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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 >>

Local citizens' reactions to the Klan and its connections to law enforcement

This passage begins with Carter's assertion that most people in Tabor City, North Carolina, did not wish to be on either side of the Klan debate during the early 1950s. According to Carter, some people did not want to openly express opposition to the Klan because they feared retaliation. After making this observation, Carter segues into a discussion of connections between law enforcement and the Ku Klux Klan, pointing out that it was often difficult to discern who was for and against the organization. In particular, Carter focuses on how Sheriff Ernest Sasser in neighboring Horry County, South Carolina, publicly decried the Klan, while privately enjoying their support and endorsement.

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, Mr. Carter, I know this is a hard thing to get at, to get into really: I was curious if you could make some estimate as to perhaps what the Klan strength was in the community. Were a majority of the people, if not members, sympathetic to the Klan, you thought, or were the majority opposed?
W. HORACE CARTER:
The majority didn't want to be on either side. The majority wanted to be just quiet about it; they didn't want the Klan after them, and they didn't want the people who were anti-Klan to know just where they stood either. So I'd say that the overwhelming majority were neutral, at least openly were neutral. But there was a lot of sentiment for the Klan. I continue to say, though, that the bulk of the people who were in the Klan itself were in there because of the adventure involved; not because of the moral aspects of it, but because they saw in this a chance to exert some power. And I think they were adventurous types, and I think that was the bulk of the people. Generally, though, the man on the street wasn't for the Klan nor was he anti-Klan; he just didn't care much. He just wanted to stay out of it, because they had some fear. I think the man on the street had some fear; as the floggings kept up they ran into numerous reasons why it was a litle bit risky for them to say anything either way. [interruption] One of the most frightening aspects of the Klan crusade was the fact that you never knew who was a klansman. And I say this in spite of the fact that we worked very closely with the FBI during this period, and were acquainted with much of the investigation. But we still never were aware of who was and who wasn't a member. And I think one of the most shocking aspects to it all was when I found that one of the members of our own three-man town council was a member of the Klan. He was convicted of his Klan activities; he died with a heart attack before he could serve his sentence.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, it seemed that several police officers in the county were Klansmen also.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Hamilton and all the other speakers for Klan recruiting made this very clear at every meeting, that their ranks were filled with the law enforcement officers in the area—not just in this county but in many other counties. And that was definitely true in some instances, because as you probably have heard in one of the articles we wrote about this, a Conway town city policeman was killed wearing a Klan robe and mask at a Myrtle Beach café. The klansmen shot up this café, and this black man who was running the café shot back and killed one of the klansmen; and when they carried him to the funeral home and they identified him (his name was Johnson—I've forgotten his first name), he was a klansman wearing his uniform under his robe.
JERRY LANIER:
Frank Johnson, I believe.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Yes.
JERRY LANIER:
It's interesting. Sheriff Sasser later in an investigation reported that none of the blacks had guns, I think at one time. And so that sounds sort of strange—that perhaps he was not liked by his fellow klansmen or something.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Sasser was the sheriff in Horry County at this time, and he had been the sheriff down there for years and years. And it's certainly safe to say that while he may have talked against the Klan, he was not anti-Klan under any circumstances or any stretch of the imagination. Nor was John Henry, the sheriff who followed him; I would say that they both had the support of the Klan. Although in the latter years of Sasser's term he openly made a great many claims as to how much he had fought the Klan; but I think that was because there was a falling out among the Klan membership as to who they were going to support in the sheriff's race: John Henry or Ernest Sasser. But I think that both of them at one time or another had the support of the Klan in the county.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, didn't Sasser fail to be re-electred in 1952? And he was charged as being very anti-Klan at the time by klansmen.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Yes. I was in the printing business in Conway as well as here at that time, and John Henry made a lot of waves by saying that he was opposing the Klan every way he could be. And he even had us print him up a bunch of circulars that he was to circulate throughout the county saying how anti-Klan he was. We printed the circulars; he paid us for the circulars, but he never distributed them. I think he was just trying to influence the newspaper that he was anti-Klan. There was no question, though, he was supported by the Klan. I think that Sasser at this moment may have lost his Klan support. But there isn't any doubt in my mind but what in prior years Sasser had been supported by the Klan as well. Both of them had that kind of people that were behind them. And I'm classifying people here, but Klan sympathizers then and now fall into one category, and you can almost spot them by things they say other than Klan statements. And I could see that the type of people that were supporting John Henry and the type that supported Sasser when the Klan growth was growing, these were the same type people.