An ongoing documentary project spanning 19 years, Passing the Torch, Documenting the 21st Century Ku Klux Klan includes images from across America, covering many independent Ku Klux Klan organizations since January 1998. The goal of photojournalist James Edward Bates is to gain insight into the beliefs of KKK members throughout the United States and to document their existence for historical purposes.
Work from the project was a finalist in the 2002 Gordon Parks Photography Competition and was exhibited in 2003 at the prestigious Visa pour l’image in Perpignan, France, considered the pinnacle of photojournalism exhibits. Passing the Torch has been shown at the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, Scotland, sharing exhibit space with Salvador Dali’s original painting Christ of St John of the Cross, and has been featured in solo exhibits at the SS Robin Gallery in London and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
By capturing true life moments, the work examines the religious aspects and life experiences of KKK members and their families, permitting the viewer access to Klan members’ actions, both public and private, and their beliefs at a level of intimacy few outside of the organization have ever seen.
Passing the Torch has proven to be a spark for education and communication wherever it has been shown. It should be noted that some may consider the exhibit’s images, audio and video disturbing. Public discretion, especially viewing by minor children, should be thoughtfully considered.
It is the photographer's intent to document the modern Ku Klux Klan from a historical perspective, capturing still images and multimedia materials in an effort to record the KKK as it exists before his camera. Bates hopes to eventually publish this body of work so that it will be available to the public, including school and university libraries.
A traveling exhibit of framed archival photographs and authentic Ku Klux Klan items, including ceremonial robes, published materials, promotional materials, membership applications, a burned cross used in a KKK cross lighting ceremony and other items are among exhibit materials.
Please email inquiries regarding requests to license use of content or interest in exhibiting the collection in your community, university or museum.