Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
Susan Campbell Bartoletti's They Called Themselves the K.K.K. presents a chronological telling of American history at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation through today, focusing on the white supremacy group the K.K.K. She provides the historical and cultural context for the “get[ting] up” of the organization and follows its reign and demise, through primary source documents.
The accuracy of Bartoletti’s book is impressive; her use of primary sources is arresting and augments the absorbing nature of the book. Its pages are flooded with photos, newspaper clippings, engravings, etc. to break up the informational text and keep you interested. It is almost overwhelming sometimes because you do not want to miss reading or looking at every element of every page. Bartoletti also makes a point to “let the people of the past speak in their own voices… [making] no attempt to censor these historical statements,” making her account real and more interesting. Moreover, Bartoletti emphasizes her researching expertise by providing a Civil Rights timeline and an extensive list of quote attributions as well as bibliography and source notes. She leaves no doubt that her subject has been tediously studied.
They Called Themselves the K.K.K. is marketed for Young Adults, but it is also the perfect set up for adults. Additionally, the controversial subject of the book makes it compelling; it is refreshing to have an author who is not afraid to delve into darker aspects of American or world history (she also wrote a book about the Hitler Youth). It really exposes the hypocrisy of the K.K.K. and the struggle for those living during the Reconstruction era. For example, she quotes John Lester, who said the K.K.K. was “a band of regulators… trying to protect property and preserve law and order,” when it is obvious that that is far from the truth. This book is beautifully done.
Starred book review on Booklist.
"(A) standout contribution to youth history shelves."
Starred book review from Kirkus Review.
"An exemplar of history writing and a must for libraries and classrooms."
Starred review from School Library Journal.
"Engaging and informative."
Starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Starred review from Horn Book.
"Moving... Exemplary in scholarship, interpretation, and presentation."
This book could be used to supplement history lessons on Civil Rights movements.
This book could be read in conjunction with Bartoletti's other books on social movements.
Students could write their own "primary source" document, which could have been included in the book.