tv Lectures in History Edward Ball Life of a Klansman CSPAN November 11, 2021 9:05pm-10:48pm EST
bestselling author edward wall talks about his books, slaves in the family and life of a klansman: a family history in white supremacy in a course taught at the citadel military college that looks at why a new african american history museum is being built in charleston, south carolina. >> if you want to welcome once again, edward ball to our classroom? >> indeed, thank you very much. i'm so grateful and honored to have edward ball, who is so generally sly given his time, to our class today. -- the reason that we are building. and it's such a wonderful example of the power of a great
book. and edward ball having written the book, without which, not knowing the book, -- and now the african american history museum. -- it's well under construction. and will be finished june or july of next year. and it is a testament to -- so all we have questions. about the book. i hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to discuss with edward. . so questions or comments. >> hello.
mayor -- , i'm happy to do a q&a, if you like. i thought it would also be appropriate just to start, by reading a couple of pages from this book. and your hands. and 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 in berkeley county. i thought i would read a couple of pages describing that day, because it's the day when the back of slavery was broken.
and people breathed the air of liberation, in many ways, for the first time. there is a place called limerick plantation, and in this book it's 25 miles north, and on the branch of the river. the last day of slavery came -- william ball sat in the dining room with a bible in front of him reading aloud to his family in a few of his people. there were several african americans in the standing room on that day, this morning, sunday, february 26th. 26th.the local clergyman had me himself scarce during the fight. so william read sermons at home. --
everyone knew the and was upon them, black and white. later, a dispatch of yankees, as williams son isaac call them, would arrive in an alley evokes outside the door. the prayer group numbered around tan and were seated around the table where williams mother eliza, where his sister and jane and his wife -- rounding out the crowd were eliza. behind the whites was an elderly black woman, the plantations elderly black matriarch who lived nearest the family and ranked first among the house slaves, who had brought up williams four sons four sons by his first wife and raise her own children alongside. next to heady, probably, stood robert the butler as well as the valet, companion during their wartime service. the readings from the book of
lamentations. it was a mournful passage about the miserable fate of jerusalem condemned by god for its sins. she that was great about in the nations and princess among the provinces she weep in the night and her tears are on her cheeks. and the lord has afflicted her mary. the white people in the room thought the bible passage fit their predicaments. a week after the victors arrived, this was a spur as many of us know from sherman's army, they sent reading parties to the plantations. as william was reading from the bible, a cavalryman and his company sent only road up to the mansion. a man in a blue uniform
dismounted, through opened the door and demanded to talk to the black villagers. the crowd came from behind, the cabins behind the house. among the group was henry, a nine 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 plantations seamstresses also came down. the gardner who kept the yard and flowerbeds. 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 confederate press had stoked morale with charges that if the southerners gave in, yankees would ravage the them. and hints of that free black men would do the same mary ball that for that when the celebration began outside, she and her sister in law jane ran
upstairs, each on two heavy dresses, loading themselves down in a way that would illustrate sexual attack. william ball had buried the family silver in a swamp near the house grabbing the last pieces of crystal in the house, seen both bags and stored them next to their. arrived and caroused through the house. skipping down. the commander of the black company, the yankee black company, a colonel james beecher, came from a family of anti slavery activists in the north. his half brother, the reverend head re-henry ward beecher was a pastor at the church in brooklyn. his half sister was harriet beecher stowe, author of uncle tom's cabin let's see --
a similar scene was repeated in all the ball places as each was raided by yankee troops. the balls feared the worst but in the end the soldiers and freed people just snatched a few hams the single exception came at the former home to william ball's cousin. the buck hall mansion, work buildings and crops were burned to the ground by federal soldiers and freed bowl slaves. this despite the slaughter of the war, no one was hurt. and so it was. it's possible to look in to the telescope into the past and see how slavery came to an end on
specific places at specific times. it's a fascinating story. 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 free slaves. limerick plantation. on that very day and 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 we're in that dining room when the yankees showed up on the lawn. so, there is black oral tradition and white return tradition, and they came to gather to make a fuller
portrait. anyway, with that -- have you all got anything on your mind from this book that you want to raise with me? >> yes, sir. i have a couple questions but i will keep it to one for now i was just wondering if you could touch on the relationship of previously enslaved african americans with the previous owners? and how that kind of dynamic -- i understand indentured slaves and all that kind of things. but i was wondering if slaves in your experience, if you know any more on that? >> yes. 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 were they had been enslaved and
staked out new lives elsewhere. north carolina or georgia or a tennessee. they fled or they went to spartanburg or somewhere, because they wanted to get as far as they could from that whole place. and one half remained on the plantations and it became sharecroppers farmers, when the enslavement -- the plantations many of them became sure crop operations. my experience talking to dozens of african american families who have oral tradition about the reconstruction period is that their experiences varied. some wanted to remain, if you like, in proximity to their
