Where it all began — the original KKK

The advent of photography in the nineteenth century forever captured images of the Klan purporting horrific acts of violence against people of color.   Sturken and Cartwright (2009) noted that the “emphasis on the empirical coexistence of the camera and the real scene … has been a persuasive argument for the use of photographs, films, and videotapes in courtrooms as criminal evidence” (p. 193).  In the courtroom of public opinion, likewise, the images of the hooded Klansman  remain some of the most vivid, frightening, and powerful images in American history.  It brings to mind racial hatred and terrorist acts that reigned in the post-civil War South, “when the Ku Klux Klansmen acted as the self-appointed  shock troops of white supremacy, the most radical and dangerous bigots in American society” (Moore, 1991, p. 1).  It is these images of the Klan captured in film from the nineteenth century that forever etched this verdict in the minds of subsequent generations of people, because  “the original meaning of the image can be transformed through its constant iterations until it is just shorthand for a more general meaning” (Sturken & Cartwright, p. 201).  In the case of the KKK, the infamous KKK hooded regalia has been equated with racial hatred, intolerance, and vigilante power precisely because photographic images from the nineteenth century captured this undeniable relationship between image and meaning.


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