A Brief History of the KKK with Gerald Horne
As the KKK rallies in Charlottesville, VA, author and historian Gerald Horne charts its history from Reconstruction to the rise of Donald Trump
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
A few dozen members of the KKK one of America’s most infamous and oldest hate groups, held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, where they protested a city council decision to remove a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The group was guarded by scores of police and outnumbered by hundreds of counter protestors, who waved signs denouncing racism. The anti-KKK protestors raised their voices in chants and shouts, drowning out speeches from the white supremacists. The Klan group that brandished Confederate flags and signs with anti-Semitic messages, was separated by crowds by a ring of fencing and a heavy police presence. After the rally, police dispersed the protestors with tear gas, after they said they refused to let the KKK members leave.
In February, the Charlottesville City Council voted three to two, to remove the statue from the park once named for Lee, and made plans for a new memorial to remember the Southern cities and slave population. That’s according to the Daily Progress, the local newspaper there. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Gerald Horne. Dr. Horne holds the John Jay and Rebecca Moore’s Chair of History in African American Studies at the University of Houston, he’s the author of many books, most recently The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.
Thanks so much for joining us again.
Gerald Horne: Thank you for inviting me.
Jaisal Noor: I wanted to get your reaction, your response to this latest rally that happened over the weekend, it made national headlines, the KKK, about a few dozen members, were greatly outnumbered by the anti-KKK protestors, the anti-racist protestors. The KKK was drowned out, they had a heavy police presence and the police ended up using tear gas to disperse the protests against the KKK after the Klan rally had ended. Give us your reaction to this, because Charlottesville has been a flash point in recent months, ever since the city council voted to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee. Richard Spencer held a torch light rally there in the spring, which has been followed by a counter protest in the subsequent days. Give us your thoughts.
Gerald Horne: Well you need to realize that Charlottesville, Virginia, is a particularly sensitive site. On the one hand, it houses a college campus, the University of Virginia, and college campuses tend to have many people who lean to the left. In fact, I had a fellowship at the University of Virginia, some years ago and I remember that statue very well, being offended by it. On the other hand, Charlottesville, Virginia, and more particularly, the University of Virginia, is known as a site founded by a Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson. A Founding Father, who many considered to be a sociopath, not least because of the intimate relationship he had for years, with a slave teenager, speaking of Sally Hemmings, while denying it during his lifetime.
He’s considered to be the Sociopath in Chief, and of course there is a saying in United States history, that if Thomas Jefferson is wrong, then the United States is wrong. Thomas Jefferson is certainly wrong, and many in the Ku Klux Klan and the ultra-right, find that a very difficult pill to swallow. Keep in mind, that this is the fourth iteration of the Ku Klux Klan. Recall, that it had its origins in the early post-Civil War era, circa 1865, when the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest organized a clan to terrorize the newly freed enslaved population, and particularly to deprive them of voting rights.
Then it had another iteration in the World War I era, when it broadened its remit to include anti-Catholicism and antisemitism, and in fact, controlled a number of state houses and marched into thousands, if not into 10s of thousands, through the streets of Washington DC. Then in the 1960s with the rise of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement, the Ku Klux Klan came creeping back, and of course was known for executing civil rights protestors and demonstrators, and now, with the rise of Donald J. Trump, and the so-called Alt Right or White Nationalist movement, the Ku Klux Klan has been given a new lease on life, and we see it rearing its ugly head once more.
Jaisal Noor: What you’re describing in many of your examples here, about the history of the Klan, is these two versions of history that are sort of in the fabric of the history of the United States. You mentioned Sally Hemmings. Just before the Fourth of July holiday, NBC, the Washington Post, a number of other news outlets came under fire for describing Sally Hemmings as Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. This is just one example, they got lots of criticism of it, the Washington Post ran an op-ed rebutting the portrayal of Sally Hemmings as Thomas Jefferson’s mistress, and at the same time, the KKK now is defending Robert E. Lee as a hero, as a defender of the South.