former enslavers. ens lavers becbecause those white fs where the principal source of income and resources and not least, a place to live. the community other african americans remained largely intact. so, they staked out relationships with the former enslavers that were in some ways, had points of resemblance to the 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. i had the pleasure to present my project to my fellow peers last week and this research consisted of -- >> whoops, we lost you, melanie. >> oh, sorry. i don't know why it muted. any week. so, i had the pleasure to fear shear with my fellow peers my midterm project that we had, and i wanted to touch on that. your research. i wanted to applaud you. last time i flooded you on how deep you went in with your history and the accuracy of the
history. i wanted to ask questions about research in general. i know it's a very general question, but i found it difficult doing this research. and i was assigned to five people and i only had one person i could really find more information on. so, how did you go about in depth, all of that research that 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 sentence i looked at would be from 1840 up until 1950's. because i have some sources here, so just give you that range. it's not that accurate but -- >> well, i had the advantage of
writing this book over three and a half years of full-time labor. and i was able to go to archives that hold the papers of the plantations that i wrote about, as well as the papers of white families who controlled hundreds of other plantations. so, the key once a piece of good fortune being able to identify where an african american family lived in slavery. 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 that papers of the whites who had enslaved a given family. which then might have anecdotal stories about and sleeved individuals. that's what these fish. but around 1870 a, as you know, melanie, the census records show for the first time the use of serve names by african americans. the first use of sir names by african americans. using those surname's, let's say you have a name betty hampton --
you could be lucky enough to find in that plantation records from five years earlier lists of enslaved people that include betty and her children, and using the central census records which has betty and her children, you can match these records to the plantation records of sleeve lists that was the crux of what "slaves in the family" did their other places where you can find the magic key. one of them is in the records of the freedmen bureau, which was the agency established in 1866 to try to help african americans transition to life of freedom in the records of the friedman bureau, their institutions that freed people
used, like the friedman's bank, in which they document their family history as a way of applying for a loan or a plane before a bank account these records are also quite good. there's a lot more to it, but those are the two of the magic keys that lead to back further into the past. > already, thank you i'll tae that into consideration for my finals. so, thank you. >> sure, sure. >> edward, just for a little more context -- each student was assigned five or so names of workers, african american workers at the cigar factory in the mid 20th century. 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 beast on mostly ancestry.com research. and i think all of us struggled with it tremendously some of us when we were able to make the connections, i think there were some fabulous revelations that were made, but i think it also just give us a little window into -- it was in 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. yes, well ancestry is a marvelous resource the public
records that you're able to retrieve at your fingertips now sometimes inadequate to constructing family narratives. they are very partial. they are the first step. and constructing a friendly narrative with some flesh on it does require talking face to face with folks. finding folks that have family memories from 100 years ago and with their participation and collaboration using those oral traditions to make a flesh and blood family history. >> if it's okay, i'd like to ask another question.
>> of course. >> through my reading eye crepes referencing back to earlier in the story, when every mentioned a little bit about the plantation -- i'm from -- i was wondering if you had anything off the top of your head significant that happened or stood out to you about monks corner? >> well, monks corner was 150 years ago. a crossroads. it was a place where mr. monk had a general store at the corner of what is now 51 and and the canal. >> yes, that's where it was.
>> yeah we are talking 250 years ago. a lot of black folks leaving the plantations on the river to the east of monks corner settled along and around what is now 52 and by sweat and tears were able to acquire tiny homesteads. sometimes from the former slave owners in the west branch. you know the geography as well as anybody, so you can picture what i'm talking about. one of the things that is exceptional about this history along the river is the fact that it survives at all. you know that when the reading
parties from the union army came in from charleston and went up the ashley river and burned plantations around the ashley river. where as they went up the cooper river and they did not burn, the only burned one. which was the one i described in this book, buck hall and almost all the others survived as a consequence, i think that the outcome was actually somewhat more stable on the cooper river than it was on the actually river after the civil war. so, i don't have e here raising anecdote that i can toss to you, taylor.
i'm not inclined to make one up [laughs] but it's interesting that monks corner was one thing, 150 years ago, and it's now something else. is monks corner predominantly african american, or half african american half white? >> i'd probably see about 50 50. you have larger sections of the city now are predominantly african american. >> right yes i think that back dates from right after the civil war, when african americans left the plantations and established new lives.
some of the white folks who owned the plantations on the west branch bordering monks corner for now eager to sell little purses of land to african americans. and some were and that was again, a matter of chance. a matter of family disposition this white family experienced there loss of status and now the next white family experienced their loss status. whether they wanted to. so, yes, those are just some of thoughts here and there about monks corner.
