60 years ago today (January 18, 1958), the Lumbee routed the Ku Klux Klan at the Battle of Hayes Pond. Never heard of the Battle of Hayes Pond? Read on for an amazing, true story.
The story comes to me from my parents, who grew up in Robeson County, NC in the 1950s, which is when and where this story takes place. Actually it comes to me from nearly everyone in the Lumbee community old enough to remember.
...this is an epic #Lumbee story, a big deal...
Segregation was the name of the game in the 1950s, and the Klan styled themselves as referee. In the first days of 1958, the Klan burned at least 2 crosses in incidents designed to intimidate Lumbee people.
The “Robeson County Ku Klux Klan” was led by James “Catfish” Cole, a North Carolinian living in nearby South Carolina. In addition to cross burnings, Cole’s repertoire included nighttime rallies and other mayhem aimed at reminding Black & Indian folks about their “place.”
... I believe “domestic terrorism” is the term du jour to describe these activities...
Local (white-run) governments in Robeson County quickly condemned Cole and the Klan as “outside agitators.” Indian leaders, including officials from Pembroke (a predominantly Indian town) met with the sheriff about growing tensions.
Newspaper editors “up the road” in the city of Fayetteville weighed in, speculating that the Klan had bitten off more than it could chew in Robeson County and warning Cole that intimidation wouldn’t work.
Cole didn’t heed warnings and moved forward with Klan operations in Robeson County. After the neighborhood cross burnings and plenty o’ rhetoric, Cole planned a weekend rally near the Robeson County town of Maxton. He rented a field next to a spot called Hayes Pond.
On Saturday night, January 18, Cole and a few dozen Klansmen arrived on site for the rally, some of the men with families in tow. Their gear included a generator (to power a light, PA system and phonograph), a ready-to-light cross, and other paraphernalia... and guns.
Unbeknownst to the pre-rallying Klansmen, the Lumbee community had been abuzz with news about the rally for quite some time, and the Lumbees had made plans of their own... also involving guns.
As the rally was about to begin, Klansmen started the generator, illuminating their improvised stage with a single bulb.
Right about that time, somewhere between 300 and 500 men, mostly Lumbee and mostly armed, strode onto the field. One of the Lumbee men advised a lead Klansman there would be no speeches.
The Klansman disagreed and was promptly disarmed. At this point, another Lumbee man shot out the single light bulb, and in the darkness, the Klan was driven off the field and into the surrounding forest, swamp, and Hayes Pond itself (remember it’s January, brrr).
After disarming many of the Klansmen and chasing all of them from the field, the Lumbees took a few spoils from the battlefield. They also spoke to law enforcement officers, who had arrived on the scene by this time.
Cole’s wife and children were in their car while the events played out. She tried to drive away from the fray but drove into a ditch. Lumbee men helped free her car from the ditch and saw her safely away from the scene.
As I heard it, “Catfish” Cole hid in the swamps for the next two days. He was eventually arrested and convicted of inciting a riot. He served 18 months in prison. Local papers lampooned the Klan and celebrated the Lumbees.
Two of the Lumbee men who led the Klan rout were Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine. Oxendine (my great uncle) was a B17 gunner with 30 missions over Europe in WW2. He left a VFW convention to face the Klan that night, evidenced by his cap.
Similar stories abound among the hundreds of other Lumbees and their allies who faced the Klan that night. Heroes and warriors, all. Just like the brave women, many of whom stayed home to guard children, elders, and property against the real threat of marauding Klansmen.
My grandfather was out of town on a long-distance truck drive that weekend. My mom, 8 at the time, remembers hiding under the bed with her siblings while my grandmother guarded their home near Pembroke.
... I hope to learn someday whether any Lumbee women were among the hundreds of people on the field at Hayes Pond...
News about the Battle of Hayes Pond went national, making the front page of the @nytimes & page 2 of the @latimes. It was featured in @Life. Headlines ran coast to coast. Congratulations and well-wishes poured into the Lumbee community from across the country.
The man who made the “no speeches” remark and disarmed the first Klansman was Mr. Sanford Locklear, and you can hear his first hand account of the Battle of Hayes Pond here.
The Museum of the Southeast American Indian at @uncpembroke has a great collection, exhibit, and other resources related to the Battle of Hayes Pond. (The museum is a mandatory stop on a trip through Lumbee land.)
Parts of the Battle of Hayes Pond have been mythologized & romanticized through the years, but what I’ve laid out are some of the basics of our story, the Lumbee story, that was told to me. And it really happened 60 years ago today. (#TBT)
Addendum: Approximately 50 Lumbee women were present at the Battle of Hayes Pond. Ms. Pauline Locklear was one of them. Dive deeper into her story, media stereotypes, & other issues with this 2008 piece in @SCquarterly.
Read the unrolled thread here (includes images).