Lumbee tribe honors those who fought KKK in 1958, celebrates 50th anniversary
By Hannah Simpson
Around the Town Editor
|Photo by Nathan Howard
Dr. Diane Jones, left, stands with other honored individuals as the drum circle plays the “Victory Song.” Dr. Jones attended the anniversary to accept a plaque in honor of former Pembroke State College President Walter Gail.
“Last Saturday night the Klan scheduled a meeting in a private field near Maxton, N.C.” reads the Jan. 27, 1958, edition of Life magazine. “It was an anti-Indian meeting, a fact well known to everyone, including the Indians.
“Fewer than 100 Klansmen, only one of them hooded, came. Suddenly about 350 Indians, most of them from the fiercely prideful Lumbee tribe, some of them armed, swarmed down on the rally.
“After one Indian sharpshooter shot out a light bulb near the Klan’s microphone, the raiders panicked the Klansmen…with the hand-to-hand scuffling…and a noisy but innocuous barrage of shots,” the article continued. “It seemed that the Klan had taken on just too many Indians.”
More than 200 Lumbee Indians and area natives celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Ku Klux Klan rally that never happened” Jan. 18 at the Indian Education Resource Center in Pembroke.
The ceremony honored those who fought against the Klan in 1958 at Hayes Pond in Maxton, and inducted nine white and Indian individuals into the tribe who participated at Hayes Pond or supported the actions of the American Indians.
|Photo by Nathan Howard
Drummers beat the “Victory Song” for recipients of the plaques and those who received medals for fighting at the Battle of Hayes Pond.
According to Life, Robeson County lived in segregation, noting that schools and neighborhoods were divided between American Indians, African Americans and the white population.
“The rally developed a bond of friendship between the whites and Indians that has never developed before,” said an unnamed police chief in the Feb. 3, 1958, Life magazine.
The celebration honored nine non-American Indian individuals with plaques for their help on the night of the Hayes Pond Battle.
These individuals include former president of Pembroke State College Walter Gail; Sheriff Malcolm McLeod; former private prosecutor Luther Britt; assistant solicitor Charles McLean; Fayetteville Observer reporter Pat Reese; Fayetteville Observer photographer Shaw; former highway patrolman Frank Johnson; and former district solicitor Maurice Braswell.
Dr. Diane O. Jones, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, received the resolution in honor of Walter Gail.
“It has been the longest and best kept secret in the history of Robeson County,” said Garth Locklear, chairman of the Indian Honor Association. “For 50 years we shut down and said nothing. It’s long enough. It’s all right now.”
Locklear struggled to hold back tears for a moment, before sharing that the battle at Hayes Pond had been an emotional night for him.
He described the bullets flying through the mass of Indians and Klansmen, and the women and children who sat at home, listening as the event unfolded on the radio.
“I can assure you, I did a lot of dancing that night,” he said.
According to Life, several days before the rally was to take place, the Klan had placed burning crosses in the yard of an Indian family who had moved into a “white neighborhood” and on the lawn of an Indian woman who was dating a white man.
According to a 2000 interview titled “The Ku Klux Klan Rally That Never Happened” with the late Sanford Locklear, who had been at Hayes Pond and whose picture was featured in Life, the Klan was originally supposed to meet at a different location on the Friday before.
After hearing of the Indians plan to attend, the Klan secretly switched the time and location.
“We would shoot our guns straight up in the air,” Locklear said in his interview. “My shirt was full of my empty shotgun shells.”
A table displayed Life magazines that held articles about the battle at Hayes Pond, and an audio recorder taken from James “Catfish” Cole, a Klansmen leader.
According to the Feb. 3 Life article, Cole and several other Klan members faced charges of inciting a riot. Cole was also convicted for carrying a concealed weapon, according to the article. They would later announce another rally in a county with no Indians.
“The Indians of Robeson County, having made their point, did not plan to attend,” the Life article read.
The ceremony concluded with a gathering of those who received medals and plaques gathering around the drum circle for the “victory song.”
Beneath the basketball hoop in the old high school gym, the beat of victory completed the integration of the Lumbee tribe.