>> thank you. whenever i was reading it i was reading about all the plantations that didn't get burned. i was thinking about -- i don't know if you know -- plantation. it's a huge one right there in monks corner. i don't know if anything had affect them, just because it is so large. but they would've had some kind of backlash in a sense. >> yes, yes. i don't know the specifics about guinea plantation. how many were there? there were 50 plantations up and down the cooper river on either side of it so there were each one was a community and each one had a different experience. >> yes, sir thank you i really appreciate it >> sure. pleasure. >> hello mr. ball. >> hey, how are.
you >> pretty good my question is -- when i was reading your book you mentioned a lot of the slaves often were raped by their masters and then when they were impregnated, the masters wouldn't put down the birth date of their illegitimate child they would just leave it blank. so, was it sometimes trying to change the history of the family? especially for those black descendants of the ball family? was it tough chasing them? >> oh, sure yes. very tough. i knew that there were perhaps dozens of african american families with whom our white families shared blood. because of forced six on the
plantations now, we all know that this for white folks is a difficult subject and there's a lot of denial, or an willingness to look it in the face. but when i started to work on this book, i began to meet african american families, after african american family, who had oral traditions that said, you know, my great great grandfather was a man name ball, and he came from this particular plantation i wanted to -- and yet, for reasons that you described, there are a few paper trails that you can follow that lead to the coupling of a white enslaver and an enslaved woman.
so, there are many african american families who know who their white cousins might be and yet, there is 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 knew that i could only write about those families if i had enough preponderance, persuasive evidence that would convince a reader that the families were in fact related. so, i was able in the case of two families to compile enough circumstantial evidence and
oral tradition and odd bits of paper evidence that confirmed and they consisted in such things as this. the specifics of the research are almost so obscure so, they'd be a plantation master named james ball and the record shows that he is a married he's living on a police call quinte plantation and there is a woman slave on the plantation named harriet and harriet has a son and then 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 and they
resettle there and furthermore, james ball dies and the record shows that he leaves 500 dollars to harriet and to no other african american. so, things like that which is circumstantial evidence but persuasive and in the case of a couple of families, i would find photographs of james ball and of family in berkeley county, and a photograph of their great grandfather, who was purported to be the son of james ball i compared these two photographs and there was strong family resemblance so, it's a long answer to your question, but it was very difficult to excavate tales of
this very painful history in the end, i think it does help both black folks and white folks to come to terms with the real deal. the real story of our history, by talking about the stories, honestly >> thank you, sir. >> sure, sure. >> what was it like, i believe her name was kate, what was it like finding out the information about kate wolf? >> it was deep you remember kate wilson. she was the matriarch of the
carlson family, if i'm not mistaken. she was a case like the one i was just describing with james ball her enslaver was a man call jar john hurston, who is a cousin ball family. and john carlson was not married to a white woman and kate was his partner on the police called elwood plantation, east branch of the cooper -- sorry, the west branch i think. and what's extraordinary about these two, keith wilson and john harlston is they had eight children over a period of 25 years. so this was a relationship that
-- it's not a relationship that you can see was consensual, early shin ship that kate wilson undertook with willingness and, a relationship characterized by loved it has to be described in a a complicated we. but it was not -- the evidence suggests it was not relationship that was based upon sexual assault. if it survived for 25 years and produced a children and these eight children received money and education from there deceased white father. so, it's an interesting and
complicated example of the interracial relationships that evolved during slavery. i think it was deep. that was the way i felt about it. and they explored this relationship of course with the african american family in -- in a lot of detail. so -- >> that sounds like the subject of another book. >> it does, doesn't it? yeah. >> and how did white people feel about the -- black people being subject to
the torture mutilation. how did white people at the time handle -- >> a white family? well, i think it was handled in a variety of ways. but there are two models that come to mind. . when is that there is a white couple, this labeling couple in the house. the african americans who live adjacent to the big house. and the husband, when there is a white couple, and he wishes to avail himself of sexual pleasure. and he does so either by force
or threat or some kind of bargaining quid pro quo, on the slave street. meanwhile, his wife, a white wife, it's probably aware of our husbands nighttime ... perhaps he's not doing this all the time. but perhaps it's established in the family. but 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 house hold, not to mention on the slave street. that's one template.
