"You saw those cars coming, and you knew who those men were. They wanted you to see them. They wanted you to be afraid of them."
- Lillie McKoy, former mayor of Maxton talking about the KKK
By the mid-1950's the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum and the KKK decided they had to fight back. Their campaign of terrorism swept through many of the southern states, but largely fell flat in North Carolina.
James W. "Catfish" Cole, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina, decided he was going to change that. Cole was an ordained minister of the Wayside Baptist Church in Summerfield, North Carolina, who regularly preached the Word of God on the radio. His rallies often drew as many as 15,000 people. As Cole told the newspapers: "There's about 30,000 half-breeds up in Robeson County and we are going to have some cross burnings and scare them up."
Cole made a critical mistake that couldn't be avoided by a racist mind - he was completely ignorant of the people he was about to mess with.
Dr. Perry was a black doctor in Monroe, NC, and helped finance a local chapter of the NAACP. One night at a meeting, the word was received that the Klan threatened to blow up Dr. Perry's house. The meeting broke up and everyone went home to get their guns.
Sipping coffee in Perry's garage with shotguns across their laps, the men agreed that defending their families was too important to do in haphazard fashion. "We started to really getting organized and setting up, digging foxholes and started getting up ammunition and training guys," Williams recalled. "In fact, we had started building our own rifle range, and we got our own M-1's and got our own Mausers and German semi-automatic rifles, and steel helmets. We had everything."
Many of these men were veterans of WWII and didn't scare easily. Men guarded the house in rotating shifts and the women of the NAACP set up a telephone warning system.
On October 5, 1957, Catfish Cole organized a huge Klan rally near Monroe. Afterward the decision was made to move on Dr. Perry's home.
a large, heavily armed Klan motorcade roared out to Dr. Perry's place, firing their guns at the house and howling at the top of their lungs. The hooded terrorists met a hail of disciplined gunfire from Robert Williams and his men, who fired their weapons from behind sandbag fortifications and earthen entrenchments. Shooting low, they quickly turned the Klan raid into a complete rout. "[Police Chief] Mauney wouldn't stop them," B. J. Winfield said later, "and he knew they were coming, because he was in the Klan. When we started firing, they run. We run them out and they started just crying and going on."
Amazingly no one was killed, but a number of cars were disabled. The following day the Monroe city council held an emergency meeting and passed an ordinance against Klan motorcades.
This setback was a huge embarrassment to Cole and his racist movement. He needed a weaker opponent to abuse and he needed it quick. Cole's target was a small indian tribe that was marginalized even in the indian community - the Lumbee.
The Lumbee had been fighting for official recognition since shortly after the Civil War. Through recorded history they were normally classified as "mulatto" and "free persons of color". They had always considered themselves indian, but were classified and treated as descendants of blacks. Their eyes and skin were lighter than most indians.
The State of North Carolina recognized them in 1885, but the federal government refused to recognize them as a distinct indian tribe until 1956. The Lumbee Act, which recognized their existence, specifically prohibited the tribe from receiving federal services normally provided to tribes by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Lumbees were living alone in the margins.
On January 13, 1958, the Klan burnt a cross on the lawn of a Lumbee woman because she was living with a white man. The next day it was the lawn of a Lumbee family that had moved into a white community. As the days passed more crosses were burnt while Cole traveled around the area holding rallies and preaching against the evils of "mongrelization" and the loose morals of Lumbee women.
Pleased with the growing hatred he was feeding, he called for a massive Klan rally of 5,000 members on January 18, 1958, at Hayes Pond. The purpose was to remind indians of "their place in the racial order".
"He said that, did he?" asked Simeon Oxendine, who had flown more than thirty missions against the Germans in World War II and now headed the Lumbee chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Well, we'll just wait and see."
"They didn't differentiate between the Indian and black population. They figured to have their usual show and go home."
- Stan Knick, director of the UNC-Pembroke Native American Resource Center
In the days leading up to the Hayes Pond rally, Cole had come through town with a loudspeaker on his flat-bed truck, preaching his vile hate for everyone to hear.
Cole wasn't actually from the county and neither were many of his followers. So it was probably a surprise to Cole when Robeson County sheriff Malcolm McLeod visited Cole in his South Carolina home and "told him that his life would be in danger if he came to Maxton and made the same speech he'd been making." Cole's reply: "It sounds like you don't know how to handle your people. We're going to come show you."
