Thursday, 8 November 2007

The making on an ugly myth

The FBI: A History explodes one of the most enduring myths of the last century – that Scots were deeply involved in the foundation of the racist Ku Klux Klan, which began terrorising black communities in the American south in the 1860s.

Professor Jeffreys-Jones, who studied records of the US Justice Department from the 1870s, said he found only a handful of Scots, or American Scots among the lists of arrested Klansmen.

The myth of Scots involvement was established by Thomas Dixon, whose 1905 novel The Clansman, was the inspiration for DW Griffith’s film, Birth of a Nation. This early silent feature film likewise glorified the bloody exploits of the hooded criminal gangs.

“Dickson wrote in a lyrical way about how the Klansmen saved southern womanhood from carpetbaggers from the North and bad black people. The protagonists of the novel are of Scottish descent. He calculated that if his heroes were of Scottish descent, people would be sympathetic to them, and the myth grew up that way,” said Jeffreys-Jones. “It is rubbish. I looked at the records and I came across a couple of Scottish names in the Carolinas, but that is all. More of interest is the fabrication. It has entered the popular psyche, and the Dixon novel has a lot to do with that.

“Historians in America have assumed that because there was Scottish emigration to the Carolinas, the Klan was populated by Scottish immigrants and their descendents. But it is a case of coincidence, not causation.”

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