another template is that young sons, this is probably more common. the young sons of the white landowners often had their first sexual experiences as 16 or 17 year old man with the enslaved women. that was kind of an institutional aspect of the slave master relationship. that a young white man became sexually apprenticed or took advantage of young black women on the plantation for his own sexual experience. as we know, from our own memories and history of the south, white women were not,
for generations and generations, allowed to be sexually active. and so young white men are forbidden from, socially and many other ways -- forbidden from sexual love with white women. and so enslaved african american women are often the mothers of children. we all know the story of strom thurmond and his experience here is this closely. he was almost an 18 year old kid and fathered a child with one of the cooks in the family home.
and that's the way it worked. that's the way it worked. i think those are the two main templates. >> any other questions? you guys want to talk about the hard stuff, man! you guys want to talk about the hard stuff. the real nitty-gritty. >> i had a question. >> yeah. >> in your book, i read that a lot of the slaves did not take after the ball name when they were freed. it's good for the most part that they were educated, treated well. so i was wondering why do you think that the slaves did not take on your family name. >> yeah.
well, the people formerly enslaved by the balls were not, as he said, treated well, and certainly not universally educated. but there is this pattern that a lot of low country african americans, that they did not carry this or names of their enslavers. in other parts of the south, alabama and mississippi, it is much more common that african americans carry this or names of their former enslavers. and i think that the way it evolved is this. there is oral tradition in the ball family that goes as follows. the biggest slave master at the end of the civil war's william ball, who owns 12 plantations and enslaved 900 people, he did
not actually -- he actually presented himself to huge meetings of the former all slaves and said, do not take my name. perhaps he did this in a strict way or perhaps he was more gentle about the request. i just don't know. ore but hid his desire was that former ball slaves do not carry the name ball. so, a 95% of the cases, former balls slaves did not carry the name ball. they are 20 that did. they use the name ball. i think that this is actually something that is more common than is generally acknowledged. the conventional understanding
that african americans carry the names of their former enslavers, i don't believe that it is widely true, because this was a point in the life of a man and woman, when they had this enormous sense of possibility. and they could select a name of their own choosing. and use it publicly and use it legally. with their children. and so, millions of african americans chose names. in the case of the low country families, you will see by looking at the share crop records and the census itself,
that the people who chose sir names, they chose ones being used by black folks elsewhere. the -- andy -- but i did not use or names that came from the families of their former enslavers. they may have chosen the name of a simmons -- a simmons, a white family that lived 20 miles away, whom they had some regard for. they may choose the name ansen, a white family that had some regard for. so that's one way that it happened. >> thank you. >> sure, sure. >> we may 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?
>> okay, with the african american genealogy center, what impact did they think would happen in 1865? >> good question i'm optimistic that it will encourage hundreds, if not thousands of people to investigate their family histories i know the woman who is going to run that center, tony carrier, and she's a good egg. and she has in her mind, she knows what records need to be retrieved in order to make it possible for and african americans to investigate their family histories so, i think it might have beneficial sets as i said, i think i repeat this a
bit heavily, to investigate the family history in the most difficult areas has a therapeutic effect. it gives unusual and unexpected strength to learn about the hard parts of one's family history i'm describing the experience of african americans who find time and will to do this, as well as white folk who want to look into the herd parts of their family narrative. it has a therapeutic effect.
so, i'm optimistic the family history center will spread some of that therapy. estic the family >> i am, to. and we're going to end. thank you so much for your generous time. this part of the afternoon we'll take a break and be back in about 8:30, is it, kelly? >> that's right about a five or six minute break and we'll come back and get started at 3:30. >> super. >> thanks very much, edward. >> sure, my pleasure. >> wonderful. >> well, good afternoon and welcome to our class or back to our class we're delighted to have edward ball with us today for a special occasion.
the distinguish historian who has returned to our class, for which we are very grateful before introducing today's guest speaker, i'd like to take a moment to share some good news about the international african american museum. after months long nationwide search, i'm delighted to share the news of hiring doctor tanya massie as she thugs active officer of the international african american museum. tanya matthews is an experience executive, thought leader and educator, with a proven track record of organizational leadership, teaching planning, diversity, program development and project planning. bringing tanya on board is an exciting new face of the museum unnecessary, important step for
the full time professional staff to move closer to taking full ownership of this museum we could never have gotten to this far of the tremendous contributions [inaudible] thank you, so much. i'm honored to welcome author edward ball to our class today edward has generously offered to spend two last sessions with us this semester. edwards book "slaves in the family", the 1998 national book award winner for nonfiction is the reason why we are building the international african american it usually reading this book opened my eyes, my heart and my mind to the history i did not previously know. and that history that most in our country still do not know
it inspired me to set out on a 21 year quest to meet the people who would tell the long hidden history, our country's true history, to tell where that history occurred. i must say that the museum is blessed with an extraordinary team of dedicated support and staff that have 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: a family history in white supremacy".
