They Called Themselves the KKK
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2010
176 pages, ages 11 up
Behind the Book
Part 4: A Silent Majority
I had researched the Klan’s history and creed, and yet I was unprepared for what I saw and what I heard — from the opening speech to the pageantry of the closing cross-lighting ceremony.
Most of all, I was unprepared for the ordinariness of the people who attended the Congress. They played with their children. They talked about their gardens and their families. They sang the same hymns I grew up singing.
I also wasn’t prepared for the relatively small number in attendance. I don’t know the exact number, but I estimate that fewer than 100 people were there, even though the registration packet and other information promised huge crowds.
For the benefit of the short-wave radio listeners, the audience was told to clap as if there were hundreds and hundreds of people present.
On one hand, I find comfort in that small number and the fact that the today’s KKK wants to create the illusion that it is bigger than it really is. Isn’t that what fear-mongering is about? Smoke and mirrors?
On the other hand, one speech haunts me more than the others: “We are planting thousands of seeds among high school students,” said a Klanswoman. “We don’t need robes … a silent majority in America agrees with us.”
Perhaps W.E.B. Du Bois explained such fear best: “[T]hese human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime.”