Acclaimed author Edward Ball has written critically acclaimed books on American history, and for his latest work, he turns the subject of the book on his family’s dark history and involvement in the birth of the Ku Klux Klan.
Constant Lecorgne was Edward Ball’s great-great grandfather. A New Orleans carpenter and Confederate veteran, Constant was also a “violent white supremacist,” Ball told Inside Edition Digital.
Ball explored the life and times of his ancestor in his recent book, “Life of a Klansman, A Family History in White Supremacy.” Ball said Constant was a member of KKK-like organizations and took part in several violent actions against formerly enslaved people during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.
Ball, who is in his early 60s, said he learned about his great-great grandfather through another family member and was told about his racist roots, but told Inside Edition Digital, “I didn't pay attention to his story until many years later, since about five years ago, when violent white supremacy has become part of the bread and butter of American politics. I thought it would be important to tell the story of a family member, who was a violent white supremacist.”
“He joined a militia called the Knights of the White Camelia, which was one of the first white supremacist militias,” Ball explained. “They were costumed, they were disguised. They ran in the backwoods of Louisiana parishes, sometimes in hoods and sometimes in robes. And they did what they called night-riding. And they charged through Black villages, marauding anybody they found because Black folks were entering politics, they were starting businesses, they were talking back to white people, and this was shocking and unacceptable to the majority of the white population.”
Lecorgne and thousands like him perpetrated acts of mass terror that echo to this day.
For many years, Lecorgne bounced around from one white supremacist group to another all leaving a path of destruction, violence, and atrocities on Black Americans in their wake.
In the aftermath of the Civil War and the period known as Reconstruction is when the Ku Klux Klan came to form in Tennessee taking the attitudes of some of the organizations Lecorgne belonged to and formed it into one influential hate group.
“The phrase Ku Klux Klan was coined by the founders of the group, in 1866. A group of six men in Tennessee, who probably belonged to fraternities and Greek societies, when they were in their college years, and they said to themselves, ‘We need to call ourselves something mysterious. Let's call ourselves kyklos, which is the Greek word for circle.’ And somebody else in the group said, ‘Let's add the word Klan to that. And that will be really enigmatic.’ So they came up with this idea of misspelling, using Ks, in as many words as they could. And they devised this phrase, that still scares people to this day, 150 years later.”
During critical junctures of American history, Ball says the Klan re-emerges but his ancestor was part of the first surge of the hate group.
“There were three Ku Klux Klans. My ancestor Constant Lecorgne, participated in the first generation of the Ku Klux, in the years after the Civil War, the Reconstruction years,” he said. “Those 12 years were marked by violence by about 50,000 Southern white men, who belonged to these hooded and rogue militias. They went out of business, because they succeeded in achieving their goal, which was to reestablish white supremacy after it had been threatened.”
After D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” hits theaters in 1915, the group has a resurgence in popularity. As Ball says, the film “celebrated the Ku Klux victories of the Reconstruction Era.”
During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, the group reemerged and Ball said “these were scattered militias of 10 to 100 men, in the states of the deep South, who harassed civil rights workers and sometimes set off bombs in front of people's houses and burned crosses. And, they were trying to torment the Civil Rights Movement out of existence.”
Ball said the that KKK today is “is an almost non-existent organization,” however, their work and ideology “has been well replaced by dozens upon dozens of armed militias, scattered through the Northwest and the Southwest. Who are super-nationalistic, who are sometimes separatists and survivalists.”
Though the Klan may seem to be on the fringes of American society, Ball says it isn't as far away as many people think and is part of America’s brutal and long history.
“The fact is, that to have a Klansman in your family tree is not a rare thing,” he said. “Our country was founded on acts of violent white supremacy, from the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, and the importation of hundreds of thousands of Africans. And eventually, the enslavement of somewhere near four million, African Americans, on the plantations of the South.
“Personally, it gives me grief to know that I have a family member, and my children and sibling and cousins have an ancestor, who was directly involved in acts of white terror,” he continued. “Yet, I think that we all look away from these stories, intentionally. And I think, wrongly. I think that a better way forward is to try to reckon with these kinds of histories that we hold in common, because only by reckoning with them can we find a path to healing.”