Cover Image: Life of a Klansman

Life of a Klansman

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Member Reviews

.Although factual, it was full of reminders throughout the narrative that the narrator was speculating about many of the events related about the specific actions of the relatives and offered little tangible evidence of the story. It was enlightening regarding the origins of white supremacy and the KKK.
I can see how some would agree it is a noteworthy narrative because it is told without apology or moral judgement. But I did not share the narrator's inference that all white people are of a similar mind and share similar goals. In my opinion, this narrative has the potential to spark much outrage in the current tensions existing in our society. 

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book to read and review. The opinions expressed here are my own.
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“White supremacy is not a marginal ideology. It is the early build of the country. It is a foundation on which the social edifice rises, bedrock of institutions. White supremacy also lies on the floor of our minds. Whiteness is not a deformation of thought, but a kind of thought itself…
‘The story that follows is not that a writer discovers a shameful family secret and turns to the public to confess it. The story here is that whiteness and its tribal nature are normal, everywhere, and seem as permanent as the sunrise.” 

I read this book free and early; thanks go to Net Galley and Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux for the review copy. 

Edward Ball writes about his ancestor, Constant Lecorgnes, known fondly within his family as “our Klansman.” The biography is noteworthy in that it is told without apology or moral judgement, as if Ball wants whites to feel okay about the racism, the rape, the exploitation, the murders, the terrorism that membership in the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camellia, and any and all of the other white supremacist organizations have carried out, and will continue to carry out, in the United States. Relax, he tells us, it’s normal. 

Well, let’s back up a moment. The “us” in the narrative is always Caucasians. It apparently hasn’t occurred to him that anybody else might read his book. In some ways, the “us” and the “our” used consistently and liberally throughout this biography are even worse than the explicit horrors detailed within its pages. It’s as if there is a huge, entitled club, and those that don’t belong are not invited to read. Further, it’s as if all white people are of a similar mind and share similar goals. 

Not so much. 

Ball won the National Book Award some years back for Slaves in the Family, a title currently adorning my shelves downstairs. I have begun it two or three times, but it didn’t hold me long enough for me to see what he does with it. And this book is the same, in that the late Lecorgnes is not particularly compelling as a subject, except within the framework of his terrorism. He was not, Ball tells us, a key player; he was just one more Caucasian foot soldier within the Klan. And so, the reading drones along, and then there are the key pronouns that capture my attention, those that give ownership to his terrible heritage, and a couple of paragraphs of the history of the period, particularly within Southern Louisiana, follow; lather, rinse, repeat. 

As I read, I searched for accountability. As it happens, I have one of those relatives too; but my elders, though not beacons within the Civil Rights realm by a long shot, understood that such a membership brings shame upon us, and consequently I was not supposed to know about him at all. I overheard some words intended to be private, uttered quietly during a moment of profound grief following a sudden death. My mother spoke to someone—my father? I can’t recall—but she referred to her father’s horrifying activity, and I was so shocked that I left off lurking and spying, and burst into the room. I believe I was ten years old at the time. I was told that the man—who was never, and never will be referred to in the fond, familiar manner that Ball does—was not entirely right in the head. He truly believed he was helping to protect Southern Caucasian women, but he was wrong. It was awful, and now it’s over; let’s not talk about it anymore. In fact, this topic was so taboo that my own sister didn’t know. She is old now, and was shocked when I mentioned it last spring. She had no idea. 

As I developed, I understood, from teachers and friends more enlightened than Mr. Ball, that the best way we can deal with ugly things in our background that we cannot change, is to contribute our own energies in the opposite direction. I’ve lived by it, and so I was waiting for Ball to say something similar, if not in the prologue, then surely somewhere near the end; but he never did. If Ball feels any duty whatsoever to balance the scales of his family’s terrible contribution, he doesn’t offer it up. There’s no call to action, no cry for social justice. Just the message that hey—it’s normal, and it’s fine. 

