The Day the Klan Came to Town Review

By | Friday, September 10, 2021 Leave a Comment
The Day the Klan Came to Town
I think there are a number of prevalent myths surrounding the Ku Klux Klan. I think a lot of people believe that they limited their activities to the Southern US. I think a lot of people believe the only group of people they acted on was the Black population. I think some people believe stories about the Klan killing people pretty indiscriminately are overblown. I think some people STILL believe the Klan to be a benevolent, civic organization comprised of "many fine people."

All of those beliefs are bullshit. The Day the Klan Came to Town rips up every one.

Back in 1923, the KKK held a 30,000 person rally in Carnegie, PA for the express purpose of slaughtering the minorities that largely populated the area. (The total population of Carnegie at the time was around 11,500.) Blacks, Italians, Hispanics, Jews, Irish... pretty much anyone not deeemed sufficiently Ayrian was fair game. The Klan had police members on their side who steadfastly refused to protect the citizens of Carnegie, directly opposing the orders the local Burgess. The town's various ethnic groups banded together to try to halt the Klan's march through town, but that quickly led to a full-scale attack. Several people were injured, and it only ended once one of the Klansmen was killed and the group retreated.

That's the story that's told here. It focuses primarily on Primo Salerno, an Italian immigrant who fled to the United States after having been conscripted by the Italian governmnt to fight in WWI. His wife, Gianna, came over some time later (as we learn through some flashbacks) and at the time of the main story, she is heavily pregnant with Primo's child. Because of his time in the war, Primo is reluctant to fight but he readily understands the stakes involved and doesn't hesitate to join forces with the others. But while Primo and the other men of the town gather in the streets, the women move to the rooftops. Including Gianna and the elderly Irish woman, Marta, who's helping to look after her. They mostly fight with clubs and bricks, but once Primo fires a dropped pistol to help his friend Marcu, the Klan flee in fear. And while Marcu rejoices in what others will remember they managed to accomplish, another reminds him that "Americans love forgetting." The book closes with a single image of a contemporary "ethnic" woman, handcuffed, in an ICE cage noting that she was actually born here.

Writer Bill Campbell is upfront with the fact this account has been fictionalized. It to be because there are so few contemporaneous accounts of what actually happened that weren't expressly from the KKK's perspective. But the rally and subsequent attack on the "Irish and others" happened, and was soon swept under the rug as KKK-sympathizers skimmed over details that made them look bad. Which is to say, they skimmed over virtually everything. Campbell also notes that he actually grew up in Carnegie and never learned of any of this until many years later. That makes telling the story now even more important, to ensure everyone knows just how awful and racist shitbags Klan members are.

Artist Bizhan Khodabandeh does a good job with the storytelling, and ensuring characters are distinct and identifiable even among larger groups and even minor characters that have little, if any, dialogue. The drawings aren't overly detailed and tend to fall on the more cartoonish side, but I don't know that's an issue. In fact, having the more simplified figures probably helps for readers to identify with the characters.

The echoes between the events in this book and today are impossible to miss. I haven't checked, but I think Campbell even swiped some dialogue from people talking about the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where Heather Heyer was deliberately run over and murdered. This is the history we're never taught in school. (Campbell calls what we are taught "American fanfic" -- a term I am totally going to use myself in the future!) And that we're never taught this is why so many bullshit myths get generated. It's only by confronting our own history honestly and directly that we even have a hope of overcoming its ongoing legacy.
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