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North America
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USA, Klan, KKK, Ku Klux Klan, White Supremacist
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One hundred and thirty-five years after the founding of one of America’s largest White Supremacist organizations, the Ku Klux Klan continues to pass the torch to its next generation. The children raised in the Klan know no other world; this is the core of my visual exploration.
Christopher Capozziello

2003 — student winner

One hundred and thirty-five years after the founding of one of America’s largest White Supremacist organizations, the Ku Klux Klan continues to pass the torch to its next generation. The children raised in the Klan know no other world. This is the core of my visual exploration.

History is filled with powers and authorities with the ‘mission’ of God working to transform the world. The KKK is no exception. They seem like remains of a forgotten past - still donning hoods and lighting crosses in the year 2003-but the Klan perseveres and their ideals live on. If we have any hope of understanding our society as a whole we need to honestly look at all of its parts-even the Klan.

A vision of hate merges with every image of the KKK. Why do they hate? They see themselves as a group that advocates the need for white people to asset or regain the power they feel has been lost in America. The Klan sees a multicultural America favoring people of color over whites and opening its borders to immigrants from non-whites countries.

A pattern emerges when looking at the Klan’s history. Activity surfaces at times of change: the end of the Civil War, the beginning of new waves of immigration just after the turn of the 20th century, the onset of the Depression, the 60’s civil rights era, and now the position of non-white people in a new global economy. Activity and membership have soared during these times of transformation; the torch and ideologies, too, have been passed along.

By looking at the children’s lives, I ask questions about this movement; perhaps understanding the development of a child’s value will help us understand the sub-culture that is the Klan. Like vessels of clay, children take the shape of hands that mold them. As younger generations are filled with the Klan’s message, many of them will grow in the way of their mothers and fathers.

During the summer of 2002, I spent two months on the Mississippi Gulf Coast interning at a newspaper. On assignment one day, by mix of circumstances, I had my first encounter with the KKK. From that experience, on a humid July night, as the sun set, I made my first photograph of a Klansman. It was the Imperial Wizard of the South Mississippi Knights on the evening of his own wake. I continued to photograph the Klan for the rest of the summer.

Despite differences in our perspectives, most Klan members I’ve worked with recognize the importance of the historical documentation of their present day activities. As a result, I was invited to witness and photograph rallies and cross lighting; and even eat dinner with some members and their families. Since returning to school I have kept in contact through emails, letters, phone calls and mailing pictures in the meantime. For me, the historical importance includes not just what exists now, but how the next generation becomes socialized in a group that so few understand. My work with the KKK has been and will continue to be an exploration of why people hate and how they learn to hate. A quest for world peace is a quest to end hate and only by understanding hate can we ever hope to achieve a true peace.

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This sign greets visitors at the mouth of Jimmie Maxey's driveway. Maxey, a longtime Klan member, was the Imperial Wizard for the South Mississippi Knights. He died in July of 2002. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
They are eating hot dogs and hamburgers just as my family does at summertime picnics, and things seem normal, but his shirt… and she belongs to him, eight months old, and today she will hear and one day understand what her daddy believes. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
I received the email yesterday, telling me that their Imperial Wizard died and that I could meet them at the wake. In the early evening, I nervously drive an hour to Petal, Mississippi; and, with the sun setting behind me, I make my first photograph of a Klansman. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
Lisa, the Imperial Wizard's wife, sitting for pictures before a cross lighting. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
They laugh because to them it is a joke, but I look at his eyes and his hands clenching the stick. He beats the doll, looking to his parents for approval and finds faces that are smiling at what he has done. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
At times, I hear them pray. In Jesus' name they pray. And listening to their prayers, you hear their sincerity; you hear their desire for what they think is best for their families, for their country, according to how they see God’s word. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
David looks scarier and more confronting than he did when I took this picture. “It doesn’t fit right, too tight, think I’m growin’. How’s it look Chris?” Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
And she looks at me as if she is about to cry, and her mother looks at her with a smile, and in my heart I weep and at the same time wonder why she holds that flashlight in broad daylight. I ask her what her name is, and she sheepishly tells me, "Holly." Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
As the fire breaks the darkness, the light it brings represents the light that Jesus brought to this dark world for the Klan. They see it is as a warning of the coming disaster that faces the United States if it continues on its Godless course. As the Klansmen and Klanswomen take part in the ceremony, a child rises and exclaims with great joy, “Look, there’s mommy!” Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation
And he is as dark as the night sky behind him, but I still see him because of the dying light from the cross. Christopher Capozziello/Alexia Foundation