I’m not sure if I want to read his other work anymore; but I know that what I cannot do, and will not do, is recommend this book to you.
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Whoo-ee! This was something. I had definitely never read anything like it. It was great to read for more backstory after watching the movie.
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I was intrigued by the premise of this book. But, the author has little tangible evidence of the story he tells and his speculative choices feel like finding justifications. Additionally, the addition of a second narrative about ancestors of a black contemporary of the titular character was very bizarre and felt like further justification for white rationalization.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing this nonfiction ARC. I had not yet read Ball’s previous work, Slaves in the Family, but decided to jump in with this title. I found the book enlightening regarding the origins of white supremacy and the KKK and I do think the author is brave in a way to dig into such an unsavory and unsettling part of his ancestry. As he states, I’m sure many could dig into their family’s backgrounds and find similar ancestors. That said, I didn’t enjoy his style of writing. Although factual, I didn’t like his continuous reminders that he doesn’t really know this fact or that, or whether his relative was in this place or that, but feels like he could have been. It gave the book too much of a speculative quality. And even though he tries to explain it away, I did find him TOO neutral about his ancestor’s actions.
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Author Edward Ball writes about his family history in this powerful, indeed often harrowing, account of racism in Louisiana in the years after the American Civil War. His great-great grandfather became a member of the Ku-Klux Klan, and he and his fellow Klansmen were determined to restore white power whatever it took. This book chronicles the terror they unleashed against their black neighbours and it makes for some difficult reading. But the book is not just a family memoir, but a wide-ranging history of a whole era and an exploration of and meditation on the very nature of racism and its so-called ideology. It demonstrates how quickly white supremacy became a part of American life, where, as we know all too well, it survives to this day. It’s an unflinching look back at the past and an attempt to understand just how his own family could have become so filled with hate. The book is a valuable contribution to the literature of race, racism and prejudice, written with insight and honesty, and is an original approach to this important issue. It’s a compelling and illuminating read, which I very much enjoyed.
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DNF - I'm sorry but I really struggled to get into this book. I couldn't engage with the text and found myself skipping large portions - it just didn't hold my interest unfortunately.
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A personal tale that applies to many of us. Ball looks at the history of hate in America. How family members can appear loving yet hate those of color is approached in a honest and truthful way.
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A riveting story of one man’s ancestor and the history of New Orleans. This biography follows Constant Lecorgne’s life from before the Civil War through the attempts at Reconstruction . Louisiana history is fraught with racism and Jim Crow environment. The author looks at racism through the 18th, 19th, 20th and this century. It is a very thoughtful presentation and hard to acknowledge at times.
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Whilst this book is a very tough subject to write on, it was wonderfully researched it could quite well serve as a history book. Sadly, I don't think it will play well anywhere but our region. I am from the same area and realize most of the residents have a Klansman in their family background. A beautiful history of the beginning of Louisiana as well it is an informative read.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's one of my favorite reads of the year so far. 
The author has discovered that his ancestors were slave owners AND Ku Klux Clan members. And before you cast judgement on him for this fact, he shows that the odds of you having such an ancestor in your past are 50/50!
Ball traces the history of the slave trade in Louisiana, the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Jim Crow laws, and the birth of the Ku Klux Clan. To do so, he vividly describes the beliefs, attitudes, and feelings of the slave owners. And, to a degree, of the slaves themselves. He really made me feel like I was standing next to and talking with his ancestors.  The rationales used to justify slavery are, honestly, heartbreaking. You cannot help but feel the despair of watching black families ripped apart as their children are sold as property, just like you would sell cattle or cotton. Or of the terror black families felt at the hands of the Ku Klux Clan. Or the feelings of disgust as you witness how the Clan is accepted, even encouraged, by people.  
The author has also tracked down the ancestors of several of the characters in the book. Thru interviews with them he made further discoveries. 
The author is trying to make amends for his family's past. It's a good step, admitting that we all have a duty to improve. 
I highly recommend this book.
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