Susan Bartoletti Campbell’s latest sat on the top of my to-read pile for a while. I tend to read in public places (in a busy lunch spot, on the bus), and it was hard for me to take this book cover out in public.
Once I made time, however, to sit with it at home (also kind of disturbing, to have that cover invade one’s home), I found it totally engrossing, powerful, terrifying, and illuminating. I felt changed, physically, the way you do after a really really good thriller on a huge screen in a packed theater.
This survey of the early history of the KKK is simultaneously a story of Reconstruction told from a different and engaging perspective. It is full of first hand narratives and political analysis. It is a bizarrely quick read. And it is a painful and difficult read, as Campbell minces no words or pictures. She uses narratives from previously enslaved people that were recorded in writing by white historians to approximate dialect, and will sound offensive to many. She uses period engravings and illustrations that show the reader exactly how bigoted and hateful many people were towards Africans. These are essential parts of the story.
This is not a book that everyone will want to read, nor probably should, if they’re not up for it. It doesn’t, however, make it any less award worthy. I’m daring to ask to you to try it.