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Lumbee Indians Face the Ku Klux Klan, 1958

by Nicholas Graham
UNC - North Carolina Collection, 2005
"This Month in North Carolina History" series. Reprinted with permission.

See also:  Lumbee Indians; Learning among the Lumbee

James W. Cole with Ku Klux Klan pamphletsOn the night of January 13, 1958, crosses were burned on the front lawns of two Lumbee Indian families in Robeson County, N.C. Nobody had to ask who was responsible. The Ku Klux Klan had risen again in North Carolina, its ranks swelling after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education calling for the desegregation of public schools. While the Court instructed schools to proceed with "all deliberate speed," the Klan fought -- often in the form of anonymous nighttime attacks -- to slow the process of integration.

Robeson County in the 1950s had a uniquely tri-racial population. There were about 40,000 whites, 30,000 Native Americans, and 25,000 African Americans, each group with its own separate school system. Although the Klan had typically targeted African Americans, in early 1958 a group led by James W. "Catfish" Cole of South Carolina began harassing the Lumbees. One of the crosses burned on the night of January 13 was on the lawn of a Lumbee family that had recently moved into a predominantly white neighborhood, while the other was intended to intimidate a Lumbee woman who was said to have been dating a white man. Not content to leave it at this, the Klan planned a rally in Robeson County to be held just a few days later.

Lumbee Indians, who outnumbered Klan members by about 5 to 1, circle KlansmenThe rally was scheduled for the night of January 18, 1958, in a field near Maxton, N.C. The stated purpose of the gathering was, in the words of Catfish Cole, "to put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing." The time and location of the rally was not kept secret, and word spread quickly among the local Lumbee population.

Reports vary about the number of people gathered on that cold night, but there were thought to have been around a hundred Klan members. They brought a large banner emblazoned with "KKK" and a portable generator, which powered a public address system and a single bare light bulb. When the meeting began, the arc of the dim light didn't spread far enough for the Klansmen to see that they were surrounded by as many as a thousand Lumbees. Several young tribe members, some of whom were armed, closed on the Klan meeting and tried to take down the light bulb. The groups fought, and a shotgun blast shattered the light. In the sudden darkness, the Lumbees descended upon the field, yelling and firing guns into the air, scattering the overmatched Klansmen. Some left under police protection while others, including Catfish Cole, simply took to the woods.

Captured banner worn by Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine, Lumbee.News photographers already on the scene captured the celebration. Images of triumphant Lumbees holding up the abandoned KKK banner were published in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. Simeon Oxendine, a popular World War II veteran, appeared in Life Magazine, smiling and wrapped in the banner. The rout of the Klan galvanized the Lumbee community. The Ku Klux Klan was active in North Carolina into the 1960s, but they never held another public meeting in Robeson County.

 

Educator Resources:

Grade 8: NC’s Lumbee Fight for Justice:The Battle at Hayes Pond in Maxton, NC. North Carolina Civic Education Consortium. http://civics.sites.unc.edu/files/2012/05/LumbeeFightforJustice1.pdf


References and additional resources:

Sider, Gerald M. 1993. Lumbee Indian histories: race, ethnicity, and Indian identity in the southern United States. Culture and class in anthropology and history, v. 2. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Dial, Adolph L. 1993. The Lumbee. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.

 Image Credit

Cravens, Don. "James William Cole," 1958. Item no. 40.4.c.18. From Joyner Library Digital Collections, East Carolina University. http://digital.lib.ecu.edu/1579.

Comments

Comment: 

The KKK is composed of misfits and ne'er do wells who try to bolster their own weak
egos by putting other people down instead of doing something constructive. They are
led by and manipulated by wealthy landowners who seek to exploit blacks, native
Americans, Asians and Hispanics as a source of cheap--almost slave--labor. The Klan
was started in 1868 by former Confederate army officers to keep blacks and other non
whites "in their place", i.e. in a state of quasi-slavery or serfdom--using violence and
terror. It has become America's recurring nightmare. Like cockroaches, the Klan will just
not go away.

Comment: 

I am glad to see this story. The KKK had their rally in North Carolina today and reading this story had encouraged me to remind me to always fight back. The KKK are nothing but thugs and cowards. I am half Lumbee and proud that they sent a message to the Klan then and now that their bullying and stupidity will not be tolerated.

Comment: 

I don't like the way this passage only talks about the "LUMBEES." The Lumbees werent the only ones there. My Great Grandpa and Great Great Grandpa were one of the Main ones there to fight them off and some of my other family members. We are the Tuscarora Indians. But when it comes down to it. We ALL run them off.

Comment: 

Dear Worth,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this with NCpedia and its viewers.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, N.C. Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

The Lumbees are brave and devoted to family. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation is also a fixture in NC history

Comment: 

I am looking for my Indian ancestors that lived in Nc George r Harris who had Indian an know that were Indian guatuim blood in the Harris side..I need help to find them

Comment: 

Go to ancestry.com that is how I found my family all the way back to the 1700's and I'm Lumbee to

Comment: 

Dear Dorothy,

Thank you very much for posting your inquiry to NCpedia. NCpedia is an online encyclopedia about North Carolina coordinated by the State Library of NC's Government & Heritage Library.

There is a Genealogy Services section in the Government & Heritage Library that may be of assistance. Contact information for them may be found at http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/contact.html. They are open Tuesday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm, and Saturday 9am-2pm. Information about submitting a reference question to them may be found at http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/ghl/faq.html#genealogy. 

Good luck in your research!

Michelle Underhil, Digital Information Management Program, NC Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

Thank you Jesus

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Educator Resources on North Carolina American Indians

NC Humanities Council, 2009 - 2011. "Teaching about North Carolina American Indians." Online at Learn NC.

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