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Audiobook sample (6 min)
Life of a Klansman –– 6 min
Life of a Klansman
Life of a Klansman

“[A] haunting tapestry of interwoven stories that inform us not just about our past but about the resentment-bred demons that are all too present in our society today…. The interconnected strands of race and history give Ball’s entrancing stories a Faulknerian resonance." —Walter Isaacson, The New York Times Book Review

“[Life of a Klansman] is brave, revealing and intimate…. This is a story for our cultural moment…" —W. Ralph Eubanks, The Wall Street Journal

"[Ball] builds a psychological portrait of white supremacy, which then radiates outward and across time, to explain the motives and historical background behind racist violence . . . Ball offers a particularly piercing psychoanalytic reading of the present." —Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic

“Captivating . . . An intimate origin story of the white-supremacist movement . . .—Julian Lucas, Harper's 

“Ball’s direct but nimble prose … engineers another kind of coup: a public reckoning with white supremacy….” —Walton Muyumba, The Boston Globe 


A Family History in White Supremacy

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)


    In Life of a Klansman, Edward Ball returns to the subject of his National Book Award-winning classic Slaves in the Family: the mechanisms of white supremacy in America, as understood through the lives of his own ancestors. This time, he tells the story of a warrior in the Ku Klux Klan, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism during the years after the Civil War. Ball, a descendant of this Klansman, paints a portrait of his family’s anti-black militant that is part history, part memoir rich in personal detail.

     Sifting through family lore about “our Klansman” as well as public and private records, Ball reconstructs the story of his great-great grandfather, Constant Lecorgne. A white French Creole, father of five, and working class ship carpenter, Lecorgne had a career in white terror of notable and bloody completeness: massacres, night riding, masked marches, street rampages—all part of a tireless effort that he and other Klansmen made to restore white power when it was threatened by the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. To offer a non-white view of the Ku-klux, Ball seeks out descendants of African Americans who were once victimized by Lecorgne and his comrades, and shares their stories. 

     To have a Klansman in the family tree is no rare thing: demographic estimates suggest that fifty percent of whites in the United States have at least one ancestor who belonged to the Ku Klux Klan at some point in its history.

     In an era when racist ideology and violence are again loose in the public square, Life of a Klansman offers a personal origin story for white supremacy. Ball’s family memoir traces the vines that have grown from militant roots in the Old South into the bitter fruit of the present, when whiteness is a cause that can veer into hate and domestic terror.


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