Nation & World

Indiana historian disputed ‘BlacKkKlansman’ actor on Klan activities. He was wrong

Actor Adam Driver grew up in Indiana.
Actor Adam Driver grew up in Indiana. Invision/AP file

Adam Driver, the co-star of Spike Lee’s new movie about the KKK, “BlacKkKlansman,” said in a recent interview that he remembered KKK rallies in Indiana when he was growing up there.

Local historians cast doubt on the accuracy of Driver’s memory. But one now says he was wrong to doubt him.

“If anything, I was more aware of it as a kid growing up in Indiana, because there were always Klan rallies, like, every summer. There were people in the Klan who were in our neighborhood,” Driver told USA Today, according to the Indianapolis Star.

In Lee’s movie, Driver portrays a Jewish detective working undercover with a black detective (portrayed by John David Washington) to infiltrate the KKK in the 1970s. University of Kansas professor Kevin Willmott co-wrote the film.

Driver is also known for his portrayal of “Star Wars” character Kylo Ren.

The Indy Star reported that Driver’s quote “raised questions about its veracity ... as well as a few eyebrows back in his hometown” of Mishawaka, near South Bend.

“I’m not calling him a liar or anything,” Travis Childs, a county historian and director of education at the History Museum in South Bend, told the Indianapolis newspaper.

“Lord knows I’ve taken a little liberty with historical events a little bit and remembered them incorrectly, you know, that sort of thing. But I mean, if they were as active as he said they were active, they’d have been in the paper every other week.”

Both the Indy Star and the South Bend Tribune dug through their archives of stories about KKK activity in Indiana.

The Tribune, which concluded that “history may actually be on the actor’s side,” presented Childs with its reporting about the KKK in the area during Driver’s childhood years.

In response, he told the Tribune he didn’t have enough time to do his research before he questioned Driver in the Indianapolis paper.

“I stand corrected,” he told the Tribune. “I was shocked. I would never have guessed there were that many events. Shocked and saddened.

“You can’t lie, though,” he said. “You can’t deny ... that they were here.”

According to Driver’s biography on IMDB, he was born in San Diego, California but was raised in Mishawaka after his parents divorced. The Tribune reports he moved to the town at the age of 7 and graduated from Mishawaka High School, where he was involved in theater, in 2001.

“Klansmen and other hate group members, it turns out, were frequently in the pages of The Tribune and on the airwaves of local television stations quite a bit in that era,” the Tribune reported.

The Tribune reported on the KKK harassing black people during the years Driver was growing up.

“As for rallies, Tribune archives show five KKK rallies between October 1993 and May 2001 in Knox, Goshen, Elkhart and South Bend.” the Tribune wrote.

“That’s in addition to two KKK protests in Goshen in May and June 1998, stemming from a white student being made to remove a shirt with an offensive racial slur.”

Though “the specifics of Driver’s quote might be chalked up to hyperbole, the truth also is that the area around Mishawaka — like so many other parts of Indiana — has had its brushes with the Klan,” the Indianapolis Star wrote.

It pointed out a “vice-like grip” the KKK had on Indiana from 1923 to 1925.

“It’s a very short time,” James H. Madison, professor emeritus at Indiana University, told the Indy Star. “They created a hell of a lot of chaos.”

Madison, who is writing a book about the KKK in Indiana, said historians estimate that at the group’s height, 30 percent of all white, Protestant, native-born men in Indiana belonged to the Ku Klux Klan.

He, too, questioned Driver’s memories of rallies.

“Most of the memories of this sort tend to be grossly exaggerated, but at the same time, it’s quite possible that he saw men and women in robes and sheets,” Madison told the newspaper. “It’s quite possible that he saw a burning cross. But not a lot of it.”

Driver has yet to respond to his doubters.

Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, infiltrated the local Ku Klux Klan. The true story is told in this movie directed by Spike Lee and co-written by Kevin Willmott of Lawrence.