posted September 26, 2005

Documentary on Klan Wins Statewide Award

A documentary by two Hope College professors about the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Michigan has received a State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan.

"The Klan in Michigan, Part I: Reconstruction," a research project by Dr. Fred Johnson of the history faculty and Dr. David Schock of the communication faculty, was honored during a reception and dinner on Friday, Sept. 23, in conjunction with the society's 131st Annual Meeting and State History Conference, held in East Lansing. The awards recognize individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation and understanding of Michigan history.

It is the second time in three years that a documentary produced at Hope by Schock has been recognized by the Historical Society of Michigan. In 2003, the program "Tulip Time in Holland" received an Award of Merit. Commissioned by the Joint Archives of Holland, the Tulip Time program was written, produced and narrated by Schock, with Geoffrey Reynolds, director of the archives, serving as executive producer.

"The Klan in Michigan, Part I: Reconstruction" deals with the formation of the Klan following the Civil War. Johnson, an assistant professor of history, and Schock, an associate professor of communication, had worked on the project for three years, interviewing people, researching materials and acquiring images. The research was made possible in part by a grant from the McGregor Foundation.

According to Johnson and Schock, the Klan had a presence in Michigan as early

as 1868 but didn't then attract a large following. They said that the three phases of the Klan's greatest activity in Michigan intersect with the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, in the 1910s and 1920s, and again after the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The Klan during the latter two periods, they said, claimed far more adherents - one source estimated that membership in the Klan of the 1920s was more than a quarter million.

Videographer for the project was Phil Blauw of the Hope College staff. Additional work was conducted by then-students Jason Kehrer and Dan Morrison, who graduated in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

The documentary debuted in October of 2004, during the national 24th Biennial Conference of the Conference on Faith and History, which was held at Hope.

"The Klan in Michigan, Part I: Reconstruction" is the first of seven segments planned by Johnson and Schock. The next part in the series will focus on the importance of D.W. Griffith's movie "The Birth of A Nation." The 1915 film, based on books by Thomas Dixon, was the first feature-length film and was accompanied - in large venues - by a full orchestra. Further segments will deal with the Klan in the '20s, the Ossian Sweet case, a bombing in the Muskegon area, the Black Legion, and the latter-day Klan, especially the organization in Michigan under Robert Miles.