Non-KKK-supporter Elizabeth Self attended this week’s lecture on the KKK. Let her educate you.
Yesterday, Philip Hamburger, professor of law, gave a talk on the KKK and the Separation of Church and State. I dropped in, intrigued because I’ve always been confused about just what the KKK was. In textbooks I was told they were a weirdly well-organized lynch mob of the South, but my older, male, white relatives back in Alabama always vehemently insisted that this misunderstood little club was actually designed to protect women and force men to be genteel and bring home the bacon and was simply vilified by the Yankee media, which chose to focus on there oh-so-few not-so-pleasant activities. Though I was more inclined to believe the book, I thought I would go be sure.
Now I’m even more confused.
In order to accurately describe the Klan’s role in the politics of the 20th century, Hamburger organized his talk as “a table of strange facts,” with such servings as the roles of women’s groups, the meaning of the fiery cross, the goals of the KKK for public education, different meanings of the slogan “Separation of Church and State”, and the role of the clan in nativist movements today. As he dished out all of these odd servings, I learned that the Klan presented itself as a rather progressive group, pledging to dispel ignorance and encourage liberated minds, as well as, you know, defend white supremacy. Many of us would even agree with their stance on public education, too: “Children should be taught how to think, not what to think.”
I was even shocked to hear from Professor Hamburger (if you’re beginning to get hungry, maybe I should also mention that salad, pita bread, and fudge were also served) that the KKK was so popular up north that there was a women’s KKK group in every major city of New York State. Meanwhile, in the South the wealthy considered the whole organization to be brutish and even disgusting and wouldn’t have anything at all to do with it.
After about a half hour of his lecture, Hamburger opened the floor to discussion, during which I learned that I was probably the only person without a degree and/or career in political science or history there. Even though much of the historical, theoretical jargon was over my head, it was enlightening to hear about how many ways the idea of separation and state had been interpreted and applied. Hamburger also got pretty darn metaphysical, comparing racism to public bathrooms, fleshing out the dangers of phrases, and declaring, “History is more than just the past.”
The takeaway: Southerners were in fact not the only ones who bought into the Klan, the Klan like to spell things with lots of K’s, not everyone who has a nice slogan is actually nice, and go to lectures because odd things happen and there’s sometimes free food. Look out for the next talk in this series, “The Politics of Irreligion: The Political Causes of America’s Growing Secularism” by David Campbell on October 17th.
Questionable art via Wikimedia