in "life of a klansman", edward ball returns to the subject of slaves in the family the mechanisms of white supremacy is understood through the lives through his own ancestors this time, he tells the story of a warrior, of the ku klux klan, a carpenter in louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the civil war. ball through this klansmen from the other side, paints a portrait of his family's anti black notions that is part history, part member, which rich in personal details. edward, welcome back. thanks for being. here >> thank you mayor riley,. good to be with you. thank you for this invitation.
to talk once again to a wide circle of your admirers. and to join with charles stone eons in looking at the past it a way that it has influence on the president. 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 lift, i'll make my reservations immediately to come spend sometime once again. i want to talk today about the ku klux klan the ku klux klan a
freeze that my grandparents generation used in louisiana to refer, the militias the ku klux which are words that show the familiarity that only people who knew actual 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 a movement. they would not have thought that their great great grandchildren would be talking about them. and yet, not only are we talking about the ku klux, the angry and ignorant and officious gangs of reconstruction -- men who disguised themselves and hurt and sometimes kill 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 that resemble those carried out by the first klan. i hope you can see some pictures on the screen. let me take you to el paso, texas, in august 2019, were a marauder, a white terrorist 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 the city, beat up a lot of people, and killed one person.
these people used language that clansmen once coined and symbols that announced right racial identity. the number 14 on the shield is a fairly new symbol or sign it refers to a degree that is housed in a sentence, the 14 word manifesto written by david lane, founder of a supremacist cell in the 19 80s called the order. the 14 word sentence is we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children you are all familiar with the events of june 2015, and at emanuel am-y. calhoun street the 11 people there have their books open at the prayer meeting to the parable of the sir. as uri so so shall you reap and
the killer in that mask are also wrote a manifesto calling for the separate white nation. let's go to january 6th, 2021, in the u.s. capital, were a marauding mob a, large gang carried white supremacist symbols during the storming of the capital. now, the assault on the capital was not a klan operation. but it drew energies from the barely submerged river of white supremacists thought and action that originates with the ku klux klan. we are in a moment, for 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's not including the police killings of unarmed african americans and the status of those killings in a discussion of racial identity can be argued in recent years, seem to me like a return, like a remembrance of things passed. 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 live 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've 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 plead people. clerks, tradesmen, school teachers, salesman, carpenters, 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, i was about ten, we moved in with my grandmother into her bungalow which was raised at
the against the floods that played new orleans it was near tulane university, if you know the city. in the carroll district. and living with my grandmother also was a woman named mod, my grandmother sister mod the quran. it was with and mod as we called her that i first learned about our klansmen. in the south, in many families, whether white or black or mixed race, there's often a family historian. and mud was that person among my mother's people, about 75 when i first paid attention. she was a schoolteacher, unmarried. never married, she wore horn rimmed glasses and she had a closet of gingham dresses. come here, boy, let me tell you about our people.
my people. they came from brittany on the west coast of france. the first man was called yves lecorgne, and he was a sailor napoleon's navy. and as you will learn in school, napoleon was involved in war, and yves was one of his junior officers. so the emperor napoleon sent a flotilla of ships, for an uprising in san domingue, the place they now call haiti. he put down his roots here. he found himself a bride, about 19, her name was margaret. and margaret was at yves
lecorgne's grave and -- signature. shortly after he arrived in new orleans. after this man married marguerite he found himself in a fine creole family, which had a plantation at the mississippi river. he married one of the daughters, from a branch that was less wealthy than the other branch. and her branch of the family was in decline. and so yves and marguerite moved into a cottage on rue dauphin in the french quarter. and my aunt mod continue this story. among them was my friends fathers constan, constan
lecorgne. he was a redeemer. this was after -- had taken over the state. they were voting. it was after that time that they called reconstruction, that awful tone. we construction was not when it -- it was when they were put in the seat of power. we dimension for the people who resisted that. but my grandfather constan was redeemer and he wanted to restore white supremacy. , and the white lead -- the only difference between the white lead the ku klux klan was that the ku klux klan was
secretive and that the white league was not. thank god for the white league, because they put -- out of the seat of power. and so it was as a historian that i first learned about the klan. years later, mod having died, my parents having died, and seeing the family house, i found a batch of files labeled lecorgne. i began reading and i make a decision. i go back and forth from my home in connecticut to new orleans, to look in the archives and i hair researchers and the story take shape. constant lecorgne he's won in 1832 to a french family in new orleans and he is the second of three sons. the parents, with his older brother, of education, and constant goes into a trade.
