On a cold January night in 1958, members of the Klu Klux Klan gathered to terrorize and intimidate communities of Robeson County, N.C., located in the Southern part of the state.
However, they were met by an army of more than 400 Lumbee, the state’s largest known tribe of Indigenous people, Black and white citizens to defend themselves and drive out white supremacy.
In the years since, what came to be known as the Battle of Hayes Pond, has been inaccurately depicted in news media accounts and widely untaught by North Carolina schools, its history buried and untold.
That is until recently when Democratic state Rep. Charles Graham shined a greater light with his viral campaign video that attracted more than 5 million Twitter views. Graham, the only Indigenous person serving in the General Assembly, said in the video that the battle brought together “hundreds of normal folks deciding to stand together against ignorance,” inspiring him to public service.
In an interview with Reckon, Graham said: “Those folks who gathered that night at Hayes Pond were prepared to defend our way of life, and by doing that it sent a strong message throughout the KKK community that people of color, primarily Lumbee people would stand up and fight against hatred and bigotry.”
Battle of Hayes Pond
After the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the KKK orchestrated terrorist attacks across the country to discourage school integration.
Because of Robeson County’s multiracial population of Lumbee, Black, and white communities, Klan members like Grand Dragon James W. “Catfish” Cole were adamant about advertising messages for events that were to intimidate and “to put the Indians in their place, to end race mixing”.
Cole encouraged his followers to burn crosses on the lawns of two Indigenous families in Robeson County, on Jan. 13, 1958, after he accused them of violating the boundaries of segregation, according to author Malinda Maynor Lowery’s book, “Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation.”
A few days later in the Robesonian, a local newspaper, the Klan ran an ad making it known that there would be more cross-burnings and to expect a rally on Jan. 18, in a field near Maxton. That day, more than 50 KKK members arrived at the field.
“Fifty Klansmen — not a bad turnout on a cold night,” Graham quips in his campaign video. “Problem is, they were surrounded by 400 Lumbees.”
People across the county organized a Lumbee resistance movement and showed up to defend and protect their community.
Verdia Locklear, then four-months pregnant and a member of the Lumbee Tribe, was also present. When she saw the ad in the Robesonian newspaper, Locklear told the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke that the community knew what to do.
“Be sure you got your pistol, and if you don’t have a pistol, carry your rifle, so I had both,” she said.
At the field, members of the Lumbee community told the Klan to leave town. When they refused, shots were fired. Outnumbered, the klansmen fled the field, many abandoning their wives and children to protect themselves.
The Lumbee people successfully ran the Klan out of town with no deaths and only a few minor injuries suffered in the battle.
“That was a powerful time for men and women to stand up and protect their community and more people today should be standing up to protect their communities, human rights, and doing it in a nonviolent way,” Graham said.
Preserving North Carolina history
Graham believes there is an underlying wave of people who don’t support human dignity thus leading to incidents like the Battle of Hayes Pond and similar attacks like the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Sometimes we’re called upon to put things right, like Hayes Pond in 1958 and America today,” he says in the campaign video. “These folks didn’t set out to make history. They just answered a neighbor’s call.”
It is evident that this history has been diminished and forgotten for far too long in North Carolina but by raising awareness and spreading a message of resistance and community people like Rep. Graham are preserving this history.
“This should be a part of North Carolina history and taught in our schools. Our children should know about this.”
As a former educator in North Carolina school systems for special needs youth, Graham’s diligence for educational equity stretches and acknowledges the importance of history and the significance of a child’s humanity.
“If we don’t learn from our past then we are going to repeat our same failures which is why it is very important for children to have a great understanding of how we are becoming a united country and the sacrifices made by many to ensure we have a very strong democracy,” Rep. Graham tells Reckon.
“So we have to have people in positions that are willing to tell the facts and let them be reflected in our history. Because we don’t want to see another Jan. 6 or Battle of Hayes Pond.”
Saving Places: How communities are working together to preserve historic places
Around the South, historic neighborhoods and important cultural sites are under threat. In some cases, it’s because of development. Others have simply languished as community members grew older and properties fell into neglect. Still, others might be swallowed up by the effects of a warming global climate. Reckon is introducing you to some of these Southern places, why they’re threatened and the people who are fighting to preserve them. Read those stories here.