Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ku klux klan’

KKK costumes in N.C., 1870. Engraving by US Marshall JG Hester. NY Public Library.

KKK costumes in N.C., 1870. Engraving by US Marshall JG Hester. NY Public Library.

Some time ago, I posted an essay about the Ku Klux Klan’s terrorization of Orange County, North Carolina, in the years following the Civil War. Recently, I recovered from my files evidence of the Klan’s rampages through neighboring Granville County as well. 

The following petitions, sent in 1868 and 1869 to North Carolina’s Republican governor, William W. Holden, include the names of numerous Granville County men of color who were free from slavery long before the Civil War. Silas L. Curtis, Terral Curtis, Cuffee Mayo, William Tyler, and A. B. Kerzy lived in the Tally Ho township of Granville County. Having grown up before the war, they were forbidden by law to learn to read or write; thus, most of the men were semi-literate or illiterate. Silas Curtis, who wrote both the petitions, was an exception.

The 1868 petitioners belonged to a local branch of the Republican Union Leagues (also called Loyal Leagues) which were under assault by the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, determined to turn back Reconstruction, drive Republicans from power, and reassert dominance over African Americans, functioned as a terrorist arm of the pro-Confederate southern wing of the Democratic Party.

The petition is blunt in describing the violence wreaked upon the community, and includes details of the sexual humiliation of a woman of color and the attempted murder of another. The petitioners are adamant in declaring their rights and their need for state assistance. In signing or allowing their names to be placed on such a petition, they risked great personal danger. A note at the bottom asks its deliverer to hand the petition directly to Governor Holden to prevent the “Rebels” from destroying it.

I recognize many of the men’s names from the extensive research I conducted in county records while writing my first book, Unruly Women. In that book, I discussed A. B. Kerzy (Archibald Kearsey), at some length for his participation in underground trading during the war; others are mentioned as well. Although I also briefly mentioned the petitions, they are published below in their entirety.

In transcribing the letters, I have added paragraph breaks and used common punctuation and grammar, but endeavored to spell words exactly as they appear on the originals. (The originals of both petitions are contained in the Governors’ Papers, W.W. Holden, N.C. Department of Archives and History)

Vikki Bynum

 

Oct 11, 1868

Our Governor–Dear Sir:

I take the privilige of writing to you on this occasion for this reason, not because we are scared out, but in the first place, you are our State Executive. And when we are having outrages comitted among us, you are our only refuge to which we have to flee for advice and protection.

Therefor I take the privilige to inform you of some outrages comitted amoung us. And it is not only now and then—it is geting to be a genrel thing. On Saturday night last, the Ku Klux were raging in Oxford and Tally Ho. They first formed themselves in line in front of the Colored School Room, thinking the Leagues men were at lodge in there. And failing to find them, went off to other places and don the same, tho as it happen the leagues had adjoined [adjourned] before they came out and they watched them.

And they now say they intend to brake up the Leagues before the Election. Col. Aimey, in a speech on Friday last at Oxford, [said] that if we would stop the Leagues he would stop the KuKlux. And if not, he could not do nothing with them.

On Thursday night last they went to a Colored man’s house and got him out and Beet him cruley, beet his wife and cut her dress open and tied her to a tree—then told them if ever they told it, or told who it was, they would kill them. They then went to another one’s house and comence to tarring the top of his house off and some of them at the door. I broke in [and] got hold of his wife—he got out of the way—and got her out and she got loose and ran and they shot her in the back and by the side of the face and she now lies in a low state of helth. And a few nights ago they went to another colored man’s house and treated him the same.

I will now give you the colored mens names: Ned Mallory, Parson Jones, and Pressley Herndon. Those white men was John C. Hugen, William Stem, John Wheeler, John Day, William Boles, Hay Stem, and one by the name Bishop, Jack Boothe, Flay[?] Moor, Sam Boothe, Henry Hasken, Flucher [Fletcher?] Moor, Tom Jones, Wm. Jones, and others–that are comiting these outrages. And I have not told near all they have and are doing.

We appeal to you–for some protection in some way. Such men oght to be stoped in their outrages.

Sir, I hope to hear from you soon. We don’t want a malissia [militia] here among us. But God in heaven knows we must have something—otherwise we will have to give up Gen. Grant and take Seymour.* And if I have to do that I am going to take me a rope and go to the woods.      Your obedent Servant,

Silas L. Curtis

Cuffee Mayo

Jordan Trevan

J. Macaver

Granderson Russell

Jack Jefferson

Antoney Philpott

James Anderson

Burry Williams

Charles Curtis

Terral Curtis

James Hunt

Josep R. Halley

W. S. Boon

Wm. Tyler

A. B. Kerzy

*Ulysses S. Grant, Republican, and Horatio Seymour, Democrat, were the 1868 candidates for the U.S. Presidency.

