Once again, we’ll hear tales of the Ku Klux Klan as told by former slaves living in Arkansas. As we work our way through the state, as in past weeks, we should take notice of how different many of these narratives are.
Formed in Tennessee in 1866, the Klan spread quickly to the surrounding states, and then all across the South. These terrorist operations lasted until 1874, when they were disbanded in name. 1More about the founding of the Klan can be found here.
Nearly sixty years later, these former slaves were interviewed by the Federal Writers Project. The project interviewed over 2,300 black Americans living in most of the former slave states. Many were asked a nearly identical series of questions, including: “Do you remember the Ku Klux Klan?” 2It must be kept in mind that most of the former slaves were young when the first incarnation of the Klan came into existence. Most were probably under fifteen; some were probably as young as five. Additionally, it should be remembered that when interviewed in the 1930s, most were between 75 and 85. With all the decades in between, the memory certainly suffered. That said, while the accounts vary, many are nearly identical.
For reasons that deserve a full investigation, many in Arkansas seemed to fight back against the Klan in ways and in numbers unseen elsewhere. While in all of the other states, many former slaves seemed to be more or less in favor of the Klan, in Arkansas can be seen a fighting spirit that did not die with old age.
This post is the third of four for Arkansas. These are their replies. 3While almost all of the former slave were asked the Klan question, many claimed to have had no contact with them. Those who said little or nothing have not been included. Still, there are some included who claimed to have little contact with the Klan, and reaped a benefit for that distance.
Ida Blackshear Hutchinson, North Little Rock, AR
“I have seen the Ku Klux. I have washed their regalia and ironed it for them. They wouldn’t let just anybody wash and iron it because they couldn’t do it right. My son’s wife had a job washing and ironing for them and I used to go down and help her. I never did take a job of any kind myself because my husband didn’t let me. The regalia was white. They were made near like these singing robes the church choirs have. But they were long — come way down to the shoe tops. That was along in the nineties, — about 1890. It was when they revived the Ku Klux the last time before the World War. In the old days the patrollers used to whip them for being out without a pass but the Ku Klux used to whip them for disorderly living. 4This is one of the only accounts that mentions the revival of the Klan, which happened in 1915, not in the 1890s.
“Way back yonder when I was in Alabama, too, I can remember the Ku Klux riding. I was a little child then. The Republicans and Democrats were at war with each other then and they was killing everybody. My brother was one of them they run. He could come out in the daytime, but in the night he would have to hide. They never got him. He dodged them. That was around in 1874. In 1875, him and my uncle left Alabama and went to Louisiana. They called him a stump speaker. They wanted to kill him. They killed Tom Ivory. He was the leader of the Republicans—he was a colored man. His father was white but his mother was a Negro. His father educated him in slavery time. He had been up North and was coming back. They knew he was coming back, so they went up the creek and waited for him — his train. They flagged it down, and some one on the train commenced hollering, ‘Look yonder.’ Ivory stepped out on the platform to see what they were hollering about, and all them guns started popping and Ivory fell over the end of the platform and down on the ground. He was already leaning over the gate when they fired. Then they come up and cut his tongue out before he died. They said if they got him that would stop all the rest of the niggers. You see, he was a leader.
“Niggers was voting the Republican ticket along about that time. They just went in gangs riding every night — the Ku Klux did. Ku Kluxing and killing them they got hold of.
“The police arrested all the men that had anything to do with Tom Ivory’s killing. The leader of the killers was a white man they called Captain Hess. I never knowed how the trial came out because we left there while they was still in jail.”
William Jackson, Pine Bluff, AR:
“The Ku Klux run me one night. They come to the door and I went out the window. They went to my master’s tanyard in broad open day and took leather. Oh, I been all through the roughness.”
Moses E. Jeffries, Little Rock AR:
“The Ku Klux Klan to the best of my knowledge went into action about the time shortly after the war when the amendments to the Constitution gave the Negroes the right to vote. I have seen them at night dressed up in their uniform. They would visit every Negro’s house in the community. Some they would take out and whip, some they would scare to death. They would ask for a drink of water and they had some way of drinking a whole bucketful to impress the Negroes that they were supernatural. Negroes were very superstitious then. Colonel Patterson who was a Republican and a colonel or general of the militia, white and colored, under the governorship of Powell Clayton, stopped the operation of the Klan in this state. After his work, they ceased terrorizing the people.” […] 5The black population might have been more superstitious in the 1870s, but most seemed to understand that the water trick wasn’t supernatural. Almost all accounts of it also explain how it was done.
