Commentary: Why We Need Klan Robes at the Museum of African-American History

Though they’re not a happy part of Black history, it’s good that some tangible objects of oppression will be included in the exhibits.

Posted: 11/30/2011 04:30 PM EST
Ku Klux Klan

Many African-Americans are excited about the impending creation of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, to be erected in Washington, D.C., by 2015. And it’s no wonder why: Despite having a rich and storied history in the United States since its inception, Blacks have largely been kept out of the nation’s major historical monuments. The Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial went up only this year, and now the museum celebrating Black history won’t be up for another four. But while it’s alright to be disappointed with the museum’s tardiness, it’s nice to hear some good news about what it will contain once it’s up.

The Washington Post reports today that the museum, which will have its groundbreaking in 2012, has just received two Ku Klux Klan robes for its collection, one of which came from the family of Stetson Kennedy, a civil rights activist who infiltrated the Klan decades ago.

“Klan robes?” you might be asking yourself. “Why do we want those in an African-American museum meant to celebrate heritage?”

It’s a fair question. A lot of elements of Black history can be brutal to revisit, especially for the many African-Americans who lived through the horrors of lynch mobs, the Bull Connor South and segregated schools. Like a child who chooses to never speak of his molestation to anyone, it can be tempting to want to bury the hate of the past in favor of focusing on happier future.

Alas, to go down that path is to also be foolish. It’s a cliché at this point, but there’s definitely truth to the words of the philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember their past are condemned to repeat it.” Sad as it is, the Klan, and the violence Klan members wrought across America, is inextricably linked to African-American life nowadays. To try to forget that would be to try to forget an important puzzle piece in Black culture. Blacks need to remember those bad times, because they make all the good times in the African-American community feel that much sweeter, and the future that much brighter.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: Greg E. Mathieson/MAI/Landov)

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