Two weeks ago, I finally finished my digital history project just in time. Other than a few errors, I’m extremely proud of how it turned out. The project is a interactive story map that navigates through the narrative of the fire while giving reader a sense of historical context of Gwinnett County during reconstruction. The most time consuming part of the project is three GIS maps that reflect the demographic change between 1850 to 1880. I spent countless hours not only learning how to build the maps individually through the Archmap software, but I also was compelled to spend my whole spring break vacation painstakingly going through four or five different censuses in order to analyze and compile the projects data. This, along with navigating the responsibilities of being a new father, drove me to the brink of what I believed that I could accomplish. Like I said, despite some flaws, I’m extremely proud of the final result.
Although the project accurately represents my research up that point, in the past two weeks I have learn more about the Klan as a whole and Gwinnett’s role as a producer of illegal liquor. As I endeavor to work on and expand my research into my final thesis, I hope to update my story map project to reflect the totality of the end result. I suspect that my thesis topic will expand in scope to the neighboring Jackson and Walton Counties. I believe that Gwinnett’s Klan activity wasn’t concentrated within the boundaries of Gwinnett, but it was a small section of a tri-county illegal liquor distilling operation. I want to include the same demographic information in these two counties to see if my hypothesis is correct. Also, if I could ever find the time, I would also like to include every element of the 1870’s U.S. Census (Name, age, sex, race, occupation, Realestate and personal value, and illiteracy). In doing this, I can expand my analysis to create an interactive map that can display other explanations behind the Klan’s concentration in that region.
As my research has become more focus, it has led me to reexamine my topic. The result, I believe, will be an original thesis that discusses an aspect of the Klan that has previously been unexplored. The proposed title of my thesis is: The Ku Klux Mafia: Arson, Liquor, and Organized Crime in the Post-War Klan. At first, I believed that using the word “Mafia” would be in appropriate because the reference would be an anachronism. However, I soon discovered that “mafia” originated in the 1860s and it developed from an Italian word that means “swagger” or a sense of masculine bravado. This seems to fit perfectly with a certain part of the Klan during reconstruction. I’ve discovered that the Klan during this time was organized roughly among two overarching groups: one that descended from the Klan out of Tennessee, and the other which were composed of a hodgepodge of independent splinter groups. Also, according to testimony given before the Joint Select Committees in October of 1870, a large portion of these splinter groups operated not out of a political motivation but as a protective force that regulated illegal activity. Supposedly these Klan members engaged in liquor distilling and horse theft. In addition, the violent members of these groups were young, rambunctious men, who seemingly constantly drunk. They would not only attack freedmen who were suspected to be informers, they also attack legal liquor distributors and those who threatened their local authority. With most research focusing on the Klan as the result of political and racist motivations, I hope to provide a fascinating expose into the Klans dark world of organized crime.
If you would like to check out my final digital history project, here is the link: Ghost in the Pines.