“Negroes were intimidated by the Ku Klux. They were counted out. Ballot boxes were burned and ballots were destroyed. Finally, Negroes got discouraged and quit trying to vote.”
Absolom Jenkins, Helena, AR:
“The Ku Klux was hot in Tennessee. They whipped a heap of people. The main thing was to make the colored folks go to work and not steal, but it was carpet-baggers stealing and go pack it on colored folks. They’d tell colored folks not to do this and that and it would get them in trouble. The Ku Klux would whip the colored folks. Some colored folks thought because they was free they ought not work. They got to rambling and scattered out.” 6This narrative stands in contrast to many others from Arkansas. It should be noted that Mr. Jenkins was speaking about times in Tennessee.
George Johnson, Little Rock, AR:
“I never heard tell of patrols till I came to Arkansas. I never heard much of the Ku Klux either. I guess that was all the same, wasn’t it? Peace wasn’t declared here till 1866. I never heard of any of my acquaintances being bothered but I heard the colored people was scared. All I know was that you had to come in early. Didn’t, they get you.”
John Johnson, Claredon, AR:
“From what I heard all of my folks talking the Ku Klux effected the colored folks right smart, more than the war. Seemed about like two wars and both of them tried their best to draw in the black race. The black race wanted peace all the time. It was Abraham Lincoln what wanted to free the black race. He was the President. The first war was about freedom and the war right after it was equalization. The Ku Klux must have won it cause they didn’t want the colored folks have as much as they have.
“I heard my folks say they knowed some of the Ku Klux. They would get killed sometimes and then you hear about it. They would be nice as pie in day time and then dress up at night and be mean as they could be. They wanted the colored folks think they was haints and monsters from the bad place. All the Yankees what wanted to stay after they quit fighting, they run them out with hounds at night. The Ku Klux was awful mean I heard them say.”
Lizzie Johnson, Biscoe, AR:
“I heard my parents tell about the Ku Klux come and made them cook them something to eat. They drunk water while she was cooking. I heard them say they would get whipped if they sat around with a book in their hand. When company would come they would turn the pot down and close the shutters and doors. They had preaching and prayed that way. The pot was to drown out the sound.”
Mandy Johnson, Pine Bluff, AR:
“Oh ho! What you talking about? Ku Klux? They come out here just like blackbirds. They tried to scare the people and some of them they killed.”
John Jones, Pine Bluff, AR:
“I remember one night the Ku Klux come to our house. I was so scared I run under the house and stayed till ma called me out. I was so scared I didn’t know what they had on.”
Vergil Jones, Brinkley, AR:
“I heard about the Ku Kluxes. My papa used to dodge the Ku Kluxes. He lay out in the bushes from them. It was bad times. Some folks would advise the black folks to do one way and then the Ku Kluxes come and make it hot for them. One thing the Ku Kluxes didn’t want much big gatherings among the black folks. They break up big gatherings. Some white folks tell them to do one thing and then some others tell them to do some other way. That is the way it was. The Ku Kluxes was hot headed. Papa wasn’t a bad man but he was afraid they did do so much. He was on the lookout and dodged them all the time.”
Anna King, Pine Bluff, AR:
“Yes ma’am, honey, I seed the Ku Klux. I remember in North Carolina when the Ku Klux got so bad they had to send and get the United States soldiers. I remember one come and joined in with the Ku Klux till he found out who the head man was and then he turned them up and they carried them to a prison place called Gethsemane. No ma’am! They never come back. When they carried you to Gethsemane, you never come back.”
Mose King, Lexa, AR:
“The Ku Klux got to having trouble. They would put vines across the narrow roads. The horses run in and fell flat. The Ku Klux had to quit on that account.”
Betty Krump, Helena, AR:
“Ku Klux—They dressed up and come in at night, beat up the men about here in Helena.”
Talitha Lewis, Pine Bluff, AR:
“Baby, them Ku Klux was a pain. The paddyrollers was bad enough but them Ku Klux done lots of devilment. Yes ma’am, they done some devilment.”
