They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

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Overview

"Boys, let us get up a club."

With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the ...

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Overview

"Boys, let us get up a club."

With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.

This is the story of how a secret terrorist group took root in America’s democracy. Filled with chilling and vivid personal accounts unearthed from oral histories, congressional documents, and other primary sources, this is an audiobook to remember.

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Editorial Reviews

Abby McGanney Nolan
It's tough reading, but Bartoletti presents this sobering slice of history with essential background information, memorable testimony from KKK members and victims alike, and plenty of edifying period engravings.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this comprehensive, accessible account, Newbery Honor author Bartoletti (Hitler Youth) draws from documentary histories, slave narratives, newspapers, congressional testimony, and other sources to chronicle the origins and proliferation of the Ku Klux Klan against the charged backdrop of Reconstruction politics and legislation. Bartoletti uses the letters and diaries of the founders of the KKK--six former Confederate officers--as well as some informed speculation to explain their incentive for starting a “club” to, in the words of an original member, “protect property and preserve law and order.” The author lives up to her introductory promise to avoid censoring racist language and images, and includes some horrifying descriptions of lynchings and murders perpetuated during KKK raids on freedmen’s homes, churches, and schools. Copious photos, engravings, and illustrations provide a hard-hitting graphic component to this illuminating book. And while Bartoletti notes that contemporary “hate groups wield none of the power or prestige that the Ku Klux Klan held in earlier years,” her account of attending a Klan meeting while researching the book is chilling to the core. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
* "Balancing the stories of the Klan and the former slaves' determination to remake their lives, Bartoletti makes extensive use of congressional testimony, interviews, journals, diaries and slave narratives to allow the players to speak in their own voices as much as possible...An exemplar of history writing and a must for libraries and classrooms."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Bartoletti follows multi-award-winning titles such as Hitler Youth (2005) with another standout contribution to youth history shelves...It's the numerous first-person quotes, though, that give the book its beating heart, and her searing, expertly selected stories of people on all sides of the violent conflicts will give readers a larger understanding of the conditions that incubated the Klan's terrorism; how profoundly the freed people and their sympathizers suffered; and how the legacy of that fear, racism, and brutality runs through our own time."—Booklist, starred review

* "Copious photos, engravings, and illustrations provide a hard-hitting graphic component to this illuminating book. And while Bartoletti notes that contemporary 'hate groups wield none of the power or prestige that the Ku Klux Klan held in earlier years,' her account of attending a Klan meeting while researching the book is chilling to the core." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "As in Hitler Youth, Bartoletti tackles a tough, grim subject with firmness and sensitivity...Period illustrations throughout make seeing believing, and the appended civil rights timeline, bibliography, and source notes are an education in themselves. Exemplary in scholarship, interpretation, and presentation."—The Horn Book, starred review

* "Bartoletti effectively targets teens with her engaging and informative account that presents a well-structured inside look at the KKK, societal forces that spawn hate/terrorist groups, and the research process."—School Library Journal, starred review

