Elaine Frantz Parsons

Masks of Whiteness/Masks of Blackness: Deadly Race Play in the Reconstruction Era United States


The violence Reconstruction-era white Southerners inflicted on Black Southerners was simple; the primary function of the Klan costume was to make it appear complicated to national audiences. Victims tended to be well aware of Klan attackers' identities: by claiming to be unidentifiable, attackers capitalized on victims' lack of credibility and fostered doubt about who was committing Klan violence. Some Ku-Klux blackened their faces, and all Klan masks, in obscuring their wearers' whiteness, made it possible to claim that Ku-Klux were Black men masquerading as White men. The Klan's racial masquerade justified the North's insufficient responses to white racial violence.




Elaine Frantz Parsons, a professor of History at Kent State University, focuses on how nineteenth-century Americans experienced and understood acts of violence. She is the author of Ku-Klux, the Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (2016) and is currently writing a history of the arrest in Pittsburgh.