The Battle of Hayes Pond
The Fayetteville Observer had gotten word that the Lumbee were planning on attending this rally even if they weren't invited.
Reese reported that Lumbee leaders, including Neill Lowery and Sanford Locklear, had decided to run the Klan out of the county. Willie Lowery's barbershop in Pembroke become the Lumbee planning room for the upcoming battle. From there the call went out for volunteers and according to Reese, more than 1,000 Lumbees answered the call.
Another leader was Simeon Oxendine, who had been a waistgunner on a B-17 during WWII. He wasn't someone you wanted to match up against.
Cole's big rally was a flop before it even started. The local Klan members sensing the mood of the community stayed away. Instead, only 50 of his most hard-core supporters showed up to hear Cole preach against the evils of mixed marriage on the public address system he had set up on his truck. As the sun was setting they rigged up a floodlight and prepared a tall, wooden cross to burn later.
The sound of a reel-to-reel tape of "Kneel at the cross" poured into the meadow. They wore white hooded robes and carried rifles. The Lumbee, they assumed, were cowering in their homes that night.
"They were talking about blacks, using the 'n' word a lot, calling us 'half-n's'," Littleturtle said. "I think their intention was to intimidate us."
Instead of cowering, the Lumbees had assembled about a mile away. Small groups of armed Lumbee indians, about 500 in total, fanned out across the highway and began to encircle the Klansmen.
As the song finished and the rally was to begin, Sanford Locklear walked up to Cole and began arguing with him. Words became shoves and tempers rose. Neill Lowery had seen enough. He leveled his shotgun at his hip and blasted out the floodlight. The field went dark.
The Lumbees began firing into the air and yelling their warhoops as they charged the field. The nerve of the Klansmen broke and they fell into complete panic.
The Klansmen dropped their guns and scrambled for their cars. Some had brought their wives and children with them, who wailed in fear as dark-faced Lumbee milled around their cars and pointed flashlights at them.
James Cole, the Grand Dragon himself, was in such a panic that he ran into a nearby swamp, abandoning his wife and "white womanhood" in the process. Cole's wife, Carolyn, also in a panic, drove her car into a ditch. After a few minutes several Lumbee helped push her car back onto the road.
"The only thing they left behind was their stuff and their families."
The state patrol, led by Sheriff McLeod, had set up camp about a mile away. McLeod intentionally waited until the shooting started because he didn't want to be accused of defending the Klan by showing up early. He organized his men to search the bushes for Klansmen who were hiding, and then escorted them out of the county.
Afterward the police tossed a couple tear-gas grenades into the field to disperse the crowd. The battle was over.
Four people suffered minor injuries from falling shotgun pellets. One Klansman was arrested for public drunkenness.
One Klansman cursed a Lumbee who was blocking the road. The Lumbee punched him through the open car window.
To the victors go the spoils
The victorious Lumbee had collected the robes and banners that the Klansmen had left behind. They then held their own "Klan parade" through the town of Maxton. Some rode in cars, other marched. The parade ended with a bonfire of Klan material in Pembroke. Catfish Cole was hung in effigy.
The large, captured Klan banner was taken back to the VFW convention in Charlotte, where Lumbee posed in front of it for pictures.
Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine
Newspapers praised the Lumbee and mocked the Klan. James Catfish Cole was prosecuted, convicted, and served a two-year sentence for inciting a riot.
The Klan ceased to exist in Robeson County until 1984.
[Update:] I've found two somewhat related stories worth mentioning. One involved a Klan rally in Massachusetts three decades earlier.
in 1924, the largest gathering of the Ku Klux Klan ever held in New England took place at the Agricultural Fairgrounds in Worcester. Klansmen in sheets and hoods, new Knights awaiting a mass induction ceremony, and supporters swelled the crowd to 15,000. The KKK had hired more than 400 "husky guards," but when the rally ended around midnight, a riot broke out. Klansmen's cars were stoned, burned, and windows smashed. KKK members were pulled from their cars and beaten. Klansmen called for police protection, but the situation raged out of control for most of the night. The violence after the "Klanvocation" had the desired effect. Membership fell off, and no further public Klan meetings were held in Worcester.
I've done some searches but failed to find more information about this event.
Something else that might interest people, did you know that Superman fought against the Klan?