tv Lectures in History Edward Ball Life of a Klansman CSPAN November 12, 2021 3:42am-5:27am EST
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 horn -- honored that edward ball has been so generous with his time to the return to our class today. slaves in the family as known as the reason for building the museum. such a wonderful example of the power of a book, the power of a great book.
having read the book, the international african-american museum would not be with under construction. it's well under construction to be finished june or july of next year, and that's all because of edward ball's powerful work and wonderful work. and i'm sure all of you have questions, comments about book, so i'll, i hope you'll take advantage of this to discuss with edward -- [inaudible] questions or comments. >> hello, mayor riley. thank you for inviting me to come visit with you all. i'm happy to do a q and 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 had 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 in berkeley county. and i thought that i'd 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. the plantation as you probably remember from this book, it's 25 miles north of charleston on the east branch of the river. the last day of slavery came february 26, 1865. william ball, that's the master of the place, sat in the dining room, 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, sunday, february 26th. the local clergyman had made himself scarce during the fight. it was sunday, and everyone in the room -- black ask white -- knew the end was upon them. before long a dispatch of yankees as william's son isaac
called them would arrive in the if alley of oaks outside the door. the prayer group numbered about ten seated around the table were william's mother eliza, his stir jane and his wife -- sister jane and his wife mary. behind the whites in the corner and along the plasteredded walls stood an elderly black woman, the plantation's black matriarch who lived nearest the family and ranked first among house shaves. and he had brought -- slaves. and he had brought up william's four sons by his first wife and raised her own children alongside. next to hettie, probably, stood robert the butler as well as the ball brothers' companion and valet during their wartime service is. the bible reading was 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 among the nations and princess among the provinces, read william, she -- in the night and her tears were on her cheeks because the lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions. according to mary ball, the white people in the room thought the bible asage fit their predicament -- passage fit their predicament. skipping down. the week after the victors a arrived -- this was a spur, as many of us know, from sherman's army -- they sent raiding parties to the plantation. as william was reading from the bible, the cavalryman and his company suddenly rode up to the mansion. a man in a blue uniform dismounted, threw open the door and demanded to talk to the black village. the crowd came from behind --
from the cabins behind the house. among the group was henry, a 9-year-old boy with a broad face and is light skin. years later, henry would recall this day in a letter to mary ball. a young woman name sylvia who was the plantation's seem stress also came down -- seamstress came down. the gardener who kept the yard and flower beds, 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 the war morale that to the southerners gave in, the yankees and is black men would ravage the crowd. when the celebration began outside, mary ball and her sister-in-law ran upstairs, each put on two heavy dresses, loading themselves down in a way
that would frustrate sexual attack. william ball had buried the family silver in a swamp near the house. grabbing the last pieces that were still in the house, mary and jane put them in cloth bags next to their bodies under layers. the yankee soldiers a arrived and is caroused through the house. skipping down. 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 henry ward beech, was an abolitionist and and pastor at plymouth congregational church in brooklyn. his half sister was harriet beecher stowe, author of "uncle tom's cabin." let's see. a similar scene was repeated on
all the ball places as each was raid by yankee troops. the balls feared the worst, but in the end the soldiers just snatched a few hams. the single exception came at bucks hall plantation, formerly home to william ball's cousin. the bucks hall a mansion, work buildings and crop 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 and at specific times, and it's a fascinating
story. and i told you stories 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, on that plantation on that very day and who handed down oral tradition and ask is 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 launch -- lawn. so there is black oral tradition and white tradition, and and they came together to a fuller portrait9. 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. i'll stick to one for now. i was wondering if you could touch on the relationship of previously enslaved african-americans with, like, their previous owners and how the dynamic was. i understand indentured slaves, servants, rather, but i was wondering like in your experience if you could relay more on that. >> yeah. i think it was as various as people and families themselves. their -- my best estimate is that one-half of e chance painted african-americans -- e chance painted african-americans left the plantations where they had been enslaved and staked out new lives elsewhere in north
carolina or in georgia or in tennessee. they fled or they went to spartanning burg 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 sharecrop farmers when the enslavement -- the plantations where many of them became sharecrop operations. and 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 because those
white families were the principal source of income and resources and not least a place to live. and the community remained, 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 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, you know, 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, healthny. >> oh, sorry. i don't know i why it muted. anyway, so i had the pleasure to share with my fellow peers my midterm project that we had, and i wanted to touch on that, like, your research. i wanted to applaud you like last time i applauded you on how deep you are with your history9 and the accuracy of the history. i wanted to ask questions about, like, just research in general.
