Democrat Charles Graham's campaign ad recalls how Native Americans defeated KKK in NC – The Washington Post
At the beginning of a campaign ad announcing his candidacy for Congress, North Carolina state Rep. Charles Graham reflects on the divisions the country faces today — but also those of decades ago, when the Ku Klux Klan sought to terrorize his home county.
Graham (D) was a young boy in January 1958 when the KKK announced that there would be a cross-burning in Robeson County, N.C., to scare and intimidate Black people and the Lumbee tribe. The KKK gathering — advertised by Grand Dragon James W. “Catfish” Cole as an event “to put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing” — was part of a series of hateful and terroristic acts by the Klan nationwide in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that ended segregation in public schools.
But as the state legislator notes in the video released Monday night, the KKK’s plans were radically upended when “they were surrounded by 400 Lumbees,” in what would be known as the Battle of Hayes Pond — the night when one poor farming community of Native American, Black and White people beat the Klan.
“Hundreds of normal folks deciding to stand together against ignorance and hate. … A piece of forgotten history worth remembering, especially today,” Graham says before the video flashes images of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. “In Washington, lies turn to violence. And the biggest lie is that America is at war with itself — that you can’t trust your neighbor, that they want something that’s yours, that you must live in fear of them.”
“But the people who stood up at Hayes Pond refused to be afraid,” he says.
The campaign video had drawn more than 3.4 million views on Twitter as of Tuesday afternoon.
Graham, the only Native American serving in the state’s General Assembly, is challenging Rep. Dan Bishop (R) for the seat in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in November, even with much uncertainty as to how the district could look amid gerrymandering. Bishop is best known as the architect of the state’s controversial 2016 “bathroom bill” that barred transgender students from using the facilities of the gender they identify with. (Graham voted in favor of the bill.)
Brandon Combs, a senior adviser to Graham’s campaign, said Tuesday that the ad was meant to “capture the urgency and importance of the moment we’re living in.”
“It was an opportunity to not only show the community that raised Representative Graham but also the values we want to see from communities,” Combs said. “We wanted to offer insight into this window of history where people of all walks of life came together to stand against absolute evil.”
Frank Eaton, the ad’s director and vice president of Putnam Partners, a Democratic political media firm, said the Battle of Hayes Pond was at the front of Graham’s mind when they first met to discuss his campaign in July.
“When we sat down, literally the first thing out of Charles Graham’s mouth was that we should try to tell the story of Hayes Pond,” Eaton said. “I grew up in North Carolina and had never heard it before.”
In the years that followed the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the KKK engaged in a series of violent acts meant to intimidate and discourage Black people from obtaining more civil rights.
Cole, a leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, expanded those efforts to target the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina, in an attempt to increase the hate group’s reach in the state. The Lumbee are descended from several Carolina tribes, including the Cheraw, who intermarried with Whites and free Black people in the 18th and 19th centuries. The KKK decided to target Robeson County, an area with “a uniquely tri-racial population” in the 1950s of about 40,000 White people, 30,000 Native Americans and 25,000 Black people in their own school systems, according to NCpedia.
On Jan. 13, 1958, Cole urged his followers to burn crosses on the lawns of two Native American families he had accused of violating the boundaries of segregation, according to author Malinda Maynor Lowery’s 2010 book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation.” The two cross-burnings weren’t enough for Cole and the KKK, who took out an ad in the Robesonian newspaper announcing a rally and cross burning on Jan. 18, 1958, in a field near Maxton, N.C. — about 100 miles outside Charlotte.
Although Maxton Mayor Bob Fisher, who was also the police chief at the time, had asked for federal assistance against the KKK and warned the hate group that community members “don’t want your trouble,” Cole taunted the town and said, “We are going to have a cross-burning and scare them up.”
“The Klansman called us mongrels, half-breeds, and told him the Klan would show him how to handle people like us,” Graham, who was 6 at the time, says in the campaign ad.
The Klan’s announcement energized a town that knew it had to fight back. It got the attention of residents such as Verdia Locklear, who was 24 and four months pregnant at the time. In 2018, Locklear told the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke that the community knew what to do when the KKK rally was advertised: “The first thing they’d say, ‘Be sure you got your pistol, and if you don’t have a pistol, carry your rifle.’ ”
“We intended to get rid of them. We knew that if they was trying to outshoot us, they was going to get everything we had,” Locklear said. “They was going to run us out of our homes. That was their intention.”
On that cold January night, roughly 50 KKK members showed up at the field with their crosses, a large Klan banner and a single lightbulb hooked to a car battery, Graham says in the ad. Almost immediately, those men in white robes realized the night was not about to go as they had planned.
“Fifty Klansmen — not a bad turnout on a cold night,” the state legislator says. “Problem is they were surrounded by 400 Lumbees.”
The Lumbees were joined by community members who would not allow the KKK to terrorize the town. Jim Jones, who was in medical school at the time, returned home to fight the Klan. Jones recalled to the Museum of the Southeast American Indian how as the two sides began to yell at each other in the field, Neil Lowery, a local barber, pulled out his gun, placed it on the neck of a Klansman and asked, “Are you prepared to meet God, you SOB?”
Instead of killing the man, who did not answer the question, Lowery took the gun away from the man’s neck and shot out the lone light, Jones said. The Battle of Hayes Pond was underway.
“There were a zillion shots,” Jones said. “There was intense gunfire, guns going off everywhere.”
But the battle ended as quickly as it began. The KKK retreated, overmatched by the hundreds of Lumbees and community members who came out to deny the Klan what the group thought would be an acceptance of their racist agenda.
“They totally misread the dynamics of the area,” Christopher Oakley, a history professor at East Carolina University who studied the melee, told the Fayetteville Observer in 2008. “They stepped into a situation that was different from the rest of the South.”
The miscalculation by Cole and the Klan was “complete idiocy,” another historian said.
No one was killed, and there were only a few minor injuries from the battle.
As Graham tells it, the media was already running with the story by the time the sheriff arrived to fish the Klansmen out of the swamp. Two Native Americans, Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine, were wrapped in a KKK flag as they smiled and winked for a photograph published in Life Magazine.
Cole was later convicted of inciting a riot and served prison time. He died in 1967 of injuries he sustained in a car accident.
“It seemed that the Klan had taken on just too many Indians,” the magazine observed.
Graham, who said he is running for Congress to “finally mend our divided spirits,” suggests that the country can learn from what happened in Robeson County more than 63 years ago.
“Sometimes we’re called upon to put things right, like Hayes Pond in 1958 and America today,” he says in the campaign spot, adding: “These folks didn’t set out to make history. They just answered a neighbor’s call.”
Locklear said the message from the Battle of Hayes Pond was straightforward: “Treat people, treat your friends, everybody, the way the Lord would have you to treat them.”
“I feel like we made a difference,” Locklear said in 2018. “I’ll put it like that.”
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