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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Anecdotes regarding Klan opposition to social justice movements

Barnes offers two anecdotes relating to the opposition of the Ku Klux Klan to various social justice movements of the 1960s. First, he describes how his friend, photographer Bruce Roberts, documented an uprising of the Lumbee Indians against the intimidation efforts of the Klan. Second, he describes how the Klan used scare tactics against the North Carolina Volunteers in New Bern, North Carolina.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. 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

ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Bruce Roberts—was he a freelance photographer?
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
Yeah. In later years, he was the director of photography for Southern Living magazine. He did that until he went into semi-retirement some time ago. I think Bruce is living in Birmingham now, where I believe Southern Living is published. He called me a couple of years ago. We were both submitting photographs for a book on North Carolina, which was being done by someone in Birmingham. He called me to talk to me about something about that project. Bruce is a wonderful guy and terrific photographer. He's very thorough. Boy, he shoots a lot of pictures. He burns a lot of film. You can do that for a magazine story. Bruce, his first big score—. He was a photographer for the Charlotte Observer. His first big national score was—. I don't know whether—. Well, you're new to North Carolina, but there was a legendary occurrence about 1963 in which the Lumbee Indians were being persecuted by the Klan.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Oh.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
Are you aware?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
No, I'm not.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
They had really been doing some crummy things to the Lumbees. They had a cross burning one night right there on a farm in the heart of what we call Lumbeeland—that is the Robeson County area where the Lumbees live. There were, I guess, a hundred Klansmen in their sheets around this burning cross singing and chanting and doing their . Bruce was tipped off to the fact that the Lumbees were going to attack that night, and they did. I think they had shotguns. They surrounded that group of Klansmen. [Laughter] The Klansmen were scared to death. They all ran and jumped in their pick up trucks and took off. Lumbees were firing their shot guns in the air. Bruce got these wonderful, wonderful pictures of—. The one that was on the cover of Life was two of the Indians with a Klan flag wrapped around them. He shot a whole picture story. First, it ran in the Charlotte Observer, and then it ran in Life magazine. That was his first big step to big time photography.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
That reminds me of something from the other interview. You said that George Esser had you live with North Carolina Volunteers who were shot at? Were you there when they were shot at?
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
No, no.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Okay.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
I never lived with that group. Did you read that somewhere or did I tell you that?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You mentioned that. Did you mean—.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
Well, no. One of my staff members. Actually he was the guy who shot the film The First One Hundred.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Dick Schoener?
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
Yeah, Dick Schoener. I don't think I told you I was there.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
No, no.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
One of my people was there.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Yeah.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
Dick worked for me. He was one of the first people I hired. He was there in the cabin with them, and he called me one Sunday morning—real early. He said, "We're being shot at. What should I do?" [Laughter] I said, "Get out of the bed. Tell the kids to get under the damn bed and not show faces." I called George, and George called Jack Mansfield who was a minister who actually lived in Morehead City, which is not far from New Bern where this shooting occurred. [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
I did not go down there to the scene, because it was really Jack's job to go down there and make sure the kids were not going bananas and to get them out of that situation and put them in a safer situation and kind of work that whole thing over. Now, I did live with—. We sent two groups of Volunteers—and I believe one of them was the New Bern group—down to build the house in the little community of Merrimon in Cartaret County not too far from Beaufort. Now, that's the group I lived with. I think George Esser was so concerned about that shooting incident that he wanted me be there kind of on his behalf and stay with that group of people and try to make sure that things were safe and sane and so forth. The kids comported themselves so they didn't make any trouble. I did live with them for about three weeks while they were building that house, or maybe more—maybe a month. We lived in the basement of an Episcopal church for a while and then we moved to an Episcopal camp. It was a crummy camp, but it was in a beautiful location on the beach out at an island named Royal Isle. They lived in a kind of church retreat type dormitories. That's when I lived with the group.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Who shot at the Volunteers? Did they know who it was?
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
I don't think so.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Okay.
BILLY EBERT BARNES:
New Bern was big Klan country at the time. I remember some of our staff members were down there one time in a racially mixed group. They went in a restaurant one time and had a meal and came back out, and there was a bumper sticker on their car that said, "The Klan is watching you." [Laughter] But, no, I don't think anyone was ever arrested. It was just a drive-by shooting. To tell you the truth, I don't know remember whether a projectile ever hit the cabin. They may have just been shooting in the air, wanting to scare people. Rednecks do that. They have six beers, and they want to go out and scare somebody. If there's a bunch of black kids living with white kids and they're mixed gender and race, that's reason enough to drive there and try to scare the liver out of them. So, you drive there and just make some noises and try to scare them. I don't know for sure whether they were shooting at the kids or even at the cabin, but it was—I've never been there—in a very remote area on the river where a friend of ours, who later came to work for the North Carolina Fund, had a cabin out there. He offered it to the kids—. Well, he thought if they lived out there it would be a lot less obvious and they wouldn't attract as much attention as if they lived in some hotel or church in town. But, it didn't work out that way. But, no one was hurt. In fact, no one was hurt all summer. Some kids were given a hard time.