i know it's the, like, a very general, you know, question, but i found it difficult, you know, doing this research. and is i did, 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 in depth, you know, all of that research that you, you know, you did throughout the book? how would you explain that process or all of that? so -- >> you had five people from what period that you had to research? >> i believe the census that i looked at would be from 1840s up until 1950s because i have some sources here, like, just -- >> yeah. >> i'll just give you that range. it's not that accurate, but -- >> yeah. well, i had the advantage in writing this book of three and a
half years of full-time labor, and and i was able to go to archives that hold the papers of the plantations that i wrote about as well as papers of white families who controlled hundreds of other plantations. so the key was a piece of good fortune able to identify where an african-american family lived in slavery. and if you can get 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 whites who had enslaved a given family which then might have anecdotal stories about enslaved individuals. and is that's what's, what is painstaking to accomplish. but around 1870 because, you know, melanie, the census records show for the first time the use of surnames 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 are betty and her children. and using the census records which has the name hampton and betty and her children, match these records to the plantation records of slave lists. that was what slave families did. there are other places where you can find the magic key. one of them is in the record of the fieldmen's bureau -- freedmen's bureau, the agency established in 1866 in order to try to help african-americans to transition to freedom, and in the records there are administeringings that crypt -- administrations that list --
[inaudible] people used like the freedmen's bank in which they document their family history as a way of applying for a loan or applying for a bank account, and these records are also quite good. so there's a lot more to it, but those are the two, two of the magic keys that lead you back further into the past. >> all righty, thank you. i'll take that into consideration for the final, so thank you. >> sure, sure. >> edward, just for a, yeah, a little more context, so each family was assigned five or so names -- each student was assigned five or so names of african-american workers at the cigar factory in the new 20th century. >> yeah, yeah. >> they were given the names and is maybe a connection to either a city directory or a census
record -- >> okay. >> -- and they were charmed with building -- charged with building a profile based on mostly ancestor.com research. and i think all of us struggled with it tremendously are. you know, some of -- when we were able to make the connections, i think there were some, you know, fabulous revelations that that, you know, 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 know, that you did so long ago. >> right. i see. i understand. yeah. well, ancestry is a marvelous resource. and, yes, the public records that you're able to retrieve at your fingertips now are
sometimes inadequate to instructing family narratives. they are very partial. they are a first step. constructing a family narrative with some flesh on it does require talking face to face with folks and finding folks that 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. >> if it's okay, i'd like to ask another question. >> of course. >> so through my reading, i kept referencing back to earlier in the story whenever you mentioned a little about --
[inaudible] i was wondering if, like, you could remember, like, just had anything off the top of your head significant that happened or was, like, out -- stood out to you. like, just about -- >> [inaudible] yeah. well, monk's corner was a cross roads, and it was a place where mr. monk had a general store at the corner ofs what is now -- corner of what is now, what, 51 and -- >> highway 52 and the -- [inaudible] >> yeah. there's -- that's where it was, yeah. [laughter] 250 years ago. a lot of black folks leaving the
plantation on cooper river to the east of monk's corner 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 of the cooper. you mow the geography as well -- 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 cooper 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 cooper river, and they did not burn. they only burned one, which was the one i described in this little reading, buck hall. and almost all the others survive ised. and is as a consequence -- survived. and as a consequence, i think that the outcome was actually somewhat more stable on the cooper river than it was on the ashley river after the civil war. so i don't have a, you know, a hair-raising anecdote that i can toss to you, taylor. and i, i'm not inclined to make one up. [laughter]
so, but it's interesting that, you know, monk's corner was one thing 150 years ago, and it is now something else. but is monk's corner predominantly african-american or half and half african-american, half white? >> i'd probably say, like, probably about 50-50. it has, like, larger sections of the city now that are predominantly african-american. >> yeah. right. yeah. and i think that a fact dates from, you know, right after, 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 monk's
