The Lumbees’ victory over the Klan in North Carolina, 1958
May 1, 2020 12:16 PM   Subscribe

Robeson County in North Carolina is called a tri-racial county, with members of Lumbee Tribe in a liminal space. Despite being very much assimilated into white culture as evident from their speech and religious practices, Lumbees still faced much injustice (UNC), similar but different from the experience of blacks. The decision of Brown v. Board of Education, and state recognition of the Lumbees Tribe, were likely justifications used by the Ku Klux Klan to burn crosses, then drive around town, broadcasting racial slurs and promoting their “anti-Indian” rally. What happened is now known as the Battle of Hayes Pond (Wikipedia), or the day the Native Americans drove the KKK out of town (Narratively).

For a broader review of the incident, and the national coverage that continued racist stereotypes of the Lumbees: The Media, the Klan, and the Lumbees of North Carolina (Southern Cultures).

And a recollection from someone who knew some of the Lumbee involved: Battle of Hayes Pond: The Day Lumbees Ran the Klan Out of North Carolina (Dr. Dean Chavers, Indian Country Today).
I was a junior at Dinwiddie High School when the Klan riot happened. The principal, Mr. Ivan Butterworth, called me out of study hall a week after it happened to ask me about the Battle of Hayes Pond, which is what the newspapers called it. He showed me a copy of Life Magazine and asked me if I knew any of the people in the pictures. I had not heard about the riot.

I said, “Yesser, that’s my cousin Sonny Boy in the one picture. And that’s Simeon Oxendine in the other picture.”

He looked at me kind of funny, like he thought I was going to cause him some trouble. “I know Mister Sim,” I told him. “His daddy Sonny Oxendine was the first Indian mayor of our little town of Pembroke. Sim was in World War II, and flew a bunch of missions over Germany. I used to eat at their restaurant next to the garage where Sim worked on cars.”

Sim and Charlie Warriax had taken the Klan flag [they took from the riot] and draped it around themselves. The picture of the two of them clowning around made the news all over the country. I felt kind of cheated by not being there. Sim wasn’t afraid of much. He had been a waist gunner on a B-17 that flew 25 missions over Germany in 1944 and 1945. You didn’t push him around. He had been on some of the bombing raids over Schweinfurt and seen his share of fighter attacks and flak attacks.
There's a historical marker commemorating "The Lumbee and other American Indians ousted the Ku Klux Klan from Maxton, Jan. 18, 1958, at rally, 1 1/2 miles SW."

Parting note of the Lumbee Tribe's continued struggle for federal recognition: Largest tribe in East called NC home for centuries. Feds say it’s not Indian enough. (Charlotte Observer, February 15, 2019)
posted by filthy light thief (6 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I was living in NC when this happened. Most (White) folks thought it was pretty funny.
A troubling thing about the links above: there is little or no mention of "Melungeon", or tri-racial groups. It is the admixture of African-American ancestry that really complicated the Lumbee history. I recall a girl in my school who had a tribal card, but was ostracized as Black. Americans simply don't understand racial difference, even as they make serious rules about Race. So, Indians have a certain history, a certain set of attributes ("warlike") and when they mix with Poor Whites ("ignorant"), there's going to be a story for the media. Adding Blacks ("shiftless") to the mix just confuses the narrative.
posted by CCBC at 5:07 PM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Americans simply don't understand racial difference, even as they make serious rules about Race.

By this, I'm assuming you mean white Americans in position of power. (A gentle reminder that, when talking about race, be careful not to make "white" the default value--I had to double-check to make sure I hadn't done that myself here.) With that, the University of North Carolina link is all about the civil rights (violations) of the Lumbee. It includes an interesting note about the three segregated education systems:
Perhaps most notable is the North Carolina Constitution of 1835. Prior to this constitution, Lumbees were classified as “free persons of color,” and enjoyed civil rights. However, the constitution of 1835 stripped the Lumbees of the civil rights that they previously enjoyed. For example, under the new constitution the Lumbees could not longer bear arms or vote for state legislatures. In 1837-1857, the Lumbees challenged their classification as free persons of color successfully, in court, in the cases of State v. Oxendine (1837) and the 1853 case State v. Noel Locklear. Later, biracial school segregation in an impoverished tri-racial county provided the Lumbees with another way to oppose the violation of their civil rights and establish there own school systems separate from whites and blacks in the 1880’s.
The 1875 amendments to the state constitution brought about segregated schools. In a tri-racial county this bi-racial law did not address the needs of Indians. Indian’s could not attend white schools due having the same laws that applied to blacks applied to Lumbees. Therefore, Lumbees advocated and achieved a separate school system with their own teachers. The Croatan Indian* Normal School was established after the 1887 law sponsored by Hamilton McMillan provided for the establishment of a teaching school for Indians. Later, teachers who graduated from the Normal school helped to improve public school education for the Lumbee. Eighty-three years later, the implementation of the HEW mandated county-wide desegregation plan ended school segregation. However, this plan was not celebrated in the Indian community. Having separate schools provided the Lumbee with an environment that was conducive to their culture.
* The Lumbees are sometimes also referred as the Croatan (CROW-uh-tan) or Cheraw (CHAIR-aw) Indians, after two of the bands they trace their ancestry to. [source]

On a lighter note, I think it would be fantastic if some Lumbee wrote fictional stories of Sim and Charlie Warriax and others going around the south and harassing the Klan as a buddy comedy romp, based solely on this photo of them with the KKK flag draped around them, goofing for the camera.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:47 PM on May 1 [7 favorites]

I adore this story. The establishing of the historical marker in 2017 was a really big deal to North Carolinians, since so much of our history from that time is about the white supremacists winning.

I grew up in Mecklenburg County, NC--far enough from Robeson County that we didn't know anything about Lumbee culture, but close enough that I grew up with several Lumbee kids. In our (literally) black and white thinking, Lumbee kids generally got coded black, while kids from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee generally got coded white. When I think about it now, it's shocking just how fucked up our thinking about race was and how disconnected we were from the actual history of the place where we lived.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:58 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]

Thanks, so much, filthy light thief, so making this post and doing it well. I have relatives by marriage that are Lumbee, and I learned stuff about history by following the links you provided. It really means a lot to me that your post was respectful and focused on history.
posted by nangar at 8:06 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]

Many of the links for Gone To Croatan: Runaway Slaves, Lost Tribes, Tri-Racial Isolates & et. all have gone stale but still enough remain to provide some interest or so I should hope...
posted by y2karl at 9:22 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]

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