SOCIAL SCIENCES

Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy

Farrar. Aug. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780374186326. $28. SOC SCI
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Ball, winner of the National Book Award for Slaves in the Family, returns with a book about his family history. This time, he writes about an ancestor on his mother’s side, Polycarp Constant Lecorgne of New Orleans, with whom Ball has long been fascinated due to the family’s legend of his association with the Ku Klux Klan. Admitting that he has virtually no sources from Lecorgne himself that explain his thoughts, feelings, or his life in general in his own words, Ball instead turns to threadbare bureaucratic sources and histories of racism in Louisiana and New Orleans and often veers into histories of other families that have seemingly no association with Lecorgne. What results is a book that is almost entirely historical context and speculation on the many reasons an ordinary French Creole white man would join the Klan and other racist organizations and participate in violence against newly empowered blacks after the Civil War (although to what extent he did, Ball can’t really say).
VERDICT Ball is thoughtful about incorporating new theories of whiteness and the implications for descendants of Klan members, but the lack of solid evidence about Lacorgne may leave readers wanting more. [See Prepub Alert, 12/2/19.]

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