corner were not eager to sell little parcels of land to african-americans and some were. and that was, again request, a matter of chance, a matter of family disposition, how this white family experienced their loss of status is and how the next white family experienced their loss of status, whether they wanted to help some of the african-american families that they had enslaved or not. so, yeah, those are just some, some thoughts here and there about monk's corner. >> thank you. yeah, i was -- whenever i was
reading it, i was reading about all the plantations that didn't get burned. and i don't know if you know gideon plantation? it's a huge one right there are on the corner. i didn't know if anything had affected them just because it's so large. i would have assumed they would have had some kind of backlash this a sense. >> yeah, yeah. i don't know the specifics on that plantation, what -- how many were there, you know? there were 50 plantations, you know, up and and down the cooper river and on the other side of it. so each one was a community, and each one had a different experience. >> yes, sir. well, thank you, i really appreciate it. >> sure, sure. pleasure. >> hello, mr. ball. >> hey, how are you? >> pretty good. my question is when i was reading your book, i noticed you mentioned how a lot of the
slaves they were often raped by their masters, and then when they were inpresentation nateed -- impregnated, the masters put down the birth date of their illegitimate child, they would just leave it blank. was it tough trying to trace the history of the family, especially for those, some of the black descendants of the ball family? was it tough, like, tracing them? >> oh, sure, yeah. very tough. i will -- there were perhaps dozens of african-american families with whom our white families shared blood because of forced sex on the plantations. now, we all hoe that this -- all know that this for white folks
is, is a difficult subject, and is there's a lot of denial or unwillingness to sort of look it in the face. but 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, you know, my great, great grandfather was matthew ball, and he came from this particular plantation. i wanted to -- and yet, for reasons that you described, there are few paper trails that you can follow the that lead to, you know, the coupling of a white enslaver and an enslaved woman. ..
i knew that i wanted to write about some of the families that had this experience, this oral traditions of their collaboration, participation and yet i knew that i could only write about those families if i had enough persuasive evidence that would convince a reader that our family was in fact related to them. i was able in the case of two things, compile of circumstantial evidence and
oral tradition and odd bits of paper evidence that confirmed and remain consistent in such things as this, specifics of the research are almost so obscure. there would be a plantation master named james ballin record so he's unmarried and living in a place called quentiny plantation and there is a woman on a place named harriet and harriet has a son, 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 the goes with ms. harriet and her son and they resettle their and furthermore james ball dies in the record
shows he leaves $500 to harriet and to no other african-americans so things like that, sort of circumstantial evidence but persuasive, in the case of a couple families i would find photograph of james ball and family in berkeley county, photograph of their great grandfather who was purported to be the son of james ball and compare these photographs and there was a strong family resemblance so that is a long answer to your question but it is very difficult to excavate
the details of this very painful history but i think the in the end 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. >> what was it like finding out information about the connections to your family? >> it the.
kate wilson was the matriarch of the family and she was the case of like the one i'm describing with james ball and her in slaver, john carlson, a cousin in the ball family, john carlson was not married to a white woman and she was his partner if you like in a place called ellwood plantation on the east branch of cooper and what is extraordinary about these two is they had eight children over appear go of 25 years so this was a relationship that is not a
relationship you can say was sensual, that kate wilson undertook with willingness and a relationship characterized by love. it has to be described in a complicated way but the evidence suggests it was not a relationship that was based upon sexual assault. if it survived for 25 years and produced eight children in these children received money and education from their deceased white father and it is
an interesting and complicated example of the interracial relationships that evolved during slavery. i think it is deep and they explored this relationship with the african-american carlson family and a lot of detail, so -- >> don't like the subject of another book. >> it does, doesn't it? >> how did, how did - the
subject oftentimes of russia or how was it handled -- >> white families? i think, in a variety of ways they were two templates, two models come to mind, one is there is a white couple, slaveowning couple in the big house, 50 african-americans who live adjacent to the big house and the husband is of a personality that wishes to avail himself of sexual pleasure and he does so either
by force or threat or some kind of bargaining quid pro quo relationship with women on the slave street and his wife, a white wife is probably aware of her husband's - perhaps he's not doing this all the time but perhaps he establishes a second family and it sounds like this is one template to me, the wife is aware of it and is just an awful kind of poison circulating in the household not to mention on the slave street.
