north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
           On the night of January 18, 1958, a group of Ku Klux Klan supporters gathered near Hayes Mill Pond in Maxton. Led by James “Catfish” Cole, the rally was part of an ongoing attempt to intimidate the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County. A larger group made up of Native Americans from the county and the surrounding area, descended on the gathering and confronted the group. Massively outnumbered, the Klan supporters fled from the field and from that area of North Carolina permanently. Surprisingly, no one on either side was killed. Popularly dubbed in the press as the “Battle of Hayes Pond,” the event triggered national media coverage of the Lumbee struggle and of white supremacist activity in North Carolina.

                According to an unsigned letter from the “Women from the Maxton Community,” the white population of the area wanted the Klan rally to proceed as a means of “controlling” the town’s black residents, but had no problems with their Indian neighbors. In fact, however, the Klan activity in the county was prompted by rumors of a romantic relationship between a white man and a Native American woman in St. Pauls. This included the burning of a cross opposite the house of the Indian woman on the night of January 13, 1958, and another on the same night in Lumberton, near the home of a Lumbee family that had moved into a white neighborhood.

           Klan membership and operations in North Carolina increased after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated public schools. The Klan initiated a campaign of terror, seeking to reinforce Jim Crow laws that oppressed people of color, including American Indians in North and South Carolina. On October 5, 1957, James W. “Catfish” Cole, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan of South Carolina, organized a Klan rally in Monroe, which was disrupted by Union County’s NAACP chapter. This unexpected violent resistance prompted Cole to focus his attention on Robeson County.

           On January 18, 1958, the Klan arrived in Maxton to stage a rally. The meeting was broken up and routed by a much larger group of Indians. Numbers differ as to how many were involved, although it is generally agreed that the Klansmen and their supporters were probably no more than fifty, while the Lumbees numbered in the hundreds and perhaps even in the thousands. The action commenced when one of the Lumbees shot out the light bulb suspended from a pole over the Klan’s public address system. The Indians then opened fire. The outnumbered Klansmen did not offer effective resistance, although a few returned fire against the Lumbees. The affair was over in minutes.

           Many of the Klansmen fled the scene outright, leaving their families behind, and the remainder took refuge in their vehicles and had to be escorted out by law enforcement. Four Klansmen received minor gunshot injuries, but there were no fatalities. In addition, several of the Klansmen’s vehicles were damaged. Cole was subsequently arrested and convicted on the charge for having attempted to incite a riot.

           Governor Luther Hodges responded immediately to the incident, denouncing the Klan for inciting violence. The governor’s criticism of the Klan may have resulted in a backlash that increased support for the organization, especially in the western region of the state. Klan activities against the Indians of Robeson County ceased, however, and at least one judge used the event in Maxton to justify the prevention of a Klan rally planned for March 1966.

           The “Battle of Hayes Pond” represents a significant change in the fight for native identity and improved race relations. Interactions between the three major ethnic groups of Robeson County shifted as community members reevaluated long-held positions regarding their neighbors. Interest in the events of January 1958 continued in the years that followed.

           Folk singer Malvina Reynolds popularized the incident in her song “The Ballad of Maxton Field.” The Daily Tar Heel published several articles on the subject in the 1960s, while the Duplin Times Progress Sentinel used the incident to criticize the Klan in 1964. In 2015 the Kinston Free Press mentioned Hayes Pond and Cole in an article on the lingering effects of white supremacy in North Carolina. The following year, an article in The Robesonian highlighted the long-term significance of Hayes Pond in the development of Lumbee identity specifically and, more broadly, of community identity among the state’s Indian peoples. It remains a striking example of resistance by a minority ethnic group against organized efforts of harassment and intimidation.


References:
Karen I. Blu, The Lumbee Problem: The Making of
an American Indian People
(1980)
David Cunningham, Klansville, U.S.A. (2013)
David Cunningham, and Benjamin T. Phillips, “Contexts
for Mobilization: Spatial Settings and Klan Presence
in North Carolina, 1964-1966,” American Journal
of Sociology
113, no. 3 (November 2007): 781-
814
Daily Tar Heel, October 6, 1953, and April 21,
1965
J. K. Dane, and B. Eugene Griessman, “The Collective
Identity of Marginal Peoples: The North Carolina
Experience,” American Anthropologist 74, no.
3 (June 1972): 694-704
Duplin Times Progress Sentinel, August 13,
1964
Luther H. Hodges, “Governor’s Statement,” January 30,
1958 (accessed at http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16062coll17/id/300/rec/1
Kinston Free Press, June 20, 2015
Life, January 27 and February 3, 1958
Malinda Maynor Lowery, Lumbee Indians in the Jim
Crow South: Race, Identity, & the Making of a
Nation
(2010)
New York Times, January 19, 1958
Christopher Arris Oakley, “When Carolina Indians Went
on the War Path,” Southern Cultures 14, no. 4
(2008): 55-84
(Southern Pines) The Pilot, January 23, 1958
The Robesonian, January 20, 1958
Rocky Mount Telegram, January 19, 1958
Gerald M. Sider, Lumbee Indian Histories: Race,
Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southern United
States
(1993)
Time, January 27, 1958
Timothy B. Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name
(2004)
James W. Vander Zaden, “The Klan Revival,”
American Journal of Sociology 65, no. 5
(1960): 456-462
Jeanette Wolfley, “Jim Crow Indian Style,”
American Indian Law Review 16, no. 1
(1991): 167-202
Women from the Maxton Community, “Letter to Mr.
Regan,” January 1958 (original in Museum of
Southeast American Indian, UNC-Pembroke)
Location: County:

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