At the behest of the Black Law Students Association, documentarian Eleanor Bingham Miller screened her 1978 film, The New Klan: Heritage of Hate, at BC Law last February, bringing to campus a haunting reminder of how history repeats itself.
A film of its time—and yet also one that remains eerily relevant in 2019 America—takes viewers inside Klan members’ homes and KKK rallies and meetings, and it includes clips from press interviews and debates with high-ranking Klan officials. It lays bare an ugly, racist reality fueled by members’ unabashed belief that they are the chosen race and are fighting a war against Blacks, Jews, and Latinos.
In her film, which she co-directed with Leslie Shatz, Miller portrayed how racism and hate evolve over time. The film explained that the “old Klan” was known for cross-burnings and lynchings. Conversely, the “new Klan,” spearheaded by David Duke, pushed its message through polished, professional organizing with leaders who wore suits and held official seats of power.
Clearly, the theme of evolutionary racism left viewers with unsettled feelings. Several spoke about how their race has affected their right to exist and participate in society freely, as their white counterparts do. The Hon. Leslie Harris ’84, for one, recalled his high school years in Chicago. All of the black students had to run home immediately after school, he said, because white students posed a violent threat to them. Harris recounted that the white students stopped threatening him only after they learned he was a valuable quarterback on their school’s football team.
Younger members of the audience expressed different views of race, but they shared common sentiments and experiences with their older colleagues: racial fear, lack of progress as a country, and the struggles of “living while Black.”
Photograph above: Director Eleanor Bingham Miller, left, listens to Hon. Leslie Harris’s reaction to her 1970s documentary about the Ku Klux Klan.