another template is young sons, this is probably more common. the young sons of the white landowners often had their first sexual experiences and 16, 17-year-old men with the enslaved women. that was a kind of institutional aspect of the slave/master relationship the young white man became sexually apprenticed for took advantage of young black women on the plantation for his own sexual experience. as we know from memories and history of the south white women were not, for generations
and generations, allowed to be sexually active so young white men are forbidden, socially and in many other ways, for been from sexual love with white women and so slaved african-american women are often the mothers of children. the story of strom thurmond, strong thurmond resembles the template almost to me, is an 18-year-old kid, and fathered a child with one of the cooks in
the family home, that is the way it worked and those are the two templates >> any other questions? >> you guys want to talk about the hot stuff to talk about the real nitty-gritty. >> the question. >> in your book, i read l of the ball slave did not take the ball name when they were freed and it said in the book for the most part they were treated well, they were educated. i was wondering why do you think a lot of slaves didn't take on your family name?
>> the people formerly enslaved by the balls were not universally as you say treated well and certainly not universally educated but there is this pattern a lot of the country african-americans did not carry the surnames of their former enslavers. and other parts of the south, alabama and mississippi it is much more common that they carry the surnames of their former enslavers in the way devolved is this. there is oral tradition in the ball family that goes as follows, the biggest slave master at the end of the war is william ball who owns 12 plantations and enslaved 900
people, did not 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 but his desire was the former ball slaves do not carry the name ball. in 95% of the cases former ball slaves do not carry the name ball, one in 20 did use the name ball. i think this is something more common than is generally
acknowledged throughout the self, conventional understanding is african-americans carry the names of their former enslavers but i don't believe it is widely true because this was a point in the life of a man and a 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 and share it with their children and millions of african-americans chose names. in the case of the low country families seen by looking at the list of sharecropper contracts and the census records people chose surnames that were being
used by white folks elsewhere but they did not choose surnames that came from the family of their former enslavers. they might have chosen the name simmons, they lived 25 miles away and had some regard, joseph the name of anson, a white family they had some regard for. that is one way that it worked. >> thank you. >> might have time for one more question before we need to take a break and invite the public. anyone with a final question?
>> with african-american genealogy center, what will happen to the african-american family? >> good question and i'm optimistic that it will encourage hundreds if not thousands of people to investigate their family histories. tony carrier is a good egg and she has in her mind, she knows what records need to be retrieved to make it possible for african-americans to investigate their family histories so i think it might have a beneficial effect because as i said, i repeat this perhaps, a bit heavily, to
investigate your family history in the most difficult areas, has a therapeutic, against an unusual and unexpected strength to learn about the hard parts of what's. i'm describing the experience of african-americans who find time and will to do this as well as white folks who want to. into the heart -- hard parts of their family narrative.
it has a therapeutic effect so i am a domestic the family history center will spend some of that therapy. >> reporter: i am too and thank you for your generous time. we will take a break and be back at 2:30, is it >> take about a 5 or 6 minute break and we will come back and get started at 3:30. >> all right. >> wonderful. >> welcome back to our class, we are delighted to have all of you with us for a special
occasion. for which we are very grateful. our guest speaker -- i would like to take a moment for this. after months long nationwide search, delighted to share the memories of the chief executive office of the national - matthews is an experienced executive thought leader and educator with a track record of readership. with this project. exciting new phase of the museum at a forward step for
the staff to look closer. the contributions of the day. thank you so much. we are delighted to welcome arthur edward ball to our class today. slaves were in the family and won the national book award, there's a reason we are building this. awaiting this book opened my eyes, my heart, my mind to history that i did not previously know, history lost
in our country still, inspired me to set off on a quest would tell the long history to charles was extraordinary dedicated to manufacturers and staff that brought us this far. edward writing this book is a great service. you very much. factors edward will discuss his latest book, "life of a klansman".
