Author Susan Campbell Bartoletti writes about grim historical topics for younger readers. The lives of coal miners and their families, the Irish Potato Famine, and the Hitler Youth are among the subjects of her award-winning books. Now, after looking at thousands of pages of Congressional hearings, newspapers, and personal accounts, she has written They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. While most of the book focuses on the 1860s and 1870s, it retains its relevance, as the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have never gone away. Found on page 149, the photo of a Klan rally taken by the author in 2006 is chilling.
Documentation is Bartoletti's strength. Her book is filled with quotations from both Klan members and their victims, as well as dozens of illustrations from nineteenth century magazines, especially the drawings of Harper's Weekly, which championed the rights of freed African-Americans throughout Reconstruction. Bartoletti does little open editorializing. At several points, she includes content that is sympathetic to the plight of the men who became the Klan, but she ultimately lists so many crimes against humanity that the reader can not mistake her intention to discredit Klan apologists. She follows her text with a civil rights highlights chronology, research notes, and references.
Young readers may have difficulty believing that the shocking events described are true. How could our country ever been like this? This is precisely why having such books in school and public library is so important.
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. Houghton Mifflin, 2010. ISBN 9780618440337.