The Battle of Hayes Pond

Don’t you love it when the good guys win and hate loses?

Recently I saw this charming picture, and it drew me in so much that I had to learn the story behind it. And it was quite the education, indeed. First, it introduced me to the largest state Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River, the Lumbee. You’d think I’d have heard of this tribe before, given their size, but no. Next, it introduced me to their bravery in the face of hate. It makes me admire them greatly.

In 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled against desegregation, this stirred up many people out on the racist lunatic fringe, including members of the Ku Klux Klan. Then, in 1956, the Lumbee tribe achieved some limited federal recognition. That, of course, really got the KKK’s attention.

The Lumbee have been living mostly in Robeson County, North Carolina for many a generation. In 1957, the Grand Dragon of the KKK, Catfish Cole, decided to focus on Robeson County with a campaign of harassment. The Klan burned crosses. They drove through the streets spewing their hateful message, and did their best to intimidate the Lumbee, whom Catfish called a “mongrel race”.

On January 13, 1958, Catfish decided to have a KKK rally in Maxton, North Carolina, and invited 500 Klansmen to attend. The goal was to force the Lumbee to stay in “their” place. Only about 50 Klansmen showed up. But 500 Lumbee did, too.

Shots were exchanged, but no one was seriously injured, because the Lumbee agreed to shoot over the Klansman’s heads, and the Klansman were too busy running to hide in the swamp, their silly white dresses fluttering behind them, to do much damage. As a matter of fact, Catfish Cole ran into the swamp, leaving his wife sitting alone in the car. The car got stuck in a ditch during the melee, and several Lumbee had to lift it out for her. Catfish and wife parted company a year later.

After everything was pretty much said and done, the authorities finally arrived. The KKK banner was torn down and two tribe members, Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine, wrapped it around themselves to show their victory for a Time Magazine photographer.

Catfish got a two year sentence for inciting a riot. It’s said that the KKK has stayed out of Robeson County ever since. That makes me smile.

The Lumbee celebrate the Battle of Hayes Pond every year. Good on them! Don’t you just love it when the good guys win and hate loses?


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Who You Were

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am that I’m not who I was as a teenager. Sure, I have many things in common with that girl, but frankly I don’t think I’d want to be stuck on an elevator with her. She was so dramatic it exhausts me to think about it. She was also very, very damaged and love-starved and therefore made a lot of really bad choices. Looking back at myself makes me cringe.

But we all have a past, don’t we? Some of us have more regrets than others. On the other hand, some people actually wish they were their young selves again. These people fascinate me. It must be sad to think that it’s all been downhill from there, that in the intervening years no progress has been made and no lessons have been learned. It must take quite a bit of effort to not move forward, even an inch, after years of living.

The other day I was thinking about the boy I went to school with who listed the KKK as one of his clubs in my junior high school yearbook. I didn’t know him well. I can’t imagine we moved in the same circles. Not even a little bit. But I wonder about the man he became.

Does that man look back at that yearbook entry with pride or with shame? What has he done with his life? Does he have kids? Have they seen that yearbook? My mother’s yearbook entry simply says, “A sweet and simple lass was she.” I suspect that’s a much easier legacy to live up to. It certainly doesn’t require justification or explanation.

I thought about trying to track that guy down, but to be honest, I’m afraid of what I might find. It would be wonderful if he came to his senses and dedicated his life to some form of public service, but I’m afraid that, with such a rotten core, the resulting apple might not be particularly healthy. Hate warps you. Then again, people can change. Who knows.

But then, having come from an educational system that allowed someone to list the KKK as one of their clubs in the yearbook means that none of us, from that rural southern town, had the best start. I think many of us turned out well in spite of, not because of, that twisted beginning. Your role models help to set your stage, but only you can star in the play that is your life.

I am who I am partly because the teenage me was who she was. But I’d like to think I’m so much more than that now. I’ve had life experiences. I’ve grown. I’ve evolved. She was just a part of the overall process. Because of that, I’m grateful for her. But I wouldn’t want to be her. I just wish I still had her pert little behind.

My Yearbook photo
Yup. That was me. Bless that photographer for covering up all the acne and despair.

A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!


Outing the KKK

Back in the early 80’s, when I was 17, I was driving to a local park with an African American friend of mine to go swimming. To get to this park, you had to go miles down this rural road to its very end, then come to a stop at a T junction and make your turn. Normally this wasn’t a big deal, but on this day it was about to get nasty.

Let me set the scene: Small town Florida, where racism was not only commonplace, but rather militant; where it was still acceptable to mention that you were a member of the KKK in the high school yearbook, amongst your other affiliations, such as the pep club. And we were on a stretch of road where my friend had once been shot in the face with a bb gun by a total stranger. The fact that we were even in the same car together raised eyebrows.

