If no one is born a racist, how are they made? This question is central to the oral history project Elke Weesjes is currently working on. Based on a series of interviews with 15 children of Ku Klux Klan members (born between 1945 and 1975), auto/biographies, archival materials, and existing Ku Klux Klan historiography, her project explores what it was like to grow up on the political fringes of American society in the latter part of the 20 th century.
In “My Father the Klansman”, Weesjes examines the lives of two of her respondents. Both renounced their upbringing and left their family and community behind to start a life without racism and antisemitism. She will discuss their childhood experiences growing up in a KKK family, their fraught relationships with their parents, the contrast between the hateful ideology passed down by their parents at home and the moral values taught in school, the extent of social isolation experienced during their childhood, what prompted them to break with their family and community, and how they have fared since then. Her paper ultimately shows how children navigated and negotiated the differences between their home lives and public lives and developed their own views on race and sense of identity.
Elke Weesjes is the Research and Programming Director of the Kingsborough Holocaust Center and a visiting assistant professor at Kingsborough Community College (CUNY) in Brooklyn where she teaches 20th Century U.S. and European history. She recently published her first monograph, Growing Up Communist in the Netherlands and Britain. Childhood, Political Activism, and Identity Formation (Amsterdam University Press October 2021).