he grows up a small, thin man, nervous and alert, with sharp features, skin, nose, and beautiful hands, an under bite and a frail brow. his parents were of the white class, a historic high, from there they had a vantage in new orleans, where the one quarter of whites who enslaved people -- however, they in slaved five people. not 55. . one was a man named -- ovid. ovid, who constant inherited just before the civil war began, before the civil war began, and he wanted to build a house.
constant's father dies at age 54, when he is eight and his mother cannot make the family work. she has five minor children aside from the five enslaved people that they own. she rents them out to whites more prosperous than she is in that becomes the family income. at age 24, constant marries a woman named gabrielle, age 19, an orphan of the caribbean island of martinique. -- steamboats on the mississippi. as the civil war approaches in 1860, constant and his wife gabrielle live in a rented house with their two children.
their parents are dead, and his mother, when she died, gave him two of their enslaved people, ovid and dinah. he sales ovid and hold on to dinah and then the war begins. constant goes to fight with the confederacy, as did 50,000 other wife white men in new orleans. he and his wife by confederate bonds and they lose all their money. when he comes home, they are exhausted and bitter and they arrive in a city that is, as maude called it, full of carpetbaggers, and with -- twice as numerous. and the enslaved woman, dinah, is gone. louisiana is occupied by the
army, and new orleans is crowded by black freed people, who have left the sugar and cotton plantations north of there. about 350,000 african americans in louisiana are emancipated. many thousand moved to new orleans, and constant the carpenter now competes with black craftsman to make a living. lecorgne, this is my great, great grandfather, and i will call him by his surname now, lecorgne felt himself a victim and he saw the new world as anathema. he descended into resentment. the government, the occupation government, was pro -- and they held office, which seems to be a genuine perversion to him. we construction, as we called it, the first attempt to make
the united states as racially mixed democracy. and to some, not least to 4 million back slaves, it meant power sharing with whites, perhaps wealth sharing, and in somewhere distant, perhaps shared humanity. -- millions of white opponents met with mass obstruction and violent defiance. that's one of constant's houses. the ku klux klan avoids in tennessee, probably in 1866, soon after the end of the civil war and it was a resistance movement. in 1866 soit was an armed militt wanted to return to a world run by whites, dominated by whites with only whites in political and economic authority. the name ku klux derives from a
greek word for circle. -- their members made a cult of disguise. klansmen also knew their victims personally and referred to taunt them anonymously. in louisiana, the klan used other names. the nights of the white -- was one. the white league, another. the innocent, a third. in mississippi, there is the white line. in north carolina, the red shirt. the ku klux klan reasons why does the south for about eight years. and alongside that we're all the parallel militias i just named. an early disguise of the brigade was the ranks of
volunteer fire companies. violent tear fire companies joined in great numbers. in great numbers, confederate veterans, join volunteer fire companies, which became overstaffed and armed and we're like a kind of -- for the white supremacist movement. >> constant lecorgne fire company was called hook and ladder, which was made up of his former companies seed the 14th regiment of louisiana infantry. constant lecorgne took the extreme step and join this armed resistance. he became a guerrilla fighter who wanted to return the south to white rule and became a foot soldier in the campaign.
first major explosion in new orleans of parlor occurred in july 1866 and evidence that constant lecorgne was there at the mechanics institute meeting hall during a convention to agitate for the black vote. home hook and ladder was among the fire companies on the scene sent by the mere, the white mere to break up this political meeting. the shooting star ticked, an assault on the klan, on a salt of the klan. consisting of fire companies and ranks of unnamed gangs left 200 back people dead, according to one newspaper editor who is witness to the event. and it was a massacre about voting rights. it's relevant to observe that much of that 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 shoes lecorgne and perhaps 5000 others in the states, all of them known as ku klux in the newspapers, redid, marched and beat people. seems lecorgne to have joined a group called nights of the white camilla, led by a family friend. the nights of the white familiar were costumes and herded the conducted night reads and carried out individual killings. in the nighttime attacks an armed gang of 20 surrounded a police depot in new orleans.
a second group stormed the city's main artery but failed to overcome its u.s. army defenders. lecorgne's held its position and the standoff ensued for days with the military camped nearby. the klan could bring down the louisiana government for even for a week then the u.s. army was short up at the new precarious civil rights could be forced to withdraw from the states and white rule might be taken back. the army stormed the building and one man was killed. lecorgne and the others were charged with treason and violating the ku klux klan act in washington, congress had hoped the 1871 ku klux klan act would send stamp out the way to change. the klan penalty was five years. the treason penalty was hanging.