And as we approached that T junction, we saw a hooded member of the KKK handing out flyers to everyone who stopped at the stop sign.

“Oh, shit, I’m dead,” my friend said. I knew what she meant. This is a small town, and she’d be recognized. They may not take kindly to her being in my car. They’d know where she lived.

“Hold on tight!” I said, and went off the road, straight at the guy. (I wouldn’t have hit him, but he didn’t know that.) He threw his pointy-headed self headlong into the kudzu. He was too busy picking palm fronds out of his teeth to recognize anyone as we sped off.

I have to say, that was one of the proudest moments of my life.

So, when I read an article that said a group that calls itself Anonymous is planning to reveal the name of about 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members, I was thrilled.  Yes, there’s freedom of speech in this country, even for hateful KKK speech, but you shouldn’t have a right to hide. If it’s your conviction, this hatred of yours, then own it. If you know you have something to be ashamed of, maybe you should rethink your philosophy.

Anonymous is apparently a group of hackers that are currently targeting the KKK, but in the past they’ve also targeted Scientology, the Westboro Baptist Church, and child pornography rings, so I consider them the good guys. I’d love it if they outed the KKK.

But here’s where it gets uncomfortable. If I don’t think the KKK should be allowed anonymity, then in all fairness, this group Anonymous shouldn’t be, well… anonymous either. Here’s the thing about facelessness: it brings out the worst in people. While this group is currently doing things that I happen to adore, it wouldn’t be hard at all for them to turn to the dark side. That’s what scares me.

So yes, Anonymous, please do shine a light on those KKK cockroaches. But lift up your figurative hoods as well. That way we can all shake your hands. And keep you honest.


St. Augustine, Florida: Civil Rights Distilled

Since yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, my mind naturally turns to the civil rights movement. It seems that one of the best kept secrets about that movement were the events that took place in St. Augustine, Florida, just an hour south of where I now sit.

St. Augustine is known as our nation’s oldest city, but that’s not really accurate. It’s actually “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement and port in the continental United States.” That’s a mouthful. No wonder they prefer to say oldest city.

I lived there for 5 years, and commuted there for work for an additional 4, so I can say with some authority that you can’t spit in that town without hitting something historic. As a matter of fact, that makes it a nightmare for new construction, because you have to have an archeologist consult before you can turn over the first spade of dirt.

People tend to make the mistake of thinking that the area’s historical significance ended when the Spaniards landed in 1565, or, more generously, when Henry Flagler built his iconic hotel (more about the Ponce de Leon below) in 1888. Au contraire. It was also a little tiny ground zero (amongst so many other ground zeroes throughout the country) for this nation’s struggle for civil rights.

Reading a history of St. Augustine from 1960 to 1965 is sort of like getting a distilled version of what was happening nationwide. If there was a civil atrocity happening anywhere in the country, it was bound to be happening in St. Augustine, too. That’s pretty darned remarkable when you consider that the population was only 14,734 according to the 1960 census.

For an excellent timeline of events, check out the St. Augustine Movement page, or the wonderful Accord Freedom Trail Page, but here are some of the eye popping details from those sites.

