the story of the ten african-american families whose were once enslaved on the plantations north of charleston. and when i wrote that book, i practically swam in a river of source material some 10,000 pages of record that survived from this slave dynasty, if you will allow me to use that expression. of our -- it chronicled the lives of hundreds of people who lived anonymously, without the benefit of literacy and without
the benefit of inscribing their -- and i started to research this book "life of a klansman" which tells the story of one man in my mother's family in new orleans. my mother's family are all in louisiana, and like 99% of society, his family left very few paper records that chronicled their experiences. there was no archive, and i only had a few scraps of paper that he had written a signature on. this man, constant lecorgne. so i had to decide -- i wanted to write his story and i actually began writing it as a novel.
i thought faced with the -- with what you might call the silence of the archive, i felt that i would have -- i would have to write it as fiction and i wrote about a hundred pages and not only were they not very good, a hundred pages, but at a certain point i realized that the story had more grip as nonfiction, as history. people crave the real, and it would -- and i decided that i would have to try to write it as nonfiction in order to do justice to the extraordinary things that were going -- what i was beginning to uncover. so i switched to writing a piece of history and this is -- and this is the biography, if you
like. this is the way it's sold, sold as a biography. to do it was to spend hundreds of hours in the public records of the state of louisiana, in an archive called the historic new orleans collect. in an archive called the catholic diocese of new orleans. in an archive collected and held by the new orleans public library. in court records. in criminal records. in newspaper archives that had retained some of the very fragile papers published chronicling the events of the klan. it took five years of research
with the help of hired research assistants to put together small pieces of narrative content like bits of a mosaic. like broken tiles that you can craft into a picture. hundreds of bits of narrative information that i would assemble gradually and painstakingly into narrative content. so it was a totally different research experience. and the result is a different kind of story. it's still history, but it's -- it has different roots to it. >> a couple friends, edward, margaret side her and howard chatman were curious about your
research assistance and how you went about finding good research assistants. >> well, i went to a friend of mine at tulane university in new orleans who teaches in the history department. and i said do you have any graduate students who would like to earn a little money and spend a few hundred hours in the library? and fortunately, one exceptional, exceptional researcher, his name is john bartus, 25-year-old, signed on to the task and he did -- i'm living in connecticut. i'm coming back and forth from connecticut to new orleans every month or so. but he was without this man's
work, i couldn't have written this book. and he now teaches at lsu. his first job as a historian -- he has been hired by louisiana state university and so i have much gratitude for his work in excavating the remote parts of this story. >> because i think these are a couple of related questions here is -- do you believe that racism can be rooted out and healed rather than pushed back into the geyser? i think somewhat overlapping is our good friend, a question about what we might do to address polarization, extreme
racism that was reflected in the january 6th event. >> yeah. gosh, those are hard questions, man. you got me. and you got me on that metaphor. the geyser -- the underground river metaphor, but the geyser, it's a nice image but it does sort of travel into seeing white supremacy as a state of nature which it may not be. it may be an acquired ideology. in fact, white supremacy had to be invented and i have this theory that white supremacy as a kind of coherent system of entitlement was invented after the civil war when whiteness -- white racial identity was under threat for the first time and
reconstruction, you know, kind of reaction generated this set of ideas, this ideology of white superiority that previously had not been necessary for ruling families to articulate. and it is this idea of white entitlement and of overlordship that becomes this kind of caustic -- caustic poison that circulates in public life. in the united states, for generation after generation and it does, i believe, it does surface and then disappear. and then surface and then disappear when jim crow
segregation is established, it comes to a crescendo. and the eugenics movement of the teens and 20s is another fulsome surge of it. yeah. i think that we are in the first and interesting stages of a self-awareness among white people of our white racial identity. and a state of awareness that many whites have previously been unwilling to engage in. and i really think that optimistically there is a new understanding that racial identity is not something that
is possessed only by people of color. but it is possessed also by white people and that part of that identity exists in the notion unconscious principally -- unconscious but with actual social effects of the -- of the authority to rule. the white folks as the -- how can we say, the natural place of duty and authority and the -- and a number of things that we think about ourselves that have
been placed there. ideas that have been placed there by history that can be unlearned. they can be unlearned and i think that we're in the early stage of that unlearning and i have hope that it's going to continue. >> and one more question. this is from our good student taylor who you have known since the beginning of this semester and taylor was wondering if you might speak to some of the particular challenges of this project. >> well, the challenges of this project, partly to come from the
research challenges. the fact of the absent archive as i have called it, i think it's the normal experience of families and the family that i'm writing about in this book. my mother's 100 -- 150 years ago, a working class family which they are called -- were called in the french speaking new orleans at the time, little whites. there was for many years an understanding that the white population was made up of the great whites. the land owning whites. the wealthy class. and the little whites. the majority experience of the
petite is the archive so there was a research challenge there. there was another research challenge. you asked me earlier, kerry, whether i could talk about the relationship about this book, "life of a klansman" and "slaves in the family" 20 ode odd years ago and one of the things that this book does that has an echo as the template of "slaves in the family." in this book, i find in louisiana and in a couple of the northern states african-americans living today whose ancestors were victimized by the marauders of the ku klux that my great-great grandfather joined.
and i -- and with their participation and consent i tell their family stories as well. you know, what happened to that family under these -- in this massacre. what happened to them after and where they are now. and so that's -- that was another research finding and then actually gaining the trust of several families who would allow me to come visit them as a representative of someone who represents one of the family members who -- who violated and abused them, their people, their ancestors some decades, some generations ago. that was hard. that was hard.
so those are two answers to your question. >> well, thank you all for your questions that you have been putting into the chat. there have been a number of very favorable comments for you, edward, and hopefully you -- we'll get those to you so you can receive some mail from your family fans. >> i'd like you to send me the ones where they're throwing tomatoes. would you please send those, because, you know -- i know sometimes, you know, these stories get under people's skin and it's okay. >> thank you, again, edward. can you close us out?
>> sure, kerry. i recommend the book and the local booksellers and those who have -- looking at this and talking around the state and the country. it's a wonderful book. it was a book of a novel impression for me and in the family. i congratulate edward for his scholarship and he's willing to tackle subjects that are important to our country being examined and unearthed and i mean, i'm -- you're an optimistic person and i'm optimistic about the younger generation and that the country
has become more diverse and more comfortable with celebrating. but we have to be on alert and we have to be aware of that bad things can happen when bad people with bad ideas are in charge or leading the charge. so edward, you really amaze me. you have given in these two books, great gifts to our country. and certainly here as the -- looking over where the museum, i can't see it, because it's under construction. it would not be under construction, it wouldn't have been an idea but for edward ball's scholarship and slaves in the family and it will open in june or july of 2022.
edward will have a very -- very much front row seats there and look forward to all of you coming and those who want to continue to contribute to the african-american museum we welcome that as well. these two -- these two stories relate and we feel it's important. we want to make this a better country, a more perfect union, and the way we do that is by celebrating diversity and coming together. so edward, thank you. you're really a treasure. and i value your friendship and i certainly applaud you for your wonderful scholarship. >> well, blessings on you, mayor, and your work. >> thank you. >> i'm grateful to be with you and for your -- i feel like