The assumption [that characters in fiction are white] is implied far, far too often in fiction by the author’s mentioning skin color only of nonwhite characters. This is to imply unmistakably that white is normal, anything else is abnormal. Other. Not us.
Like misogyny, actual racial contempt and hatred, often expressed with appalling brutality and self-righteousness, is so frequent in older fiction as to be inescapable. There the reader can only handle it with—again—historical awareness, which asks for tolerance, though it may or may not lead to forgiveness.
But it was not merely a matter of the antagonisms of the poor whites against the Blacks being revitalized by the prominence assumed by the latter during the Reconstruction. The “deep economic foundation” for these antagonisms was in fact being challenged by proposals to radically alter land tenure put forward by Black legislators. Rather, it was the remnants of the southern ruling class that focused the attention of poor whites on to the Black workers. The ruling class had been so weakened by the war that for the first time it was forced to aggressively recruit poor whites as its allies. “The masters feared their former slaves.… They lied about the Negroes.… They forestalled the danger of a united Southern labor movement by appealing to the fear and hate of white labor.… They encouraged them to ridicule Negroes and beat them, kill and burn their bodies. The planters even gave the poor whites their daughters in marriage.”
[T]he power of the Negro vote in the South was certain to go gradually toward reform.
It was this contingency that the poor whites of all grades feared. It meant to them a reestablishment of that subordination under Negro labor which they had suffered during slavery. They, therefore, interposed by violence to increase the natural antagonism between Southerners of the planter class and Northerners who represented the military dictatorship as well as capital.…
The efforts at reform, therefore, at first widely applauded, one by one began to go down before a new philosophy which represented understanding between the planters and poor whites.… [I]t was accompanied by … eagerness on the part of the poor whites to check the demands of the Negroes by any means, and by willingness to do the dirty work of the revolution that was coming, with its blood and crass cruelties, its bitter words, upheaval and turmoil. This was the birth and being of the Ku Klux Klan.