Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with W. Horace Carter, January 17, 1976. Interview B-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Opposition to the vigilante tactics of the Klan

Carter again explains how his opposition (as well as that of others) was largely a reaction to the vigilante tactics the Ku Klux Klan employed during the early 1950s. Carter explains how many residents of Columbia County, North Carolina and surrounding areas sometimes agreed with the Klan's views on certain behaviors they deemed "immoral." Nevertheless, most found the tactic of flogging and other physical violence abhorrent. In this regard, Carter lauds the courage of those who stepped forward to accuse their attackers and to help the federal case against the Klan. Overall, his comments here reveal the complex relationship of various factors in determining how people in that community understood the Klan and its actions.

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, now do you know the klansmen in the county now? Do you think there's an active Klan in this county?
W. HORACE CARTER:
I don't think there's any klansmen in the county that have any …. Let me put it this way: I don't think there's any card-carrying klansmen to speak of—there might be a handful. But I don't think there are any card-carrying klansmen to think of. But I think we still have some people who think like the Klan thought; I think we still have some that would sympathize with the very things that the Klan was promoting at that time. Now, this may not be the time to say it, but somewhere we need to point out this basic fact about the Klan: we have never (then or now) tried to say anything good about the character of the people that they flogged. And I think that's one reason the Klan had some following then and some sympathizers then, because these beatings that they administered and their form of justice on these people, generally speaking the people that they punished had a lot lacking in their character and they deserved some kind of punishment. But our crusade was that this group of vigilantes were not the one to do the punishing. Of course, their rebuttal to this was, "Nobody else is doing anything about it." So they had some argument; and this made some people pro-Klan, because they'd say, "Well, I hear of these few people that are leading these immoral lives, and they've been doing it for ten years and the children out there are suffering, and nothing's being done about it." So the Klan did something about it: they put the whip to them. We posed it anyway as we would now. But I did want to point out the fact that some people were sympathetic to the Klan because they could foresee some deserved punishment by these people.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, did you personally know or were you acquainted with any of the Klan victims?
W. HORACE CARTER:
Only to a nodding acquaintance kind of way. I mean, some of these people in this area who were beaten up (some blacks and some whites), I would know the name if I saw them on the street but I had no real close association.
JERRY LANIER:
In your estimation, Mr. Carter, were there a lot of floggings that were never reported or never came to light?
W. HORACE CARTER:
I think there were a lot more that weren't reported than were reported. And I thank God for the ones that were reported, because if they hadn't been reported the FBI and the SBI would have had nothing to go on, and we would have been in a bad position. But the fact that some of these people had the courage to report them, I think that is a major point in the whole episode, because had they not gone to the sheriff or somebody and told their stories they would have broken the case.
JERRY LANIER:
Well, perhaps some of that can be attributed to newspaper report they received.
W. HORACE CARTER:
I believe that if the newspapers hadn't said anything, hadn't even offered any crusade against this activity at all, I doubt seriously that it would ever have been broken. In the first place, I doubt if anybody would have talked; second, I doubt that the FBI would have ever gotten involved with it. I think it's one of the purposes that perhaps we served, to get enough attention focused on it that it did get the FBI interested. And if we hadn't, I don't believe the local law enforcement would have ever broken it. I think here might also be a time to say a good word for the Raleigh News and Observer, because I think as long as Willard and I were talking about it down here in the county and nobody else was saying much about it, that perhaps we would have had a hard time…. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
W. HORACE CARTER:
… in this campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, because they were a big newspaper with a big circulation. And they sent Jay Jenkins down here, who was working with the state editor at that time, and Jay did a lot of talking to Willard Cole and myself and came to some of the public meetings. And they publicized the Klan activities and the floggings with some big banner headlines on the front page, and I think this helped to get the FBI interested in it. They saw it as more than just any little small town/rural county problem, but that it could grow into a state and national problem.