Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Ku Klux Klan

In 1928, Sam joined the KKK. He explains why he did so and defends their actions, explaining that what he did was never a racial attack but more a way of providing for local white citizens. Vesta does not seem to be as eager to defend them.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vesta and Sam Finley, July 22, 1975. Interview H-0267. 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

VESTA FINLEY:
But the Ku Klux. . . . Now people didn't like that people; they still don't down here.
SAM FINLEY:
Well, I'll tell you about the Ku Klux; they never did know what it was all about.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who didn't know what it was all about?
SAM FINLEY:
People around here. You can read about where they done this and burned people and everything way back. When Al Smith ran for president, the Ku Klux was reorganized to defeat him. And they did; that's what defeated him, Ku Klux Klan. Because they was organized all around, and they took an oath not to vote for him. And they paraded around all over the country.
VESTA FINLEY:
She still don't know what Ku Klux Klan was [laughter]
SAM FINLEY:
Gosh, I know she's read about Ku Klux.
VESTA FINLEY:
Well, I guess you have studied about it, haven't you?
SAM FINLEY:
I know she's read about it in the papers.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Yes. That's the one that's national, right?
VESTA FINLEY:
Yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, when did you belong to them?
SAM FINLEY:
1928.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why did you join?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, I wanted to see what it was all about, for one thing.
VESTA FINLEY:
Just to get into something. He had to wear a ring.
SAM FINLEY:
Anything that was done that was bad, it was laid on the Ku Klux.
VESTA FINLEY:
What did the Ku Klux do good?
SAM FINLEY:
Listen, she don't know.
VESTA FINLEY:
No, I don't. [laughter]
MARY FREDERICKSON:
She never got to belong; I don't think they accept women, do they?
VESTA FINLEY:
No.
SAM FINLEY:
They'd find out somebody that was doing the wrong thing, and they'd have a talk with them, somebody would.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Like, what was the wrong thing?
VESTA FINLEY:
Some man beating up his wife, and cruelty to animals.
SAM FINLEY:
Beating up his wife, and wouldn't feed his children, and anything like that. They'd have a little talk with him. And sometimes they have got the man to working.
VESTA FINLEY:
And if he didn't straighten up and do, they'd go in and flog him.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did you ever do that?
SAM FINLEY:
No! I never done that. That's just talk.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What do they do?
SAM FINLEY:
They wear these-here white robes, and just a place to look out the eyes. You can't see . . . you don't know who they are. [laughter] And they get out and have these parades. And a wizard in a parade one time in Gastonia (they were in cars, you know; the parade was about a mile long). . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
When was this?
SAM FINLEY:
Oh, that's along in the early thirties.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Why did you go to Gastonia? What was the parade for?
SAM FINLEY:
Well, they'd have meetings and elect officers and different things, you know. And they paraded around this Catholic school, and you couldn't see nobody. They were against Catholics, because the Catholic was running for president and they wanted to beat him. And they done it to the churches.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, when you belonged here in Marion, did you get to know the other people? I mean, when you met with the Ku Klux Klan, did they take off the. . . ?
SAM FINLEY:
Yes, when you got in the hall, the meeting place.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Who belonged to the klan? Who belonged to it then?
SAM FINLEY:
Oh, there were lots and lots of my friends here in it. We had a lot of fun when they had to go over to Ashville or somewhere they were having a meeting, or Johnson City, Tennessee.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did any of the people from uptown belong to it?
SAM FINLEY:
Yes, but none of the people from the mill right here did. At the Clinchfield mill, some of the boys up there did.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Some of the. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Workers.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
But none of the workers from this plant?
SAM FINLEY:
None but overseers.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
And none of the workers from Baldwin?
SAM FINLEY:
I don't remember right now of any from down here. But at that time I was working at Clinchfield.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Was it mainly sort of a way to keep up with people who were beating their wives, or Catholics? Was there any racial involvement? That's what the klan is usually associated with.
SAM FINLEY:
Now there was a little of that. They didn't care about Jews or Niggers. They wouldn't go into a Jewish store. They didn't want nothing to do with the Niggers; that was the Ku Klux.
VESTA FINLEY:
Don't say Nigger; that's colored or black people.
SAM FINLEY:
Well, colored men. Now they kept up the work against that. . . .
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Did they ever do anything against. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Nothing more than talk.
VESTA FINLEY:
Human beings is just the same today as they were a million years ago. Marion Roydhouse: That's what we're finding out.
VESTA FINLEY:
You know, you think, "I'm right, you're wrong. And you can't convince me that I'm wrong, and I can't convince you that I'm right." So it's just a cross; it's always been.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
How did you feel about belonging to an organization that was against Catholics and Jews and. . . .
SAM FINLEY:
Well, I didn't think anything about it.
VESTA FINLEY:
He was just in the gang.
SAM FINLEY:
I was just a boy, that's all I was.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
What did you think about it at the time?
VESTA FINLEY:
That's before I knew anything about him.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
That was in your singing quartet days.
SAM FINLEY:
I'll tell you. The whole thing was really organized to beat Al Smith; he was running for president. Well, after he was beat, it just died down.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
So by the time the strike came in '29 the klan was non-existent, right?
VESTA FINLEY:
Not here.
SAM FINLEY:
It flares up a little bit in different places. And they have a lot of dirty work. Anybody can get one of their robes, see, and hood and put it on. They finally made a law that you couldn't wear that thing over your face.
VESTA FINLEY:
Masks.
SAM FINLEY:
But anybody could get a hold of one of these robes and put it on; and two of them get out here and beat somebody up. And the minute they leave, well the klan got credit for it when they didn't do it.