Local history, fiction clash in ‘Tale’ presentation

Posted: Saturday, February 5, 2011 | Updated: Wed Feb 16, 2011.
By Mike Pettinella, Daily News Correspondent

BATAVIA — The Ku Klux Klan, which realistically plays a role in “Mudbound,” this year’s book in the “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project, had a visible presence in the Genesee region during the first half of the 20th century.
Oakfield attorney Raymond Cianfrini will share some of the local history in a pair of historical presentations that tie local history into the discussion of Hillary Jordan’s Tale selection, which explores social injustice in post-World War II Mississippi.
Cianfrini, who has done extensive research on immigration and the KKK, will present his “Clash of Cultures: The Rise of the KKK in Genesee County” at 7 p.m. Thursday in Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., and at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at Genesee Community College (Room T-119). Admission to both programs is free.
“It’s interesting to note the relationship between the Southern Klan, which was anti-Black, and the Northern Klan, which was anti-immigration, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish,” said Cianfrini, who has been giving this presentation for about 20 years.
Cianfrini said he was introduced to the subject years ago when a client showed him photographs of a KKK funeral in the village of Oakfield.
“I was taken completely by surprise,” said Cianfrini, a Genesee County legislator. “Here I was looking at a photo of (his client’s) uncle in 1922, and I wasn’t aware that the Klan existed in our area. I had already done a lot of research on the immigration movement, and eventually found out that the two were closely related.”
Cianfrini’s lecture takes a look at the origins of the KKK in Genesee County — the period between 1905 and 1925 when European immigrants came to the region looking for work — as well as people’s attitudes toward these newcomers.
“In 1925, the strongest anti-immigration laws to date were passed and this was because of the influence of the KKK,” he said. “There definitely was a clash of cultures … an attempt to keep the immigrants in their place.”
World War II helped to break down many of the barriers, leading to the demise of the KKK here, Cianfrini said, but the Klan continued to flourish in the South.
Jordan’s novel explores race relations and the KKK in Mississippi in the years immediately following the war.
Leslie DeLooze, community services librarian at Richmond Memorial Library, said Cianfrini’s talk works well with the book’s themes.
“We’re always looking for programs that relate to the book in some way,” she said.
As the Tale for Three Counties Council, the non-profit collection of libraries that organizes the reading project, was discussing possible related programs the group learned about Cianfrini’s program.
“We were told that it is fascinating,” DeLooze said.
Nina Warren, GCC’s library director, said that Cianfrini’s talk will serve as “an excellent, enriching program in theme with the book.”
Both DeLooze and Warren spoke of the importance of bringing local history into the mix.
“It’s great to be able to draw in local history to the book discussion,” DeLooze said.
In the 2008 Tale selection, Thomas Mullen’s “The Last Town on Earth,” the 1918 flu epidemic played a major role. As part of the reading program’s events Genesee County Historian Sue Conklin related how the epidemic unfolded in Genesee County.
“This is a similar situation,” DeLooze said. “The theme of the book enables us to talk about what happened here.”
Warren noted that a group of GCC faculty members from the science and health departments also created a presentation about the flu for the 2008 Tale program.
She said that Cianfrini’s talk will serve as an excellent discussion starter for the book, which she called “hard-hitting and dynamic.”
The author is scheduled to appear in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties in March.
Warren said that the college is issuing free copies of the book to students enrolled in classes that are using the book, and also to students in independent reading groups, who will be taking part in discussions before and during Jordan’s visit.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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