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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 network of opponents to the Ku Klux Klan

Carter describes the local network of people who actively campaigned against the Ku Klux Klan during the early 1950s, arguing that ultimately federal intervention was needed. In describing an atmosphere of highly charged tension, Carter explains how in addition to himself, other public opponents included Columbus County Sheriff Hugh Nance and the editor of the <cite>New Reporter</cite> in Whiteville, North Carolina, Willard Cole.

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, did you find the case to be the same in Columbus County, North Carolina insofar as law enforcement was concerned? Was the sheriff's department here actively working against the Klan?
W. HORACE CARTER:
I think there was a great deal more effort in Columbus County to find out who they were and what they were doing and to convict them than they were in Overy County, because I think that that's been true down through the years as far as lawlessness is concerned. But I will say (and Hugh Nance is a friend of mine who was the sheriff at that time in Columbus County, and did have some part in the arrests and the convictions), I'll say now and would tell him that I don't believe the cases would have ever been broken had we just had the local people trying to break the cases. And I don't believe they would have ever come up with the evidence to have convicted them, and I think that they would have looked around and seen so many people that were voting for them that they would have been a little reluctant to have done that much about it anyway. I doubt that local sheriff's departments and police forces would have ever broken the Klan's back.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, one of the Klan leaders himself, I think, would confirm what you just said. Mr. Brooks, in his book that he wrote in 1958, really criticized sheriff Nance—almost charged him with cowardice in a lot of cases, and called him the "little cowboy sheriff." That seems to be a general agreement, that the FBI was really the most active force in finally bringing the Klan to justice.
W. HORACE CARTER:
The original seventeen or eighteen arrests were federal arrests. But then, you know, following right on the heels of that were the SBI (the State Bureau of Investigation) arrests, and these were worked in conjunction with the sheriff's department. But I don't believe the FBI would have let all the debuties and the sheriffs and the various local law enforcement officers even know much about what was going on until they were ready to crack down on this. There's too many chances of a leak here which would spoil the thing. Incidentally, since we've mentioned the sheriff and Hugh Nance at that time, the nearest I came to shooting somebody in my life was in this period. And it was about two o'clock in the morning; and of course I didn't know who it was, but I was kind of on edge during this period anyway because they kept telling me how they were going to take me out of the house and beat me up. And at about two o'clock in the morning somebody knocked on my door. There were no houses right close to where I was living at the time (several hundred yards), and so I said, "Well, they finally came after me." And I had my gun, and in another minute or two I probably would have shot him. But just about the time I was started to the door he said, "This is Hugh Nance, the sheriff." Now, it could have been somebody else and just used this as a ruse to get me out, but in actuality it was him, and he was telling me about some more Klan information that he got. That's the nearest I came to shooting somebody; it was a wonder I didn't shoot.
JERRY LANIER:
Did you have your gun along very often at all?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Not in the streets, just at home. But I tried not to be by myself at night around the county, because that was just asking for trouble. And I had phone calls saying, like, "Your house is being photographed; your house is being watched. We know your schedule, and we're going to eventually get you."
JERRY LANIER:
Cole in Whiteville, did he receive the same sort of treatment?
W. HORACE CARTER:
He did, as far as I know. Willard's dead now, you know; but in the early part of this campaign it had been centered down in this area and in Horry County, and the News Reporter wasn't as directly involved 'til long about—what?—'51 or '52, somewhere in through there. But once he got involved with it, I think Willard did a magnificent job campaigning against the Klan. And he deserved any recognition he ever got for it; he worked hard at it. And I think he had just as many threats as we did; and in some respects I think you have to respect his position even more, because he was there at the county seat, and the law enforcement officers and the investigation centered there more than it was down here. We were way down here in the country eighteen miles from the county seat, and I think he may have been closer to the later stages of investigation than I was.
JERRY LANIER:
I think, too, perhaps he had one advantage in that his paper came out twice a week; it was a substantially bigger paper.
W. HORACE CARTER:
With more circulation, and just more pages and more space to say it; more people there to be involved, right.
JERRY LANIER:
Mr. Brooks was delighted to say that of all the enemies, of you and the sheriff and Mr. Cole, that he guessed they hated Mr. Cole worse. And I think it was because he reached more people, in a way.
W. HORACE CARTER:
Sure he did. Our circulation was something less than two thousand; and I expect at that time the News Reporter was probably in the five thousand bracket—I'm not sure, but certainly between three-four-five, in that neighborhood. But it was getting to more people, and it could have more influence, I'm sure, than we could. Mostly what Early Brooks said about me was that I was going crazy, or something or other; seemed like he said something or another, "That newspaper editor in Tabor City is losing his mind," or something like that.