constant lecorgne was not the only one in the family who fought for white rule. his cousins, his nephews, his brother-in-law joined him in the coup attempt. in addition to several of his french cousins, who played greater or lesser roles in the militia with the medieval name the knights of the white camelia. in the trees in case, the gallows were being argued when a sympathetic white judge dismissed all of the counts, free lecorgne and his coconspirators. and he returned to the streets 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 500,000 members, white and christian. it's likely for publicity
reasons that this number was exaggerated. let's assume that actual clan membership stood near 4 million the descendants of 4 million clansmen 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 for 50% of the white population of the united states. seen another week, that means that one of two whites have a family link to the ku klux. every other white person, if he or she knew the names of ancestors and wished to research their lives could produce a klan family member. now, why retrieved from
obscurity, this bitter and bloody story about constant lecorgne? a foot soldier in the first white militia. 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 supremacists, by did not see until research just what this family had gotten up to. he was not a thoughtful ma'am. he could write and enforce for his carpentry work, but that's about it. and he did not develop the idea of white intel talent that still circulates. but god knows, he put poison in that idea and he damaged the lives of hundreds.
still, for public reasons and personal reasons, why revive this filthy story and bring it back? one reason is to try to harness the tale of lecorgne and to repurpose it in some hope of shining a light on the steps forward. it's 50 years now after the end of the civil rights movement and the white and black divide nationally is caustic and fresh. and that is because the u.s. possesses a tragic history. some of which white americans tend to be unaware of. in fact, much of this tragic history lies in the repressed parts of our collective memory. many people find it uncomfortable to speak about whiteness we dislike, as whites, being labeled members of the
race. we dislike acknowledging that races power. and that is because in part, the ku klux and people like lecorgne succeeded in the redemption making whiteness a norm. part of the atmosphere. if you think that i'm flattening all difference making white people the same as klansmen, i do not want to do that. however, i do have the idea that there is white supremacy, violent white supremacy, and all the way across the spectrum, there is something kinder and gentler. father knows best whiteness. it is atmospheric and it is permeating the social conscious. 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? one answer i think is uncomfortable and that is, to see it not as an alien
phenomenon, that something familiar. perhaps in my case, something familial. familial. i wrote this book in "life of a klansman" order to see whiteness as something familial and for other reasons. i do not think that 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 streets, four weeks. sometimes four months. among the marchers were perhaps one third of the white people. this was without precedence during the civil rights campaigns of the high years of 1966, 67, 60, when they
involved the participation of whites it was at a ratio of one in ten. last summer, the way to marched were whites who may be seeing their own racial identity in a new way. and that is reason for optimism. so, i do have reason to hope. and as my aunt maude told me about the redemption, my grandfather constant lecorgne was a redeemer. redemption was a return to order. we have had, since january, as me turn out, a kind of redemption. the end of the previous administration was a pivot point. it is possibly a redemptive turn. a redemption that is beginning to gather strength. and i hope that the white militias and their silence supporters, their many fellow travelers, are going to be turned back and the guys are
pushed back underground. thank you all very much for taking this walk with me. thank you very much mayor riley for inviting me to talk. and that story i just told is in this book, which is about i don't know, six months old now something like that. and it's better told then it's the wait strolled in that book. >> by this book by this book. edward did it make that clear. "life of a klansman". edward, thank you so much. you've generally agreed to
answer questions and at this point, i'd like to invite any of our guests to put questions into the chat and i'll do my best to really those two 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 on any level, in terms of the research or in terms of what those two major projects met to you personally. >> yes, sure my book "slaves in the family" was published 22, 23 years ago and tells the story of ball, ball.
when i wrote that book, i practically swim in a river of source material, some 10,000 pages of records that survive from this sleeve dynasty, if you will allow me to use that expression. allowing me to chronicle the lives of hundreds of people who lived anonymously, without the benefit of literacy, without the benefit of inscribing their own histories. 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 in new orleans, louisiana. and like 99% of society, his family left very few paper records that chronicled their experiences. there was no archives. and i only had a few scraps of paper that he had written on. , this man, constant lecorgne. and i want to write his story. i decided to write it first as an awful. i was struck by what you might
call the silence of the archive. and i had to write it as fiction. i wrote about 100 pages. not only were they not very good 100 pages. but at a certain point, i realized that this story has more grip as nonfiction, as history. because people crave the real. i decided i would have to try to write it as nonfiction, in order to do justice to the extraordinary things that i was beginning to uncover. in writing a piece of history. and this is a biography, if you like, the way it is sold. it sold as a biography.