  • March 15, 1960: 6 students from Florida Memorial staged a sit-in at Woolworth’s. On the third day students were hit with clubs, fists, and chains. The door had been locked so that the police could not enter.
  • In the summer of 1961, Henry Thomas, returning from Howard University, attempted to break the segregation barrier at Woolworth’s lunch counter. Not only was he carried off to jail but they tried to have him committed to a mental institution.
  • April 6, 1962: A suit is filed to desegregate St. Johns County public schools.
  • June 16, 1963: A meeting was held in the city where Police chief Stuart read aloud from various right-wing journals denouncing Communist influence on “niggers.”
  • June 19, 1963: Robert B. Hayling, who had taken over the youth council of the NAACP was quoted as saying, “”We are not going to die like Medgar Evers.” “Passive resistance is no good in the face of violence.” “I and others of the NAACP have armed ourselves and will shoot first and ask questions later.”
  • July 1, 1963: A shotgun fight breaks out at the home of at Dr. Hayling between white and black youths. Buckshot was fired at Hayling’s house from a 1953 green Pontiac. Six youths were wounded. Two white kids were caught with guns. The black youths had also had a gun but no evidence was taken of them having fired it. On July 16 Judge Charles Mathis would dismiss all the cases.
  • July 17, 1963: A sit-in was held at a local pharmacy. There were 16 arrests made for trespass. On August 1 the adults were given fines of $100 or 45 days in county jail. They were convicted under the Florida Undesirable Guest Act. Four of the children were later sent to reform schools in Ocala and Marianna. These became known as the St. Augustine Four. The two girls were then taken to Forest Hills Schools for Girls in Lowell, Florida. They were put in isolation for 56 days. The next night in a demonstration at the county jail the 250 protesters were assaulted with night sticks.
  • August 31, 1963: Police use cattle prods and dogs to arrest 12 demonstrators at Woolworth’s, McCrory’s and Del Monico’s Restaurant.
  • September 18, 1963: A Ku Klux Klan rally is held 1 mile south of St. Augustine. Dr. Hayling, his driver, and two other men were brought to the meeting and beaten. Rev. Cheney made it to a phone booth to call for help. The KKK filed charges against Dr. Hayling and others for the incident. They supposedly gave the sheriff Dr. Hayling’s handgun. Judge Marvin Grier fined Hayling $100 with a conviction of assault.
  • Starting on September 27, 1963 the St. Augustine Record would publish the date, time and location of all KKK meetings. At this point the FBI began to think that there was Klan influence in the Sheriff’s office. The Record also later published the addresses of all children who integrated schools.
  • On October 22, 1963 Molotov Cocktails were thrown at the homes of the 3 families who had integrated St. Johns County Public Schools. One house was severely damaged.
  • Early 1964 witnessed firebombs, grenades, and shootings galore, and an influx of civil rights activists, mostly white college students from up north.
  • March 30, 1964 150 demonstrators marched through downtown to the Ponce de Leon Hotel dining room. City police arrive with dogs and cattle prods. 117 demonstrators were placed in the county jail.
  • That same day, Winston W. Davidson, a white minister from Connecticut, picketing against segregation in downtown St. Augustine, was surrounded by white citizens who bodily prevented him from picketing while burning him with cigarettes. He was arrested for “blocking a public sidewalk” and “interfering with the lawful orders of an officer.”
  • May 18, 1964: Dr. Martin Luther King visits St. Augustine. At the Baptist church he calls St. Augustine a “small Birmingham” and says that he will return.
  • June 9, 1964: More than 200 people marched downtown when violence broke out with whites attacking the white demonstrators. The Monson Motor Lodge  was the focus of more protests and arrests.
  • June 11, 1964 Dr. King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Robert England among others were arrested at the Monson Motor Lodge. (This was Dr. Kings’ 12 arrest in the movement.) They were given 10 day jail terms. Dr. King and Rev. Abernathy were later moved to Jacksonville jail for safety.
  • June 18, 1964: An incident occurred when the manager of the Monson Motor Lodge placed an unknown substance (some claimed it was acid) in the swimming pool water when an attempt was made to integrate the pool. An off-duty policeman jumped into pool to beat the swimmers.
  • That same day, a Grand Jury called on King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to leave St. Augustine for one month to diffuse the situation. The jury claimed that King and the SCLC had disrupted “racial harmony” in the city. King replied that the Grand Jury’s request was “an immoral one.” “The Negro community (was asked) to give all, and the white community to give nothing… St. Augustine never had peaceful race relations.”
  • June 25, 1964 saw serious rioting at St. Augustine Beach as a group of whites attacked 75 people during a “wade-in” to desegregate what was in theory but not in practice a legally desegregated beach. Richard Cubbage, 19 years old, a white protester against integration had his head cracked open by police. That evening 500 whites crashed through police lines and attacked demonstrators. Nineteen people were hospitalized.

This was not the end of the movement, and it can easily be argued that racial tension exists in St. Augustine to this day.

Sadly, many of the St. Augustine landmarks of the movement are now gone. All that is left of the Woolworth’s, where I used to be able to go to and eat at the very counter which hosted all those sit-ins, are the door handles. Monson’s Motor Lodge, where I used to sneak in and swim where acid once graced the water, is now gone. The Ponce de Leon Hotel is now, ironically, part of Flagler College, where I obtained my bachelor’s degree. I ate many an inedible meal in that dining hall that once bore witness to cattle prods.

Even more ironic is the fact that the slave market from the late 1500’s, located just across from the Woolworth’s, still stands, although it has been rebuilt a few times since then.

But for all its triumphs, tragedies and ironies, St. Augustine played an important part in the civil rights movement. That can be considered a point of pride or a point of shame, depending on which side of the issue you stand.

Martin Luther King said this about St. Augustine in 1964:

“Even if we do not get all we should, movements such as this tend more and more to give a Negro the sense of self-respect that he needs. It tends to generate courage in Negroes outside the movement. It brings intangible results outside the community where it is carried out. There is a hardening of attitudes in situations like this. But other cities see and say: “We don’t want to be another Albany or Birmingham, and they make changes. Some communities, like this one, had to bear the cross.”


Stop by and touch the handle. With reverence.