Archive for January 18th, 2008

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The KKK and the Battle of Hayes Pond

January 18, 2008

I grew up just across the Big Swamp from Robeson County, North Carolina, the home of the Lumbee tribe of Native Americans. lumbee-spec.jpg

Having known many members of the tribe throughout my life, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with them individually and as a group. They’ve been through a lot as a tribe and have produced some truly notable people and stories that have captured my imagination.

One of which is the Battle of Hayes Pond.

In 1958, the South Carolina Ku Klux Klan was led by a charismatic radio preacher named James W. “Catfish” Cole. The existence of the Lumbee just across the north Carolina border irked Cole, as no doubt did their mysterious origins. Cole called them mongrels and made it his personal mission to harass the tribe.

In early January of that year, someone burned a cross in the yard of a Lumbee woman they accused of consorting with a white man. Soon after, the Klan began distributing fliers advertising a major rally at Hayes Pond, near Maxton. Cole was quoted as predicting that 500 Klansmen would attend the rally, at which he was speaking.

Only about 50 Klansmen showed, some with their families in tow. Cole tested the PA system, playing a hymn over the loudspeakers.

The total number of attendees would surpass even Cole’s estimation, however, as approximately 500 well-armed Lumbee men gathered just up the road. Some described the mood as tense. At least one had another feeling:

“It was like you were going to the fair,” he said. “You didn’t know exactly what you were going to do when you got there, but you were excited about going.”

What happened next, from the Fayetteville Observer’s Anniversary Coverage:

A few minutes before the rally was to begin, Sanford Locklear, who came up from Pembroke, began arguing with Cole. Words became shoves as tempers rose. Then the first shot was fired — a shotgun blast that shattered the only light in the field.

That was enough for most of the Klansmen. As dozens of Indians shot into the air, peppering the field with birdshot, dozens of Klansmen scattered into the woods. Cole was among them, leaving his wife, Carolyn, behind. In a panic, she drove their car into a ditch, where several Indians helped push her out.

“The only thing they left behind was their stuff and their families,” Littleturtle said.

The state patrol, who had been waiting about a mile away, moved in when gunfire broke out. Sheriff McLeod, who later said he didn’t want to be accused of defending the Klan by showing up early, helped find lost Klansmen in the bushes and directed them out of Robeson County. He also booked one Klansman for public drunkenness — the only arrest that night.

Within minutes, and thanks to a couple of tear-gas grenades, the field was clear. “It seemed like an hour, though,” Littleturtle said.

Their foe routed, the victors began collecting spoils. Simeon Oxendine and Charlie Warriax snagged the large KKK banner from the flatbed truck. Others playfully donned some of the Klan robes left behind and fired their shotguns into the air.

Then they held one last Klan parade into Maxton. Some rode in cars and pickups; others marched. The parade and celebration ended with a bonfire of Klan material in Pembroke, where Cole was burned in effigy.

If you’re keeping score, I think that would be Lumbee 1, KKK 0.

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