"life of a klansman," edward ball returns to the subject of slaves and family, mechanisms of white supremacy in america, the lives of his own innocent's and tells the story of a complex clan, took up this radical races after the war. ball, defendant of this klansman paints a portrait of his family's anti-black that is part history, part memoir. welcome back, thanks for being here. >> thank you, good to be with you. thank you for this invitation
to talk once again to your circle admirers and to join with charlestonians in looking at the past in a way that it has influence on the present. i am not in charleston. i'm in connecticut where i live. my heart is with you and i wish i could be with you. when the epidemic finally lifts, i will make my reservations immediately to come spend some time once again. i want to talk about the q clocks -- ku klux klan,
referring to the group, the militias which show a familiarity the only people who knew actual marauders in the white supremacist moment would 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 have not thought their great-great-grandchildren would be talking about that and yet not only are we talking about the ku klux klan, the angry and ignorant and vicious a gangs of reconstruction men who disguised themselves and hurt and killed people, not only are we talking about them. we are circulating ideas today that recall those of the ku
klux klan's perpetrating acts the resemble those carried out by the first clans. i hope you can see some pictures on the screen. let me take you to el paso, texas in august of 2019, a marauder, a white terrorist killed 22 people, ruining the lives of hundreds. this marauder rights a manifesto that talks about white supremacy as his guiding idea. i will take you to charlottesville, virginia, august of 2017, white supremacists took over the city, beat up a lot of people, killed one person, these people
used language the klansman once coined and symbol that announced white racial identity, the number 14 is an apparently new symbol or sign the refers to a creed that is housed in a sentence, the 14 word manifesto by david lane, founder of a supremacist cell in the 19 eighties called the order, 14 word sentence, we must secure the existence of our people in the future for white children. we are all familiar with the events of june of 2015 at a manual a.m. e on calhoun street, the 11 people there had the books open at the prayer meeting to the parable as the seller, as you so so shall you reap.
the killer in that massacre also wrote a manifesto calling for a separate white nation. let's go to january 6th, 2021, in the us fred fiumano where a marauding mob carried white supremacist symbols during the storming of the capital. the assault on the capital was not a clan operation but it drew energies from the barely submerged river of white supremacist thought and action that originated 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 in white supremacist violence that announces itself is racial vengeance and that does not include police killings of unarmed african-americans, the status of those killings in the discussion of racial identity can be argued. in recent years it seemed to me like a return, remembrance of things past that seem familiar despite the grotesque uniqueness of these many acts. why are these things familiar? today if we 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 the home of my mother's
family. my mother's family lived in new orleans for 200 years. my father's family are all from charleston and they have been there for 300 years. i lived with my family in charleston a different part of my childhood in new orleans my mother's family remain plain people, clerks, tradesmen, schoolteachers, salesmen, carpenters, nurses. nobody at all of the higher education for 150 years until the 1970s so when my family arrived in new orleans when i was a child of about 10 we moved in with my grandmother into her bungalow which was raised up against the floods that plague new orleans, near
tulane university if you know the city and living with my grandmother was a woman named mod, my grandmother's sister, mod lacorn. it was with on to mod 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. on to mod was that person. she was about 75 when i first paid attention, she was a schoolteacher, she was unmarried, never married, she wore hornrimmed glasses and had a closet of demon dresses with longsleeve come here, boy, let me tell you about our people. our people, they came from
britney on the west coast of france, the first man was called eve lacorn and was a sailor in the boy in's maybe it as you learn in school napoleon was involved in war from one end of years to the other, eve was one of his junior officers so the emperor napoleon sent of the teller of ships to the caribbean because there was an uprising in the place they now call haiti. when the ship got off, eve got off and never got back on and put down roots here. he found himself the bride who was about 19 named marguerite's orang. this is eve the corn's grave and his 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 was from a branch less wealthy than the other branch and her branch of the family within decline so they moved into a little creole cottage in the french quarter and had 5 children and my aunt mod or he, had 5 children and among them was my grandfather constant acorn. he was redeemer. redemption, as she said. that was after the civil war
when the colored people had taken over the state and restarting businesses, acting as though everything was theirs and they were voting the redemption was after the time they called reconstruction, that awful time. reconstruction was not when the south tried to build itself up again after the war between the states. reconstruction is when they put colored people in seats of power. redemption were the people who resist that. my grandfather constant was redeemer. he wanted to restore white supremacy. he got tied up in that white league. the white league, the only difference between the whiteley and the ku klux klan was the cuckoo express he could've and the white league were not and thank god for the white league
