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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Klan motorcade and recruitment efforts in the summer of 1950

Carter describes the Ku Klux Klan motorcade that came to Tabor City, North Carolina, during the summer of 1950. With the intention of intimidating the citizens of the town, the Klan focused its efforts on the African American neighborhood known as "The Bottom." Carter also describes the Klan's recruitment efforts and discusses the speeches made by Grand Dragon, Thomas L. Hamilton. According to Carter, the Klan's criticism was not only aimed at African Americans, but also at Jews and Catholics, individuals like Frank Porter Graham, and the newly formed United Nations. The passage concludes with Carter's assertion that although he disagreed with most of what the Klan said, it was their vigilante tactics that he found most despicable.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JERRY LANIER:
Well, from reading your paper it seems that the Ku Klux Klan first came to Tabor City in the summer of 1950, or first had a motorcade (I think it was called) in 1950. And this really seemed to antagonize you, and your crusade began with that.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Yes. You see, up to then everything had been under cover, but when they come up with a motorcade, then you know that all these things you've been hearing are real. You realize that they are organizing and that they are gathering strength. And this did antagonize us, because at that time the way those motorcades worked they had these lighted crosses on the front car; they had the dome lights burning in all the other cars, with people in them with the masks on and the robes, disguised obviously. And what they did then is, they came up and down our main streets, but primarily they went up and down through all of the black section of town—then that was known as "The Bottom." That's what they called the Negro section, and they went up and down through these sections and tried to, more or less, intimidate these people. And, you know, I just felt it was wrong, that's all.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, at the time had there been rumors of isolated floggings or beatings? Did you know of any at the time?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Not at that time. When the first motorcades took place, these were recruiting exercises. They would follow these motorcades with open meetings in which the general public was invited. And then Thomas L. Hamilton, who was the Grand Dragon at that time from Leesville, South Carolina, he and some of the heirarchy in the Klan would make these very passionate addresses in which they criticized almost everything. I remember very well some of the things they criticized: Frank Graham, who I felt was a great American, and the United Nations (it might have its faults, but at that time it was just barely in kneepants, and I thought it was very early to be criticizing the United Nations). And of course the Catholics and the Jews were in for their share of it, but the blacks were in for their share of the criticism too. But the first motorcades simply were recruiting exercises, in which they were trying to recruit members, sell these memberships and these hoods and these sheets. And the floggings were to come a few months later.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, perhaps the main target of the klansmen's addresses seemed to me to be Communism, or the fear of international Communism that was widespread in the early fifties. From your articles it seemed that you shared this same fear, and that a majority of the people in the community also were afraid of Communism and saw it as a real threat.
W. HORACE CARTER:
I saw it as a threat then and now. I think that one of the reasons that the Klan got some momentum and did get some membership is because many of the things that they said almost any of us would agree with. I mean, you couldn't oppose everything that they said. I couldn't oppose it now. They were against Communism, and they were for Americanism; and this was, you know, long about (at least shortly before) the time of Joe McCarthy, Senator McCarthy, who made a great deal over the fact that Communism was infiltrating into America. And if that's the only thing that they had been complaining about, I don't know whether we had any right to … you know, crusade against them or not. But we were going on the assumption that what they were trying to do was set themselves up as the judge and jury, as they did following the Civil War, and then set their kind of justice. And we opposed them constantly on the grounds that no individual outside of appointed or elected officials had the right to inflict their kind of judgment on the people.
JERRY LANIER:
So it would really be safe to say that your opposition was more based on the tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and their actions rather than their general ideas at the time?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Except we had to attack this idea of opposing people simply because they were black, Jewish or Catholic. I mean, we couldn't go along with that kind of thinking, because we felt that these were Americans too. But when it got to where they were going to be the courts, and knowing the kind of people that the Klan had within its membership, you just couldn't approve of an organization like this deciding who was doing wrong and who wasn't, and performing their kind of justice upon them.