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- August 7, 2020
- Event Category:
- Author Events
presenting Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy
in conversation with KENNETH W. MACK
Harvard Book Store’s virtual event series and the Boston Public Library welcome acclaimed writer EDWARD BALL—author of the National Book Award–winning biography Slaves in the Family—for a discussion of his latest book, Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy. He will be joined in conversation by KENNETH W. MACK, the inaugural Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law and Affiliate Professor of History at Harvard University and author of Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer.
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About Life of a Klansman
Life of a Klansman tells the story of a warrior in the Ku Klux Klan, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the Civil War. Edward Ball, a descendant of the Klansman, paints a portrait of his family’s anti-black militant that is part history, part memoir rich in personal detail.
Sifting through family lore about “our Klansman” as well as public and private records, Ball reconstructs the story of his great-great grandfather, Constant Lecorgne. A white French Creole, father of five, and working class ship carpenter, Lecorgne had a career in white terror of notable and bloody completeness: massacres, night riding, masked marches, street rampages—all part of a tireless effort that he and other Klansmen made to restore white power when it was threatened by the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. To offer a non-white view of the Ku-klux, Ball seeks out descendants of African Americans who were once victimized by “our Klansman” and his comrades, and shares their stories.
For whites, to have a Klansman in the family tree is no rare thing: Demographic estimates suggest that fifty percent of whites in the United States have at least one ancestor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan at some point in its history. That is, one-half of white Americans could write a Klan family memoir, if they wished.
In an era when racist ideology and violence are again loose in the public square, Life of a Klansman offers a personal origin story of white supremacy. Ball’s family memoir traces the vines that have grown from militant roots in the Old South into the bitter fruit of the present, when whiteness is again a cause that can veer into hate and domestic terror.
Praise for Life of a Clansman
“Ball tells his story with curiosity, disgust, and a sweeping lamp of novelistic imagination, making his tale all the chillier for being so intimate, so intensely realized . . . This is an important work of America’s collective history—one whose ghosts are most undead.” —John Freeman, Literary Hub
“Captivating . . . An intimate origin story of the white-supremacist movement . . . [Edward Ball] reconstructs his ancestor’s world and moral insight in a work of novelistic expansiveness . . . Ball refuses to ‘disown’ the past, believing it crucial for white Americans to acknowledge that ‘marauders like Constant are our people, and they fight for us.’ Accordingly, he approaches his ancestor’s story with shame, but also sympathy and imagination.” —Julian Lucas, Harper’s
“In this compelling narrative of the life of a klansman, Edward Ball reckons with the history of whiteness that has shaped the U.S. and which is his personal inheritance. Ball confronts the violence and hatred at the foundation of white authority and privilege by recounting his great-great-grandfather’s worldview and acts of brutality. It is easy to recoil from the ugliness documented in these pages; much more difficult is the task of acknowledging that murder and terror are the bedrock of the nation. Life of A Klansman is a must-read, now more than ever.” —Saidiya Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
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