because they put the negro out of the seat of power. so it was from on to mod, the family historian that i first learned about our klansman. 30 years later, mod having died, my parents having died, i'm cleaning out the family house and i find a batch of files labeled lacorn and i begin reading and make a decision to tell the story of our klansman, go back and forth from my home in connecticut to new orleans to look in the archives and i higher a researcher to excavate the documentary record and the story takes shape. constant lacorn was born in 1832 to a french family in new orleans, the second of 3 sons. his parents, give his older brother the education and constant goes into a trade, brings up a small thin man,
nervous and alert with sharp features, skinny nose and beautiful hands and under bite and brow. constant's parents were of the white classes start high and lose their economic advantage. in new orleans his parents were among the one quarter of whites to enslave people but they enslave five 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, rent them to whites more prosperous than she is and that becomes the family income. at age 24 and 1856 constant married woman named gabriel age 19 and an orphan of french dissent from the caribbean island of martinique. steamboats on the mississippi. as the support approaches in 1860 constant and his wife gabrielle live in a rented house with a two children, his parents are dead, his mother
when she died gave him two of her enslaved people. that will and dina, he sells avid, hold onto dina begins. constant goes to fight for the confederate 3 as to whether white men in louisiana. he and his wife invest in the fight buying confederate bonds and lose all their money is when he comes home after three years he is sick, exhausted and bitter and arrives in the city full of carpetbaggers and with the negroes numerous, now with three children the carpenter lacorn finds his livelihood woman dina is free and gone. louisiana is occupied by the u.s. army and new orleans is
crowded with black freedom people who have left the sugar and cotton plantations north of the city. 350,000 african-americans in louisiana are emancipated. many thousands moved to new orleans and constant, the carpenter, now competes with black craftsman to make a living and does badly. lacorn, my great-great-grandfather felt himself the victim. he saw the new world is anathema and descended into resentment. the occupation government was pro-negro in the coloreds held office seemed to to be a genuine aversion. 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
back slaves it meant power sharing with whites, perhaps wealth sharing and somewhere in the distance, shared humanity. these fantastical ideas work on radical reconstructions by millions of white opponents met with massive obstruction and violent defiance. that is one of constant's houses. the ku klux klan arose in tennessee 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 dominated by whites with only whites in economic and political authority. the name ku klux klan derives from the greek name for circle
and gangs as everyone knows dressing costumes and masks. klansman made a cult of disguise, wearing hoods to avoid identification by the army occupiers. klansman also knew their victims personally and preferred to torment them anonymously. in louisiana the clan used other names, the knights of the white can million was one. the white league another, the innocent a third. in mississippi there was the white line. in north carolina the red shorts. the ku klux klan is as wide as the south for eight years and alongside it there were all those parallel militias i just named. and earlier disguise of the white brigades was the ranks of volunteer fire companies.
volunteer firemen joined in great numbers, confederate veterans joined volunteer fire companies which became overstaffed and armed and were like a kind of bed for the white supremacist movement. constant lacorn's fire company was called home hook and ladder which is made of his former company see of the fourteenth regiment louisiana country. constant took the extreme step and joined this armed resistance. he became a guerrilla fighter who wanted to return the south to white wool and he became a foot soldier in that campaign. the first major explosion in
new orleans occurred in july of 1866 and circumstantial evidence is preponderant the constant lacorn was there. the mechanics institute, a meeting hall for tradesmen during the convention to agitate for the black vote, this was among the fire companies on the scene send by the white mayor to break up this illegal meeting. the shooting started. and assault of the clan, the in sympathy and clan consisting of fire companies, ranks of unnamed gangss, left 200 dead according to one newspaper editor who was witness to the events and it was a massacre about voting rights. it is relevant to observe much of the fight during the election of 2020 was about who gets to vote, whose votes are
counted, especially when it is black people who are voting. during the next eight years evidence shows lacorn and $5,000 in the state, all of them known as ku klux klan in the newspapers, rated, marched and 8 people. lacorn seems to have joined a group of the knights of the white chameleon led by a family friend. the knights of the white chameleon were costumed and hooded. they harassed people, conducted night raids, whipped people and carried out individual killings. lacorn and armed gangs of 20 surrounded a police depot in new orleans. a second group stormed the city's maine armory but failed to overcome its u.s. army
defenders. lacorn's gangs held the position and the standoff ensued 4 days with the military camp nearby. if the clan could bring down the louisiana government even for a week than the u.s. army would shore up the new and precarious civil rights laws, forced to withdraw from the state and white might be taken back. the army stormed the building and one man was killed. la corn and the others were charged with treason and violating the ku klux klan act. congress helped -- hoped it would stamp out the white games the clan penalty was five years. the treason penalty was hanging.
