Neil Oliver, with his gentle Scottish accent, has done some good programmes for BBC4, but none better than ‘Scotland and the Klan’, repeated last night. He follows the links between Scottish settlers in the Deep South of the USA and first slavery then the aftermath of the American Civil War – endemic racial prejudice and periodic resurgence of extreme groups, notably the Ku Klux Klan.
Neil does a good job in demonstrating difficulty in comprehending how the early Scottish settlers easily adopted a highly privileged life whereby two people would be supported in a life of luxury by 100 slaves. I guess it was easier to do that than not when all around were doing the same.
Of course, these Scots were part of the confederacy and fought in the Civil War to retain their privileges. Considering the aftermath, Neil explored the various ways in which the privileged life of white people was maintained, the denigration of ‘coloured’ people, segregation, and ultimately physical attacks and murder.
The organisation Ku Klux Klan originated as a mens’ drinking club, but soon decided to start taking action rather than just complain to each other about things. There were burnings, hangings, lynchings. Then the KKK became unacceptable for a while, and then it rose again, like a fever, twice. Lyndon Johnson used federal force to put down the last major eruption of violence.
In visiting parts of the Deep South, Neil was obviously disturbed to find the extent to which there are still large numbers of organisations and people dedicated to restoring white supremacy, or another secession of the confederacy. He does that uncomprehending ‘how could people think like this’ look so very well.
Quite disturbing to see this in the context of a new US administration led by a man with Scottish roots, who is in power due to the support of, amongst others, these very people.
On a cautionary note, I am not sure to what degree the events described could be regarded as a particularly Scottish phenomenon.
Worth watching the programme on catchup, if you have access to BBC iPlayer.