 

The second petition, 1869, protests Tally Ho’s township election, claiming that Democrats deliberately miscounted votes in order to claim victory for their own candidate.

This petition, also written by Silas Curtis, contains similar but fewer names and appears to have been written in much greater haste. One of the appended names, “Lunchford Wiliford” (Lunsford Williford), caught my eye immediately. Lunsford was the son of Susan Williford, a poor white woman who appears prominently in chapter four of Unruly Women. Antebellum North Carolina laws against interracial marriage forbade Susan to marry Peter Curtis, who, like Silas L. Curtis, belonged to one of Granville County’s most prominent free families of color. Susan had several children by Peter Curtis, though it’s not clear whether Curtis also fathered Lunsford. Nevertheless, Lunsford became part of the Curtis family when he married Harriet Curtis, the daughter of Peter’s sister, Nancy Curtis.

Note that this petition proclaims an alliance between “the colored race and the labering class of white people,” reflective of kinship ties that created vibrant communities of mixed-race people in North Carolina. 

August 11, 1869

Your Exencilence Governor W.W. Holden,

Dear Sir, We the Republicans of Granville County most respetifully protest against the township election of Tally Ho in consequence of the way it was conducted. And do earnestly believe that it oght to be remoddled, and a fair and square election given.

We most recollect that the Democrats will—and do—do all and everything they can to get in power. And they think if they can fool the Republicans, as they have already done at Tally Ho and other places, and get in power in the townships. By that means, after awhile, they can get the county offices and from that to the state’s offices and United states offices. And then they can nullify the republican form of government and place the colored race, and labering class of white people, in the same position—only wors—as they were before.

And please your honor, Sir, if you cannot grant us a re-election—which we honestly believe that we oght to have—what must we do in such a case? And we can also prove by a colored man, a responsible one—that the Democrat candidate told him that they had beet them. And if the Republicans had had as meny more as they did have, we would have beet them. And as it was, they only beet [by] about thirty.

What must we do? Must we put up with sunch [such], when we know there are frode [fraud?]. Know we will die first.

Recollect that dividing into townships all of the counties makes a consitable difference—among the colored people—egnorent as they are.

And meny and numbers are dissatisfied at the Election except [if] it had bin don fair, and we appeal to our Superior—our Surpream, for refuge.

Most respectfully Your obedient Servents

Hoping to here from you soon.

Silas L. Curtis (sig)

Cuffee Mayo (sig)

Solomon Green (sig)

John Norwood

James Harris

Thomas Curtis

Lunchford Wiliford

Benjamon Allen

Esaw Lassiter

Robert Ridley

And many others—too tedious to mention, both white and colored.

Answer to S. L Curtis

Oxford, N.C.

NOTE: For more on violence against freedmen in post Civil War North Carolina, “The Death of a Freedman,” also on Renegade South.

Vikki Bynum

Read Full Post »

Note from Renegade South: Vernon F. Dahmer, a well known Mississippi civil rights worker, was murdered in 1966 by white supremacists connected to the Ku Klux Klan. Before the night of January 10, 1966, when the Dahmer grocery store and home were firebombed, Vernon had been leading voter registration drives in his community. To facilitate that effort, he had recently placed a voter registration book in the grocery store he owned.

Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Dahmer Grocery Store

Vernon Dahmer's grocery store, located on Monroe Road, 3.5 miles from the Jones County line. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon Dahmer, Western Union Telegram

Telegram from President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson expressing sympathy for the family of Vernon Dahmer. Courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

It took many years and five court trials to convict KKK Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in 1998 of having ordered the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Today, Dahmer is revered for his courageous work on behalf of black civil rights. In honor of his memory, both a street and memorial park in Hattiesburg bear his name.

In the essay that follows, Dahmer’s grandniece, Wilmer Watts Backstrom, and Yvonne Bivins, a member of his extended family of Smiths, Ainsworths, and Knights, enrich our understanding by telling the story of his family roots in southern Mississippi. Dahmer’s multiracial heritage included white, black, and Indian ancestors. The narrative begins with the story of his grandmother, Laura Barnes.

 

The Family Origins of Vernon F. Dahmer, Mississippi Civil Rights Activist

By Wilmer Watts Backstrom and Yvonne Bivins

Laura Barnes was born in Jones County, MS in October 1854. According to her daughter, Roxanne Craft, “she was given to a black family to raise because she was born out of wedlock to a white girl.”

