book review: They called themselves the KKK

"With compelling clarity, anecdotal detail, and insight, Bartoletti presents the complex era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, that gave rise to the KKK." ! ~SLJ

title: They called themselves the K.K.K.: The birth of an American terrorist group

author: Susan Campbell Bartoletti

date: Houghton Mifflin, 2010


I’d been hearing about They called themselves the K.K.K. for quite some time now and from what I’d heard, I expected it to deliver a good read. And that it did!

In the bibliography at the rear of the text, Bartoletti  states that her purpose in writing this book is to give testament to the victims of atrocities committed by the K.K.K.. She does this by describing how the Klan came into existence and how it set out to rob Black citizens of their power as American citizens after the Civil War.  Bartoletti uses a variety of images that relate the attitudes of hatred and bigotry that existed at that time while also showing Blacks as educators, intellectuals, farmers, parents, workers, leaders and as victims. These images reach us on an emotional level that the text avoids.

The book takes us from the little meeting in Pulaski, TN where the boys got themselves a club that grew in so much political and societal strength that it was able to perpetuate the grasp of racism on this country and deny opportunities for Blacks for decades to come. We get the details of clothing choices, involvement of women and copies of their rules and regulations.

And, we get their actions. The brutality suffered by several named individuals is related in ways that don’t focus on the grotesque, but that does get the point across. Layered with the story of these individuals is the story of the political play of numerous groups, including the republican and democratic parties. At the same time, Bartoletti lets us know that not all injustices against Blacks were limited to southern states, and that much of the reason the Klan was able to thrive was that Whites lived in fear, too.

I think this books should be in every high school and public library to help young adults understand how racism is perpetuated in this country as well as to understand how power is attained.

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is an award winning, full-time writer.

2 thoughts on “book review: They called themselves the KKK

    1. I probably shouldn’t admit this outloud, but we all have to grow! There was a time when I looked at nonfiction and thought ‘who in the world would read THAT’?? Needless to say, I was the one who was missing out! I still read a lot of fiction, but nonfic is more and more becoming my preference. Books like this are exactly why.


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