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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the motley study centre part of the Amistad Center for art and culture housed in the wodsworth Athenaeum in Hartford Connecticut looking at one of the most troubling objects that I've ever worked with this is a robe from the Ku Klux Klan that dates to about 1928 I think in the north we have this reassuring myth that the Klan is of the south but this is from Connecticut this is from New England one of the things we'd like to remind people is that there was slavery here in Connecticut and the Klan was active here as well and was a significant presence into the 20th century most of the videos that smart history focuses on are looking at subjects that are things of beauty paintings and sculptures that are technically excellent that are intellectually profound this is an object that is very different but it is a part of our material culture it is a part of our history and it's a history of Terror that should not be forgotten this came into the collection pretty recently and there was a intense conversation about why we would have it what it would mean to bring into this collection that is primarily a resource for celebrating black history and the achievements of African Americans but this is a collection that represents the highlights and the struggles of African Americans and others to push for freedom and equity across the centuries and so we have an obligation to celebrate those stories that are important but also to confront and to challenge maybe it makes sense to spend a moment giving a quick history of the Ku Klux Klan I certainly think of the Klan and its earliest moments as being local and tied to the history of enslaved blacks needing to be controlled and managed as like constantly resisting and struggling population of workers in the years after emancipation we see the Klan emerge as a force but still a local force still doing the work to control people and not thinking about themselves as this vast national conspiracy this transformation into a national Fraternal Order is helped along by Hollywood in the late 19th century the images that we have of Klan activity present us with carnival characteristic people with big puppet heads or animal heads and furs and that does change as we get into the 20th century and an important images for that is Birth of a Nation the film and the costuming and people's realization that that could be appropriated and put to youth in daily life and so in the wake of DW Griffith's film which is often credited as being the first feature-length film in American history a film by the way that was shown in the White House a film that enjoyed broad popular acclaim as often credited with reviving in the Klan and her row Assizes has the effect of creating this national organization of terror and it is at about this time that the Klan becomes a centralized organization with centralized control griffith so helps to galvanize the n-double a-c-p as people are out there protesting this film and working hard to keep it from being shown in places it also perpetuates the myth of rape as the cause of lynching so lots of activism around that as well so for black activists and people who are committed to the civil rights struggle it is a watershed moment and well we don't think of it as also giving birth to who the Klan costume it's also doing that work it's important to remember that the Klan was not only intent on enforcing African Americans as it had so much in the 19th century but was reacting against the influx of immigrants especially if Catholics of Jews of Eastern and especially southern Europeans but the focus remains clearly on enforcement against African Americans it is a movement that arose against the autonomy that was claimed by former enslaved people's the Klan at its root is definitely a white supremacist project whether it's controlling and dominating people of African descent in the South who either enslaved workers or free workers in trying to make sure that they either stayed put or worked in a certain way or remained for her or a lost property or whether it's looking at new immigrants who the Klan did not see as white showing up to challenge their domination it's still a white supremacist project this robe was meant to transform its wearer into a member into a symbol into a non individualized member of a larger group I can tell from the King from the cloth this was a mass-produced object meant to be inexpensive and as a result to reach the widest possible audience it's the cheapest model it's a basic cotton without a lot of ornamentation we have seen images of the catalog where you could purchase this piece it's really smartly designed one of the things it was intended to achieve was to create a sense of a larger-than-life figure and one of the ways that that was created was with the addition of the Cape to accentuate the breadth of the shoulders of the where it gives permission for the person who's wearing it to act outside of societal boundaries that they no longer need to follow rules that they can act violently without fear of retribution we haven't had this piece in the collection for very long we've had it on exhibition it's been a prompt for other institutions around the region that have had complicated material that they haven't shown to bring those things out and have conversations about what it means to have racist material from the early 19th century what it means to have Klan robes and that's been a really great thing to just learn from each other about what these things mean to Connecticut history it's also allowed us to talk about things that we feel we need to talk about here in Hartford and in Connecticut and to push us as an institution and given what's happened in America in the past two to three years it's been important to think about confronting these bigger questions so when David Duke gets to stand on the stage at an HBCU in Louisiana as a candidate given his history with the Klan it's important that we have a Klan robe in our collection and were able to remind people that the things that you may think you remember about the Klan well these are the things that we know about the Klan and as people are marching in Charlottesville and talking about blood and soil with tiki torches it's important to have these artifacts that we can go to and remind people of that history because it's just too easy to forget [Music]