The 1870 census for Twp 9 in NE Jones County, Mississippi, shows that fifteen-year-old Laura was living in the household of Ann Barnes, a 55-year-old mulatto woman born in Mississippi whose occupation was housekeeper. A young mulatto boy, Augustus, age 12, also lived in the home.  Living next door to the Barnes family were Andrew and Annice (Brumfield) Dahmer.

Laura Barnes

Laura Barnes, grandmother of Vernon Dahmer, Sr., courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Andrew Dahmer was born on 17 February 1836 in Hesse Darmstadt, Germany. After a series of crop failures in the 1840’s, emigration was regarded by many middle class German families as the only remedy against impoverishment in Bavaria, one of the most densely populated areas of Germany. Andrew, James, John, Peter and Henry Dahmer took the opportunity to leave the country for opportunities abroad. Andrew arrived in America in 1851. His brother, James, came the following year in 1852.  The brothers first settled in Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, where they worked for a rich merchant named R. N. Bayley (Bailey).  Peter joined them in the United States in 1865.

After the Civil War, Andrew Dahmer and his brothers became traveling salesmen who peddled their wares in Wayne, Jones, and Perry Counties in Mississippi. Andrew soon met and married Annice Brumfield, whose mother, Altamarah Knight Brumfield, was the aunt of Newt Knight.

Andrew and Annice’s neighbor, Laura Barnes, met Andrew’s brother, Peter Dahmer, in the early 1870s. They began a relationship that resulted in the birth of a baby boy in 1872, who Laura named George Washington Dahmer. Peter apparently did not acknowledge his child, and soon moved to Chickasaw County with several brothers, where they farmed and built a mercantile business.

For giving birth out of wedlock, Laura became a “marked woman.” During this period in her life, she operated a boarding house for the railroad and sawmill workers in northeast Covington County and near “Sullivan’s Hollow” in Smith County. The “Hollow” was notorious for its lawlessness and racial bigotry.  Blacks were not welcome there.  Black families that did live there were descendants of Craft and Sullivan slaves.

Laura hired a black man from the hollow named Charlie Craft. Working closely together on her place, they soon fell in love and developed a relationship. This would bring trouble, because although Laura was raised by a mulatto woman and listed as mulatto on census records, whites still considered her off limits to a black man.

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft

Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft, grandparents of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Charlie Craft was born in Smith County, MS, around 1853.  According to family history, he was part Creek Indian and part African, with piercing eyes and coal black straight hair. A former slave of Bryant Craft, Charlie was known as a man who had never run from a fight. Story has it that after a shootout with the infamous Sullivans, he left Smith County, but doubled back to spirit away his siblings. Because newly freed slaves were not welcome in Smith County, they moved to Covington County, where they settled on a ridge south of the Hollow in the Oakohay area. Here, they established a prosperous community called Hopewell.

By 1880, thirty-year-old Charlie and twenty-eight-year old Laura lived in the Oakohay District.  Four children lived with them: George (Laura’s son by Peter Dahmer), age 10; [Roxanne] Viola, age 7; Bettie, age 5; and Elnathan, age 2. All, including Laura and her son George, were listed as “mulattos” on the 1880 federal manuscript census for Covington County.  Living nearby were Charlie Craft’s mother, Melvina, and several siblings.

One night a local white mob filled with home brew surrounded and attacked their home.  Both Laura and Charlie were excellent shots. Laura shot and killed one of attackers as they tried to protect their children from the mob and, in so doing, the couple had to flee “the ridge.” Laura’s son, George Dahmer, helped them escape.  Upon arriving in the Kelly Settlement, they moved off in the swamps on the Leaf River on the old “William Jenkins Place.”

George Washington Dahmer

George Washington Dahmer, father of Vernon Dahmer, son of Laura Barnes Craft and Peter Dahmer, stepson of Charlie Craft. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr

The area commonly known as Kelly Settlement was settled by John Kelly, a white man born in North Carolina about 1750.  John and his wife, Amelia, left Hancock County, GA, and arrived in Mississippi in late 1819, settling in Perry County on land located in what is now North Forrest County, just across the Leaf River to the west. By 1820, the Kelly household included John, Amelia, sons Green, 16, and Osborne, 18, Osborne’s wife Joene, and nine slaves. Among these slaves were the parents of Sarah, whose descendants later formed Kelly Settlement. Although the 1820 federal manuscript census for Perry County listed no free blacks living in the household of John and Amelia Kelly, descendants claim that Sarah’s folks were not slaves, but free people who accompanied the Kelly family to Mississippi.

After the Civil War, Sarah’s children began to homestead land, marry, and raise children.  Working together as they had down on John Kelly’s place, they cleared the land to raise crops, cut timber, and hauled it to the Leaf River by oxen to float it down to the Gulf Coast.

