[This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend my first Southern Historical Association annual conference, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thanks to a We’re History piece of mine, I was invited by Elaine Frantz Parsons to take part in a wonderful panel on the Reconstruction-era KKK. In this series I’ll follow up both that panel and other takeaways from this great conference!]
A few takeaways from my impressive fellow panelists and the excellent conversation that followed our talks.
1) Professor Kidada Williams, with whom I’ve been Twitter friends for a long time but whom it was just as inspiring to hear in person as I would have predicted, presented a paper from her book in progress on the effects of night riding and KKK attacks on African American lives, families, homes, communities, and more. Her connections of trauma studies and postcolonial theory to these historical and cultural subjects promise to be as innovative and important as is her first book, and I was particularly struck by both her close readings of African American testimonies before the Congressional hearings on the KKK and her broader, interdisciplinary analyses of these acts of testimony and witnessing of violent events and histories. Can’t wait to read that next book!
2) Graduate student Katie Lennard, whom I’ve just followed on Twitter while writing this blog post, presented a paper drawn from her dissertation on the evolution and meanings of the KKK’s uniforms. This project brings together material culture, cultural and social histories, economic and political histories, and American Studies lenses in ways that are of course deeply inspiring to this AmericanStudier. I was especially impressed by her ability to weave together close readings of literary and cultural works (such as 21 pre-Thomas Dixon novels that feature the KKK, most of which I knew nothing about), material and visual culture analyses of college fraternity images and materials from the late 19th century, and historical moments such as William Joseph Simmons’ 1915 reconstitution of the KKK. Her dissertation promises to contribute significantly to our collective conversations and memories!
3) The remainder of our time included commentary from both Bruce Baker and Michael Fitzgerald, important additions from Elaine (based in part on her forthcoming book on the Klan), and a number of helpful questions and ideas from our very good-sized (especially for the conference’s final session) audience. Of the many ideas I could highlight from those great conversations, I’ll focus here on one: Bruce’s thought, in response to my description of various literary and cultural texts as presenting conversions to the Southern perspective, that it might be possible to describe these as racist conversion narratives, alluding to both anti-racist such narratives from white abolitionists and the long-standing American genre of the Puritan conversion narrative. As with so many ideas from this evocative and provocative panel, I’ll be thinking about this a lot as my work moves forward!
Next SHA follow up tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
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