LAMP, the Klan, and Me

By James H. Madison

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

I’ve been asked to write a few words about my new book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland, particularly in the context of LAMP’s culture and mission.

One feature that makes it a LAMP-like book is my conviction that one perspective is never enough. The Klan of the 1920s is too easily dismissed as a simple-minded hate organization. I dug deep into the sources to see the ways in which men and women in hoods and robes contradicted such simplistic generalizations. Thus, the first sentence of the book reads: “The Ku Klux Klan was as dark as the night and as American as apple pie.”

Contradictions, ambiguity, and complexity mix with change, as LAMP students learn. Nothing is static, which is why a liberal arts education is foundational in responding to challenges not yet imagined. LAMP is not about a job today (though that’s great), but about a career that will evolve as times change and about a life well-lived. I suspect that few among even the oldest LAMP alumni are thinking of how soon they can retire from a current job but instead how to move to the next challenge.

I’ve always liked the way LAMP develops leaders. I once taught a LAMP seminar on the subject but gave up because I couldn’t figure out what leadership is. Still, we know it when we see it. We see LAMP alumni with the skills to lead, not by following a manual, but by innovative problem solving and sophisticated people relationships. We see, painfully, the absence of leadership in organizations, communities, and nations. The Klan of the 1920s thrived because, I argue, a generation of mediocre leaders created a vacuum that allowed this organization to rise to power.

The broad contexts of a LAMP education also include understanding connections between past, present, and future. The Klan of the 1920s is dead, but Klan-like ideals of exclusion and hate thrive in our nation and beyond. In writing a book about the Klan I tried to understand contexts, multiple perspectives, change, and leadership, just as LAMP students have always done.

James H. Madison
Professor Emeritus of History
LAMP Director, long ago.


Professor Jim Madison served as LAMP Director for many years. Here he poses with the LAMP staff in 2009.