to do it was to spend hundreds of hours in public records of the state of louisiana into in an archive called the historic new orleans connection collection. in what i call the sacramento records of the catholic church diocese of new orleans, an archive collected and hailed by the new orleans public library. in court records, in criminal records, in newspaper archives that can retain 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 assistant to put together small
pieces of narrative content. this is a mosaic, like tiles you can craft into a picture, hundreds of bits of narrative information that i could 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 has different routes to it. a couple of friends, i edward, margaret chapman were curious about your research assistant, how you went about finding a
good research assistant. >> 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 undrafted hours in the library? fortunately, one exceptional, exceptional researcher named john bartus, a 25 year old new orleanian went on to the task. and i'm living in connecticut, i'm coming back and forth from connecticut to new orleans every month or so. but he is -- without this man's work, without his work, i couldn't have done this book.
he now teaches at lsu. his first job as a historian, hired by louisiana state university. so i had much gratitude for his work in excavating the remote parts of this story. >> i think these are a couple of related questions here. mary kay asks, does mr. believe ball believe racism and violent whiteness can be rooted out and heal rather than just pushed back into the geyser? i think somewhat overlapping is related to patrick's question about what we might do to address polarization, and racism reflected in the january 6th event. >> yeah.
gosh, those are hard questions. you've got me. and you got me on that metaphor, the underground river, the geyser metaphor. it's a nice image. but it does sort of trap us into seeing white supremacy as a state of nature. which it may not be. it may be an acquired ideology. in fact, it may be invented. i have this theory that white supremacy is a coherent system of entitlement invented after the civil war, when white racial identity was under threat for the first time. and reconstruction, a kind of reaction, it 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 overlordship that becomes this kind of caustic, caustic poison in public life in the united states for generation after generation. and it does -- i believe it does surface and then disappear, surface said then disappear. when jim crow segregation is established, comes to a crescendo and the eugenics
movement of the teens and'20s has another fulsome surge of it -- i think that we are in the first and interesting stages of a self awareness among white people, growing numbers of white people of our white racial identity. in a state of awareness that many whites have previously been unwilling to engage in. and i really think that's, up to mystically, there is a new understanding that racial
identity is not something 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 authority to rule. white folk says the -- how can i say? the natural place of duty and authority and a number of things that we think about ourselves that have been placed there. place there, ideas placed there
by history. they can be and learned. i think we are in the early stages of that unlearning. and i have hope that it is going to continue. -- this is from our good students. taylor is wondering if you might -- -- speak to this project. the challenges of this project, they partly come from the research challenges. the fact of the absent archives,
as has been called, i think it's the normal experience of the family, the family i'm writing about in this book, my mother's family, 150 years ago, in working across the family. we are called in the french speaking worlds, petit blanc, meaning little whites -- there was an understanding that the population was made up of big whites, the landowning whites. but the petit blanc -- the majority from the absent archives -- there was research challenge there. there is another research
challenge. you asked me. and you talked about this book, the klansman, and the slave and the family, 20 are years ago. and one thing this book does that has an echo, it echoes the template of slaves in the family. i find in louisiana and in a couple of the northern states, african americans living today, the ancestors, they were victimized by the marauders of the ku klux that migrate, great grandfather joined. and with their consent, i tell
their family stories as well. why happened to their family under -- , this nightmare, this massacre. where they are now. and so that was another research problem. finding and then actually gaining the trust of several who would allow me to come visit them, as a representative, someone who represents one of the family members who violated and abuse their people, their ancestors, decades and generations ago. that was hard. that was hard. so those are two answers to your question.
those are tw>> thank you all fr questions. there's also been a number of favorable comments for you, edward, we will get those to you so you can read some mail from your many fans. >> i would like you to send me the ones that are throwing tomatoes! [laughs] >> would you please send those? because, you know -- i know sometimes the stories get under people skins. and that's okay. thank you again, edward. mayor, can you close this out? >> i had a book in local
booksellers. looking at us and talking, learning about the state of the country, it's a wonderful book. , as was slaves in the family. and the relationship between this book and life of a -- important to our country and unearthed. -- and -- optimistic. i'm optimistic -- i'm optimistic about the fact that -- and the country is becoming more diverse and celebrating.
but we have to be on alert. things that can happen. that people with ideas are in charge and edward, you have given great gifts to our country, and certainly, here looking over where the museum is where i can see it, it's under construction. it would not be an idea under construction new york, -- slaves in the family. it will open in june or july 2022, edward will have a front
row seat there. all of you coming, and those who would like to continue to contribute to the museum, we welcome it as well. these two stories are linked, the linkage is important. we want to make this a better country. the way we do that, is celebrating diversity and coming together. we thank you edward for the treasure, value, and your friendship, wonderful scholarship. >> blessings on you and your work. i'm grateful to be with you and i feel like we are arm in arm.
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