Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy

Edward Ball. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-18632-6
A violent legacy stirs a deep meditation on the nature of racism in this anguished study of Civil War–era New Orleans. Ball follows up on his National Book Award–winning Slaves in the Family with an investigation of his great-great-grandfather Polycarp Constant Lecorgne, a carpenter, Confederate soldier, and militant in the White League—a New Orleans militia like the Ku Klux Klan—who participated in at least one bloody street insurrection against Louisiana’s Reconstruction government and its antiracist policies. Ball’s account of the reign of terror that reestablished white supremacy in Louisiana after the abolition of slavery is harrowing, as white gangs murdered hundreds of black voters and political leaders and white Republicans in the state. He also vividly reconstructs the mindset that propelled Lecorgne—a resentful, working-class striver nostalgic for his family’s formerly privileged position atop New Orleans’ complex racial hierarchy—into racist activism. And he analyzes his ancestor as an exemplar of an ideological “whiteness” born of economic interest, racial pseudoscience, and unconscious prejudices that implicates white people today, “a murderous actor on behalf of his family... a fighter for our gain, for my benefit.” The result is a clear-eyed work of historical reclamation and an intimate, self-lacerating take on memory and collective responsibility. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 03/02/2020
Release date: 06/02/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-250-75278-9
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-250-79861-9
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