Can you just comment a little bit about both of these topics as well?
Gerald Horne: First of all, with regard to Sally Hemmings, it is beyond belief that one could imagine that an enslaved teenage girl could give voluntary consent to an adult powerful man, indeed a Founding Father like Thomas Jefferson. It’s beyond belief that the Washington Post and other news outlets would describe her as a mistress, that’s part of the sanitizing and deodorizing of US history that I would have thought had gone the way of the dodo bird, that in fact it was now extinct.
With regard to Robert E. Lee, he was a traitor to the United States government, that is to say he was trained by the United States government to be a military officer, but in 1861, when the so called Confederate States of America rebelled against the United States government, in order to overthrow the United States government, and perpetuate the enslavement of Africans for evermore, he joined that inglorious cause and in fact, was responsible for the deaths of numerous US nationals, not least black US nationals.
So to imagine that a statue would be built in his honor is blowing my mind. I think it should have come down years ago, and I’m happy to see that protestors are now trying to ensure that it comes down for evermore.
Jaisal Noor: You talked about the different periods of the KKK, of their resurgence. Many of these Confederate statues you see built across the United States, including in Maryland, in Washington DC, in the South as well. They were built in, what may surprise people, they were built in the earlier 20th century, during the rise of Jim Crow. It wasn’t right after the Civil War. Can you talk a little bit about the history of these Confederate statues and what they really represent?
Gerald Horne: The construction of these Confederate statues was part and parcel of a revision of history. Instead of seeing the Confederate States of America as a counter-revolutionary force, a treasonous force, it was re-fashioned and revised, to appear to be a kind of cause, that was somehow glorious, and that was somehow defeated, that had something to do with States Rights, not slavery, that had something to do with tariffs not slavery. They are all over the place. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I formally taught and still have a residence, the centerpiece of that campus, is a Confederate soldier with his gun pointing North.
This is not unusual, in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, in the neighborhood in which I grew up, there is a Confederate statue that the city authorities are now trying to remove. In Richmond, Virginia, just down the road from where you are in Baltimore, there are enormous Confederate statues reaching to the sky, honoring these traitors, and certainly, those statues too need to be removed.
Jaisal Noor: Can you comment a little bit more about the relationship of the KKK and the state? You mentioned that there’s members of KKK that took state houses that had lots of political power, but especially during the Civil Rights Movement, at the time, when they attacked and killed members of the Civil Rights Movement, were they held accountable? And to this day, have they been held to account for their actions?
Gerald Horne: Generally speaking the answer is no. They literally have been able to get away with murder, and that is one of the many reasons why you find these folks coming out to protest the removal of these Confederate statues, because they recognize more than most, that if you can successfully remove these Confederate statues, you might be able to bring successful prosecutions, even against KKK killers, who enjoyed and executed a reign of terror in the 1960s, so this is a very important struggle that’s unfolding as we speak, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Jaisal Noor: And finally, do you think that the vastly outnumbered KKK protestors, they were drowned out by this massive crowd of anti-racist demonstrators. Do you think that, that’s a sign of where the popular opinion and feeling is right now, about the KKK? Do you think this era is waning, or do you think we’re just seeing the beginning of a new resurgence? We know that for example, the KKK newspaper, their largest paper endorsed Donald Trump, we know White Nationalists have been empowered by Donald Trump, but do you think that they’re on the decline or do you think we’re just seeing their rise?
Gerald Horne: I would like to think that they are on the decline. I would like to think that their influence is waning, but since they have a comrade in the Oval Office, since you have had racist killings in New York City, in College Park, Maryland, in Portland, Oregon, that bear the earmarks, if not the design of those sympathetic to the KKK, I think it would be naïve to imagine that the KKK is going away anytime soon in these United States of America.
Jaisal Noor: All right Gerald Horne, thank you so much for joining us.
Gerald Horne: Goodbye and thank you for inviting me.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.