Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy
In 1998, Edward Ball won the National Book Award for Slaves in the Family, his unflinching history concerning slavery his father's ancestors perpetuated in South Carolina. He continues unraveling the tightly knotted legacy of white supremacy by studying his mother's ancestors in Louisiana: specifically, Polycarp Constant Lecorgne, "our klansman."
A fighter in the rebel army during the Civil War and in the white militias of Reconstruction, Constant is but a focal point in Ball's broader concern, bringing clarity to the corrosive ideologies of slavery and race science, whose fallout continues to revisit generation after generation of Americans. "I am trying to make this thing visible," he writes, "whiteness. It looks transparent and flimsy, maybe. Some would say it does not even exist. But I am trying to make it conspicuous, as visible and as plain as blackness." Spanning most of the 19th century, Life of a Klansman is a nuanced case study of one cog within a machine of terrorism and oppression.
Ball creates a dynamic space for challenging reconciliation, breaking from the narrative periodically to reflect with empathy for family members acting in ways he abhors, yet never absolving them. In documenting white violence, Ball writes, "Here is a way not to see these events: the marauders like Constant are immoral, abject, and bad people.... It is truer to say this. The marauders are our people, and they fight for us." Never does the author lose sight of his complicit inheritance of privilege at the expense of black lives.
Life of a Klansman removes the histrionic hoods and gazes purposefully into the frantic eyes of a homegrown terrorism. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness