Review: Klansville USA | Virgin Media
Klansville USA

Review: Klansville USAAired Wednesday 20th January at 9pm on PBS America (CH 276) | Rating: ★★★

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We thought we knew about the Ku Klux Klan – a bunch of bigots in outfits that make them look like wizards having a sleep-over, right? Turns out the history of this nefarious organisation is a lot stranger and messier, as this disturbing documentary revealed. 

In a nutshell

What exactly is “Klansville USA”? Not just an eye-catching title for a documentary, it seems. No, it was the actual nickname given to North Carolina back in the 1960s, when – in an unlikely twist – it became a hotbed of Klan activity. Unlikely, because the state was actually known as one of the most progressive and liberal-minded in the Deep South. Yet, thanks to the bad charisma of one agitator, salesman Bob Jones, the KKK took root here and grew to become a serious political force.

Note the word “political”. As this fascinating film showed, this was a different, more sophisticated kind of Klan to the cartoon villains running amok elsewhere in American. Packed with archive footage of happy white families frolicking in the gauzy 60s, which would almost have seemed quaint and nostalgic if the substance wasn’t so vile, the programme reminded us that there have actually been several very different Klans… From the original, ultra-violent group that arose in the wake of the US Civil War, to the next Klan which reared its pointy head in the 1920s, to the permutation that came about in the 1960s as a response to the civil rights struggle. The sad fact is, they’re still around today.

What's the verdict?

With their pantomime job titles (“Grand Wizard”) and questionable sartorial style (seriously, are they deliberately trying to look like baffled ghosts?), the KKK should never have had such a hold on American culture. And yet they did. This programme was a useful reminder of the enduring power of bigotry and fear.

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