Laura Barnes Craft’s son, George Dahmer, moved to the Kelly community ahead of the rest of the Crafts. In 1895, George married Ellen Louvenia Kelly, the daughter of Warren Kelly and Henrietta McComb.  Like his own mother, Laura, Ellen’s mother, Henrietta, was a white child born out of wedlock and given to a black family, the McCombs, to raise.  The McCombs were living on the William Jenkins place when the Crafts arrived in Perry County.  Ellen Kelly’s father, Warren Kelly, was the mulatto son of Green H. Kelly and the grandson of John Kelly, the original white settler of the area. Warren Kelly’s mother was Sarah, the daughter of John Kelly’s slaves (or perhaps free black servants).

Warren Kelly

Warren Kelly, son of Green Kelly and Sarah Kelly, father of Ellen Kelly Dahmer, grandfather of Vernon Dahmer. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Ellen Louvenia Kelly

Ellen Louvenia Kelly, wife of George Dahmer, mother of Vernon Dahmer, daughter of Warren and Henrietta McComb Kelly. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

It was to this community that Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft fled with the aid of Laura’s son, George Dahmer. According to Wilmer Watts Backstrom (their great granddaughter), Charlie and Laura’s family lived in isolation for many years after being forced out of Covington County; they were prone to violent disagreements and exhibited heated tempers. This family drank heavily with much cursing.  They lived down in the swamps isolated from the community until the children were all grown.  As the children became adults, they gradually moved out of the swamps, married and had families of their own.

Charlie was employed by Green Kelly as a night watchman on the Leaf River. He died before 1910 in Forrest County, MS.  By that year, several of his and Laura’s children were married and living in Kelly Settlement, Beat 2 of Forrest County, MS. Although Laura’s name does not appear on the 1910 Census, she was still alive that year. In 1920, she lived with her oldest child, daughter Roxanne Craft Watts, on the Dixie Highway, Forrest County, MS.  Laura died on 5 June 1922, and is buried in the cemetery at Shady Grove Church in Eastabutchie, Jones County, MS.

Wilmer Watts Backstrom

Wilmer Watts Backstrom, granddaughter of Roxanne Craft Watts, great-granddaughter of Charlie and Laura Barnes Craft. Photo courtesy of Wilmer Watts Backstrom

Laura’s son and Charlie’s stepson, George Dahmer, identified as a black man even though his mother and biological father were white, demonstrating how strongly one’s racial identity is shaped by social experience.

George and Ellen Kelly Dahmer were the parents of Vernon Dahmer. George was known as an honest, hardworking man of outstanding integrity, rich in character rather than worldly goods. Like his father, Vernon worked hard and became a successful storekeeper and commercial farmer. Before his tragic death, he served as music director and Sunday school teacher at the Shady Grove Baptist Church, as well as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the NAACP. He and his wife, Ellie Jewell Davis, were the parents of seven sons and one daughter.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr.

Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Vernon and Ellie Dahmer Family
Vernon Dahmer’s wife and children: seated left to right, George Weldon, Ellie J., Alvin; standing, left to right, Vernon Jr., Betty Ellen, Harold. Photo courtesy of Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

Read Full Post »

I think of historians as investigative journalists of the past. I especially feel that way when I write an essay or book based on court records. My first book, Unruly Women, was such a work, and so is the essay “Disordered Communities: Freed People, Poor Whites, and ‘Mixed Blood’ Families in Post-Civil War North Carolina,” a chapter in my upcoming collection of essays, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Studying court records from a different century is the ultimate revival of “cold cases.”  “Disordered Communities” investigates the years following the Civil War known as Reconstruction and recovers the experiences of ordinary black and white citizens, men, women, and children, who struggled to survive this dark period of history.

The era of Reconstruction, 1865-1875, was both exhilarating and horrific for Southern Unionists, particularly those of African American descent. This essay traces the rise of the first Ku Klux Klan in 1868 by studying some of the South’s best preserved court records, those of Orange County, North Carolina. In Orange and surrounding counties,  the Klan effectively restored the power of slaveholders and wreaked havoc on the lives of former slaves and Unionists.

Women, some of whom resisted the Klan alongside their husbands, appear prominently in this chapter. Many simply struggled to make a life for themselves in a war-ravaged, violent society. There is Pattie Ruffin, newly freed from slavery, who was coerced by a prominent white politician into withholding the name of the white father of her unborn child from court officials. There is Ann Bowers Boothe, a widow who lost her farm to a white family after they claimed she had African American “blood,” and therefore could not inherit property from her white husband.  Many, many more cold cases are brought to life in this chapter, and they speak to communities throughout the South that witnessed similar post-Civil War struggles over power. And, always, the stories are about real people fighting, sometimes literally, for their lives.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 181 other followers