The year is 1923. The Ku Klux Klan is at the height of its power in the US as membership swells into the millions and they expand beyond their original southern borders. As they continue their campaigns of terror against African Americans, their targets now also include Catholics and Jews, southern and eastern Europeans, all in the name of “white supremacy.” Incorporating messages of moral decency, family values, and temperance, the Klan has slapped on a thin veneer of respectability and become a “civic organization,” attracting new members, law enforcement, and politicians to their particular brand of white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant “Americanism.”
Pennsylvania enthusiastically joined that wave. That was when the Grand Dragon of Pennsylvania decided to display the Klan’s newfound power in a show of force. He chose a small town outside of Pittsburgh named after Andrew Carnegie, a small, unassuming borough full of Catholics and Jews, the perfect place to teach immigrants a “lesson.” Some thirty thousand members of the Klan gathered from as far as Kentucky for “Karnegie Day.” After initiating new members, they armed themselves with torches and guns to descend upon the town to show them exactly what Americanism was all about.
The Day the Klan Came to Town is a fictionalized retelling of the riot, focusing on a Sicilian immigrant, Primo Salerno. He is not a leader; he’s a man with a troubled past. He was pulled from the sulfur mines of Sicily as a teen to fight in the First World War. Afterward, he became the focus of a local fascist and was forced to emigrate to the United States. He doesn’t want to fight but feels that he may have no choice. The entire town needs him—and indeed everybody—to make a stand.
“A piece of American history in all its ugliness told as an astonishing coming together of misfits to stand up against a common threat. Bill brings an international scope to the history and a concise understanding of politics to the story. Bizhan’s art is dazzling. This is a book for our times.” —Thi Bui, author of The Best We Could Do
“So often, in times of unrest, we raise our heads up from the crowds of protesters and clouds of tear gas and wonder, ‘How did we get here?’ Fortunately, Bill Campbell and Bizhan Khodabandeh are here to remind you of the history that so informs our present. With incisive dialog and inviting cartooning, the creative team brings you into a past where the construction of whiteness was contested, cross-cultural alliances kept the United States growing, and the people on the ground reminded those in power that fascism was an unwelcome plague that every real American will stand and fight. Despite being about the past, you will not find a timelier graphic novel.” —Damian Duffy, author of Octavia Butler’s Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
“A fearless, brutal account of American history filtered through one town’s relationship to immigration, identity, and ‘othering.’ The Day the Klan Came to Town lays history bare, making centuries-long connections to today. Vital.” —Nate Powell, illustrator of March
“Bill Campbell continues to do society a service by sharing the important stories that help us to be better. Understanding American history will put us on a path to being better than our past selves. The Day the Klan Came to Town is an example of an uncelebrated story that show us where we have been and helps us grow into the society we need to be.” —Joel Christian Gill, illustrator of Strange Fruit
“Sound familiar?: An invading hate group, a corrupt police force, and ineffectual government force a diverse cross-section of town residents to fight back. Through the use of comics, intensive research, and their vivid imaginations, Campbell and Khodabandeh bring to life the infamous ‘Karnegie Day’ riot of August 25, 1923. Carnegie’s largely Catholic townspeople resist internal resentments and infighting to band together against the Klan. Throughout the narrative we get a sense of the town’s history and the immigrants who settled there—ironically many of them fleeing persecution in their home countries. This nearly-century-old story is echoed in today’s movements for social change." —Josh Neufeld, author of A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
The Day the Klan Came to Town by Bill Campbell
Illustrated (and signed!) by Bizhan Khodabandeh
PM Press 2021