Barbara Ward
Beginning in 1866 when six disgruntled Southerners began a club in Pulaski, Tennessee, Bartoletti traces the origins and rituals of the Ku Klux Klan. She carefully details the political climate in the post-Civil War South that laid the foundations for this vigilante group and explains how it evolved and grew. Based largely on oral interviews conducted seven decades after the war, as well as primary sources, Congressional records, and archival newspaper and magazine accounts, Bartoletti describes how members used secrecy and superstition to intimidate their victims. Back matter includes a Civil Rights Timeline and source notes. Bartoletti allows the horrors and confusion caused by these men who held themselves above the law to be experienced vicariously through the haunting personal accounts of those who survived their reign of terror. The abundant use of photographs and illustrations gives a sense of reality to a story that seems almost fantastical at points. Reviewer: Barbara Ward
VOYA - Mary Ann Darby
This well-researched account traces the rise of the Ku Klux Klan from six restless, bored Tennessee men's mischief-making social club to a frighteningly powerful group responsible for horrific hate crimes. The initial chapter sketches out the final year of the Civil War, then the rest of the volume focuses on the Reconstruction Era from 1865 to 1877, with only one chapter at the end dealing with modern activity by the Klan. Bartoletti strives to use the voices of people from the past to paint vivid and realistic pictures of the lives, moods, and beliefs of people during the Reconstruction. She includes the voices of Klansmen, their victims, and congressional testimony, as well as excerpts from historical journals, diaries, and newspapers. The result is an engaging, well-documented account of the Klan. In this portrayal of the Klan, which is suitable for both junior high and high school students, Bartoletti writes in a direct, clear style; she also peppers the pages with an abundance of images from Restoration newspapers and magazines and wraps it all up with tremendous documentation to show that she is richly deserving of her reputation as an exemplary historian. Even the book's title contributes food for thought, labeling the Klan as an "American Terrorist Group." Both libraries and classrooms should acquire this outstanding reference book that deals with such a difficult subject so well. Reviewer: Mary Ann Darby
Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
In the wake of defeat, anger, and frustration after the Civil War, six Confederate veterans in Tennessee founded a secret club grounded in racist ideology and fraternity rituals and mysteries. They called it the Ku Klux Klan (K.K.K.). Bartoletti seeks to establish the K.K.K.'s roots in Southern fears that newly freed blacks would somehow take over Southern society. Were these men terrorists? K.K.K. founders, seeing the terror they could inspire with their robes, masks, and peaked hoods, rampaged around town, pretending to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers, punishing any blacks who might be making a new life or getting ahead, as well as whites who attempted to help them. Playing on the prejudices of Southerners accustomed to treating black people as slaves, the K.K.K. soon spread throughout the former Confederate states. Readers wondering why the government did not put an end to the violence will learn about Northern prejudice even among Abraham Lincoln's Republican party and the difficulty of providing protection in eleven states with inadequate Federal troops. President Ulysses Grant tried, but became half-hearted and ineffectual. Democratic politicians made deals trading votes for withdrawal of Federal troops from the South. The establishment of black schools, the influence of African-American preachers, and the economic success of some freedmen could do nothing to stop the raging white supremacists now allowed to control their own states. Descriptions of hideous crimes and attempts to intimate blacks and their white supporters make for unpleasant reading at times. Readers can also peruse contemporary cartoons and drawings illustrating these events, and the response of American leaders, from publications like Harper's Weekly, by prominent artists such as Thomas Nast. More poignant primary evidence are accounts from former slaves collected by oral historians participating in a WPA project to document the conditions of the South in the 1930s. Yes, Ku Klux Klansmen were terrorists. Though Congress finally curbed the K.K.K. with legislation, it lived on in the South and on the margins of society in the North. Not till the 1960s was real progress made in eradicating this racist movement, charted here with a useful "Time Line of Civil Rights." Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—This richly documented, historically contextualized account traces the origin and evolution of the Ku Klux Klan from a small mischievous social club into a powerful, destructive organization. With compelling clarity, anecdotal detail, and insight, Bartoletti presents the complex era of Reconstruction, 1865–1877, that gave rise to the KKK. After the Civil War, the defeated South was a simmering cauldron of political, economic, and social instability. As the federal government struggled to provide law and order and to protect the rights of freed slaves, secret groups of Southern whites banded together to vent their anger over lost property, prosperity, and power. From six men in a law office in Pulaski, TN, KKK dens spread across the South targeting freed blacks and their supporters. Although the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was meant to end violence, KKK activity persisted through the 20th century, diminishing in the last 30 years as civil rights became a reality for all Americans. Bartoletti includes excerpts from slave narratives, archival illustrations, and historical quotes to convey the human drama of KKK terrorism. An annotated bibliography and source notes illuminate the variety and significance of reference works. Additional secondary titles include Chester L. Quarles's scholarly The Ku Klux Klan and Related American Racialist and Antisemitic Organizations (McFarland, 2008). Bartoletti effectively targets teens with her engaging and informative account that presents a well-structured inside look at the KKK, societal forces that spawn hate/terrorist groups, and the research process.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441871558
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 8/23/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 4 CDs, 4 hrs. 25 min.
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Visit her website at www.scbartoletti.com .

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    The reason I gave this book a three star rating system is becaus

    The reason I gave this book a three star rating system is because this book had interesting and disturbing facts. Most of the facts where disturbing in my point of veiw, so i wouldn't give this book a 4 nor a 5 star reveiw. The book is baisically about the kkk's history during and after the civil war. It has many facts and interveiws from people during the civil war. The book also has information on people who invented the kkk. Also it states why the kkk did the bad things they did along time ago. I would recommend this book to readers who are 12 and older because in the book it has alot of swears to keep the book more realistic. Like the author stated "History is filled with stories of terrible things that happen as people stand up for an ideal and strike out against injustice."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2013

    Quote from a previous reviewer: "The reason I gave this boo

    Quote from a previous reviewer: "The reason I gave this book a three star rating system is because this book had interesting and disturbing facts." Yes, America's history is filled with disturbing facts. This book presents these disturbing facts in an exceptionally interesting manner. After reading this book I purchased all of Susan Campbell Bartoletti's other nonfiction titles. We have to get our children to read nonfiction, and her books will get them to do just that!

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    Posted August 25, 2010

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