constant lacorn was not the only one in the family who fought for white. his cousins, his nephew, his brother-in-law joined him in a coup attempt. in addition several of his french cousins play greater or lesser full, in the treason case the gallows were being argued when a sympathetic white judge dismissed all accounts, freeing lacorn and his co-conspirators as he returned to the street and to the fight. if you believe 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. it is likely for publicity reasons that this number was
exaggerated. medicine the actual claim membership stood near 4 million. so 4 million klansman living in 1925, if you forward 100 years to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the year 2025, add up to 135 million white americans, 135 million form 50% of the white population of the united states. seen another way that means one of two whites have a family link to the ku klux klan every other white person if he or she knew the names of ancestors and wished to research their lives could produce clan family memoir. why retrieve from obscurity
this bitter inability story about constant lacorn, 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 and i am disgusted and ashamed. i had an inkling that my great grand grandfather was a violent supremacist that i did not see until research just what this family member had gotten a lot of thoughtful man, he could write an invoice for his carpentry work with that is about it. and he did not develop the way entitlement which still circulates but god knows he put poison in that idea and damaged the lives of hundreds.
still, for public reasons and not personal reasons, why revive this filthy story and bring it back? one reason is to try to harness the sale of l acorn and repurpose it in some hope of shining a light on steps forward. 50 years after the end of the civil rights movement and the white and black divide nationally is caustic and fresh and that is because the us possesses a tragic history, some of which white americans tend to be unaware of. in fact much of this tragic history lies in 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 racist power and that is because in part the ku klux klan people like lacorn succeeded, they made whiteness in norm, part of the atmosphere. if you think that i am flattening all difference, making white people the same as klansman, 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 common 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 uncomfortable and that is to
see it is not an alien phenomenon but is something familiar. perhaps in my case something familial. i wrote this book "life of a klansman" to see whiteness as something familial and for other reasons. i do not think we are in the midst of a return to the barbarism of race wars. it is reason to be optimistic. last summer the mass marches showed the country something new. after the killing of george floyd, 20 million people demonstrated for weeks or months. among the marchers were perhaps one third of them white people, this goes without precedent. certain civil rights campaigns in 1966, 7, 8 when they involve
participation of whites it was one in 10. last summer the whites who marched are whites who may be seeing their own racial identity in a new way and that is reason for optimism. i do have reason to hope and as my aunt mod told me about the redemption my grandfather constant lacorn, he was a redeemer, redemption was a return to order. we had had since mid-january a kind of condition, the end of the previous administration was a pivot point, possibly a redemptive turn, a redemption that is beginning to gather strength and i hope the white militias and their silent supporters are going to be
turned back and the guys are pushed back underground beneath the surface. thank you all very much for taking this walk with me. thank you very much for inviting me to talk. that story i just told is in this book which is 6 months old now or something like that and it is better told than the way it is told in that book. so by this book. if it were didn't make that clear, "life of a klansman," thank you so much.
generously agreed to answer questions and at this point i would like to invite any of our guests to put questions into the chat and i will do my best to relay those to edward. we are waiting here. talk a little bit about the relationship with the current progress on any level in terms of the research and what those projects what it meant to you personally? >> sure. my book slaves in the family was published 23 years ago and
tells the story of the ball family of charleston and their 25 rice plantations and stories of ten african-american families whose ancestors had once enslaved on their rice plantations north of charleston. when i wrote that book i practically swam in a river of source material, 10,000 pages of records that survived from this slave dynasty if you will allow me to use that expression. allowing me to crumble the lines of hundreds of people who lived without the benefit of the literacy or inscribing their own as a's.
