Class Notes

This semester I am teaching a class called Civil War in Memory. The point of the class is to look at how history changes over time. While facts often do not change the interpretation often does. I chose to focus on the Civil War because few subjects have had the kind of change over time and scrutiny as this event. One thing we are doing is watching several movies from different decades to see how Hollywood interprets the War. Unfortunately, many believe what Hollywood tells them. So as part of my class notes this semester I will probably discuss some of these movies.

The original Klan that was established right after the Civil War but a second one was established in the 1920s that was very different, especially in dress and activities. The original KKK was established by ex-Confederates in order to fight against perceived wrongs committed by the Union during Reconstruction, especially to fight against Black rights. However, this Klan eventually faded away after Reconstruction ended and an illegal force was no longer needed as White Supremacy was codified in the law.

After WWI and the Great Migration of Black Americans into the north, race relations took a turn for the worse. Beginning in the 1920s a new Klan emerged and they took their instructions from a recent book and movie on how to act. In 1905 the book the Clansman was published which was made into a movie in 1915 called Birth of a Nation. In the movie the Klan dressed in white sheets and carried burning crosses as they saved the post-Civil War South from evil carpetbaggers and scheming Blacks. While the original Klan did not dress this way, the new Klan took the movie as gospel and begun cutting up their bed sheets. As so often with Hollywood, this movie will also help establish the Lost Cause Myth as factual in the minds of most Americans.

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