The Battle of Hayes Pond: How Indian Country Defeated the KKK

“We had to do what we had to do. If we hadn’t done it, they would have soon been in our front yard,” relays Lee Ancil Maynor (pictured right). To his left, Tribal Council Member Charles Bryant, Bill James Brewington, and Woodrow Dial. (Photo Credit: Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina)

By Brandon Weber, Contributing Writer

A historical marker was erected in Maxton, North Carolina, to commemorate an event that occurred sixty years ago, when the Ku Klux Klan tried to rally in the heart of Lumbee Indian territory. The Klansmen were run out of town, and the 1958 event made the national news, including the New York Times and Life magazine. The conflict became known as “The Battle of Hayes Pond.”

The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina has fought long and hard for tribal recognition and respect. With 55,000 members, it’s the largest tribe east of the Mississippi and the ninth largest in the nation. But while the tribe was recognized by the state of North Carolina in 1885, the federal government dragged its feet on official recognition until 1956, and even then stopping short of full recognition.

In 1956, Ku Klux Klan activities in the area had already been ratcheting up in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education mandating the desegregation of schools. After the recognition of the Lumbee in North Carolina, Ku Klux Klan wizard James W. “Catfish” Cole launched a campaign of terror against the tribe, questioning its indigenous status and telling the Greensboro Daily News, “There’s about 30,000 half-breeds up in Robeson County and we are going to have some cross burnings and scare them up.”

Cole and other members of the KKK accused the Lumbee of being “mixed race” people, who were intermingling with African Americans and whites, and called for a rally “in the heart of that mongrelized Indian country.”

James William “Catfish” Cole stuffing envelopes with flyers promoting the Ku Klux Klan rally in Maxton, North Carolina. (Photo Credit: Don Cravens/Life Magazine)

Cole called for a massive Klan rally of 5,000 members on January 18, 1958, at Hayes Pond. The purpose was to remind Indians of "their place in the racial order."

In January of 1958, Klansmen started distributing a flier to organize a gathering at Hayes Pond, located near Maxton, North Carolina. “Hear the Klan Kludd [chaplain] speak on 'Why I Believe In Segregation', the flier announced."

Anti-Indian sentiment, captured by Marion Post Wolcott. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

In the days leading up to the rally, crosses were burned in front of at least two homes—one belonging to a Native American family that had recently moved into a "white neighborhood" and the other to a Lumbee woman who had been rumored to be dating a white man. A caravan with loudspeakers drove through town to drum up support, hurling racial slurs.

(Photo Credit: Library of Congress)

As evening settled on Saturday, January 18, the Klansmen had prepared for the rally in a large field, with loudspeakers, a cross to be burned, and a large banner. But in the end, only fifty to 100 supporters showed up. Cole, who was from South Carolina, misunderstood the racial dynamics in Lumbee territory and the extent to which the tribe, which had been struggling for sovereignty for decades, was prepared to defend itself and other indigenous people.

The Lumbees circling their adversaries. (Photo Credit: Don Cravens/Life Magazine)

Before Cole could even begin his prepared speech, more than 500 well-armed men—Lumbee people, as well as members of the Tuscarora and Coharie tribes—began to emerge from the surrounding dark. He was accosted on the makeshift stage by one of the members of the tribe, a shoving match ensued, and one tribal member shot out the solitary floodlight. Others began shooting rifles into the air to disperse the crowd. “You didn’t know exactly what you were going to do when you got there, but you were excited about going,” remembered one Lumbee, Ray Little Turtle.

The battle begins as tribal members move in. The man in center touched off the attack by shooting out a light bulb. Despite both sides being armed, there were zero fatalities and no serious injuries. (Courtesy of the Fayetteville Observer)

Others move up in support. (Photo Credit: State Archives of North Carolina)

Knowing their neighbors were prepared to fight to the finish, the Klansmen fled in all directions, with Cole leaving his wife behind. The Lumbees reportedly helped Mrs. Cole push her car out of the ditch where it had gotten stuck during the panic. One year later, she divorced her husband. (Courtesy of the Fayetteville Observer)

(Photo Credits: AFA Ireland)

“We had to do what we had to do,” Lumbee member Lee Ancil Maynor, who was thirty-three at the time of the rally, said at a reunion event in 2016. “If we hadn’t done it, they would have soon been in our front yard.”

Local law enforcement showed up after the altercation had taken place, but by then, the field was clear.

The Lumbees gathered up discarded robes and the rally banner and marched back into Maxton to celebrate, which included burning Catfish Cole in effigy. Press coverage showcased two Lumbee men, one a celebrated World War II bomber engineer, wrapped in the KKK banner they had torn off a Klansmen’s car at the rally.

The Rocky Mount Sunday Telegram, January 19, 1958.

Sanford Locklear, who fought in the rally, proudly wears a medal of honor that he and others received during the Lumbee Homecoming on the campus of UNC-Pembroke in 2003. (Courtesy of the Fayetteville Observer)

Simon Oxedine and Charlie Warriax, decorated WWII veterans, displaying their captured KKK flag at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) convention. (Photo Credit: Life Magazine)

On July 5, 2018, a highway marker was unveiled near the Hayes Pond location of the routing of the KKK. The marker was erected by students from the University of North Carolina Pembroke, who obtained the tribe’s approval before proceeding. (Photo Credit: UNC Pembroke)

Today, the Lumbee continue to struggle for recognition and respect, most recently resisting the construction of an oil and gas pipeline running across the tribe’s territory, threatening to separate communities and pollute precious water resources. But the tribe’s identity will be forever tied to the 1958 resistance.

“This is a part of who we are,” said tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. at a 2016 gathering. “We drove the KKK out of Robeson County and they haven’t came back since. We need to use that energy to fight our battles today, but without the weapons.”

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Brandon Weber of Jackson, Michigan, is a writer for The Progressive, Big Think, and High Times. He is the author of Class War, USA, a rich collection of stories about ordinary people who resisted oppression and exploitation, and is currently authoring a second installment which will include more about Native American history. Mr. Weber's essays capture moments of struggle when working-class people built movements of hope and defiance.  Samples of his creative works can be found at The Progressive and for more about Brandon, visit Facebook.

Cover Image Graphic Artist: Mark Martinez