i started to research the book "life of a klansman" which tells the story of one man in my mother's family in new orleans, in louisiana. like 99% of society, his family left very few paper records that chronicle their experiences. there was no archive and i only had a few scraps of paper to distinguish this man so i had to decide i wanted to write his story and i began writing it as a novel because i thought faced with what you might call the silence of the archive i
thought i would have to write it as fiction. not only were they not very good, 100 pages but at a certain point i realized the story had more grip as nonfiction, as history because people crave the real. i had to write it as nonfiction to do justice to the extraordinary things that i was beginning to uncover so i switched to writing a piece of history and this is a biography if you like, the way it is sold.
to do it was to spend hundreds of hours in public records in the state of louisiana in an archive called the historic new orleans collection, the sacramental records of the catholic church diocese of new orleans, an archive collected and held by the new orleans public library, in court records, criminal records, newspaper archives retain some of the very fragile papers published chronicling the events of the clan. it took 5 years of research with the help of hired research assistants to put together
small pieces of narrative content like bits of 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 different research experience and the result is a different story. it is still history but has different routes to it. >> a couple friends were curious about your research assistant and wanted to know how you went about finding a good research assistant.
>> i went to a 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? fortunately, one exceptional exceptional researcher named john bartus who is a more lenny and signed on to the task and -- i'm living in connecticut, coming back and forth in connecticut to new orleans, but without this man's work i couldn't have written this book and he now teaches at lsu.
his first job as a historian, hired by louisiana university, much gratitude for his work excavating the remote parts of this story. i think these are a couple of related questions here. does mister ball believe racism and violent whiteness can be rooted out and healed rather than just pushed back into the geyser and i think somewhat overlapping is patrick's question about what we might do to address polarization in racial terms that was reflected in the january 6th event? >> those are hard questions.
you got me on that metaphor. the underground geyser metaphor. a nice image but it does trap us into seeing white supremacy as a state of nature. it may not be. it may be an acquired ideology. in fact white supremacy had to be entered. i have this theory is that white supremacy has a coherent system of entitlement invented after the civil war when the white racial identity was under threat for the first time. and reconstruction, kind of reaction, generated the set of
ideas, the 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 that circulates in public life in the united states for generation after generation and it does i believe it does surface and then disappear, surface and then disappear, when jim crow segregation is established, comes to a
crescendo and the eugenics movement of the teens and 20s is another surge of it. i think that we are in the first and interesting stages of the 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 think optimistically there is a new understanding racial identity
is not something possessed only by people of color but possessed also by white people and part of that identity exists in the notion, unconscious principally but with actual social effects of the authority to rule, white folks as, how can we say, the natural place of duty and authority and a number of things we think about ourselves that have been placed there by history. they can be unlearned.
and i think we are in the early stage of that unlearning and i have hope that it is going to continue. >> one more question from our good student taylor stir the 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. >> challenges of this project partly come from the research challenges. the fact of the absent archives as i call it, the normal
experience of families in the family i'm writing about in this book, my mother's family 150 years ago, working-class family, what they were called in the french-speaking new orleans at the time, little whites, there was an understanding that white population was made of the great whites, the landowning whites, wealthy class and a little whites the majority experience is the absent archives so there was a research challenge there and there was another research challenge.
you asked me earlier whether i can talk about the relationship between this book "life of a klansman" and slaves in the family 20 odd years ago and one thing this book "life of a klansman" does that echoes the template of slaves in the family i find in louisiana and a couple northern states, african americans living today whose ancestors were victimized by the marauders of the ku klux klan great great grandfather joined and with their participation i tell their
family stories as well, what happened to that family in this massacre, what happened to them after where they are now so that was another research problem, finding and gaining trust of several families who would allow me to come visit them in for representative, someone who represents one of the family members who violated and abused their people, their ancestors some decades, some generations ago, that was hard, that was hard. those are two answers to your question.
>> thank you all for the questions you have put into the chat. there have been a number of favorable problems for you and hopefully we will get those to you and read some mail from your many fans. >> i want you to send the ones that are throwing tomatoes. will you send those? sometimes these stories get under people's skin and it is okay. >> thank you again. can you close this out?
>> local booksellers and those talking about this, it is a wonderful book a book of passion for me. i think you and congratulate edward for his scholarship and willingness to tackle subjects that are important to our country being examined and i am optimistic about the future and that our country is determined