Waters McIntosh, Little Rock, AR:
“Whenever there was a man of influence, they terrorized him. They were at their height about the time of Grant’s election. Many a time my mother and I have watched them pass our door. They wore gowns and some kind of helmet. They would be going to catch some leading Negro and whip him. There was scarcely a night they couldn’t take a leading Negro out and whip him if they would catch him alone. On that account, the Negro men did not stay at home in Sumter County, South Carolina at night. They left home and stayed together. The Ku Klux very seldom interfered with a woman or a child.
“They often scared colored people by drinking large quantities of water. They had something that held a lot of water, and when they would raise the bucket to their mouths to drink, they would slip the water into it.”
Warren McKinney, Hazen, AR:
I heard plenty about the Ku Klux. They scared the folks to death. People left Augusta in droves. About a thousand would all meet and walk going to hunt work and new homes. Some of them died. I had a sister and brother lost that way. I had another sister come to Louisiana that way.”
Joe Mayes, Madison, AR:
“The Ku Klux: I went to the well little after dark. It was a good piece from our house. I looked up and saw a man with a robe and cap on. It scared me nearly to death. I nearly fell out. I had heard about the ‘booger man’ and learned better then. But there he was. I had heard a lot about Ku Klux.
“There was a big gourd hanging up by the well. We kept it there. There was a bucket full up. He said, ‘Give me water.’ I handed over the gourd full. He done something with it. He kept me handing him water. He said, ‘Hold my crown and draw me up another bucket full.’ I was so scared I lit out hard as I could run. It was dark enough to hide me when I got a piece out of his way.”
Jesse Meeks, Pine Bluff, AR:
“I remember when the Ku Klux run in on my old master. That was after the War. He was at the breakfast table with his wife. You know in them days they didn’t have locks and keys. Had a hole bored through a board and put a peg in it, and I know the Ku Klux come up and stuck a gun through the auger hole and shot at old master but missed him. He run to the door and shot at the Ku Klux. I know us children found one of them down at the spring bathing his leg where old master had shot him.”
Hardy Miller, Pine Bluff, AR:
“My sister Ellen’s husband went to war on the Yankee side during the war — on the Republican side and fought the Democrats.
“After the war the Ku Klux came and got the colored folks what fought and killed them. I saw them kill a nigger right off his mule. Fell off on his sack of corn and the old mule kept on going.
“Ku Klux used to wear big old long robe with bunches of cotton sewed all over it. I remember one time we was having church and a Ku Klux was hid up in the scaffold. The preacher was reading the Bible and telling the folks there was a man sent from God and say an angel be here directly. Just then the Ku Klux fell down and the niggers all thought it was the angel and they got up and flew.
“Ku Klux used to come to the church well and ask for a drink and say, ‘I ain’t had a bit of water since I fought the battle of Shiloh.'”
Olivia Morgan, Hazen, AR:
“My papa said he knowed it to be a fact, the Ku Klux cut a colored woman’s breast off. I don’t recollect why he said they got after her.” 7This isn’t the only account of the Klan cutting a woman’s breast off.
Emaline Neland, Marianna, AR:
“I heard a whole heap about the Ku Klux. One time when a crowd was going to church, we heard horse’s feet coming; sound like they would run over us. We all got clear out of reach so they wouldn’t run over us. They had on funny caps was all I could see, they went so fast. We give them the clear road and they went on. That is all I ever seen of the Ku Klux.”
Ivory Osborne, Pine Bluff, AR:
“Ku Klux used to run me. Run me clear from the plum orchard about a mile from the house. Run to my mistress at the big house.”
Austin Pen Parnell, Little Rock, AR:
“Once after the War there was a lot of colored people at a prayer meeting. It was in the winter and they had a fire. The Ku Klux come up. They just stood outside the door, but the people thought they were coming in and they got scared. They didn’t know hardly how to get out. One man got a big shovelful of hot coals and ashes out of the fireplace and threw it out over them, and while they was dusting off the ashes and coals, the niggers all got away.”
Sarah Jane Patterson, North Little Rock, AR:
“I have seed the old Ku Klux. That was after freedom. They came around to my old master where my mama stayed. They were just after whipping folks. Some of them they couldn’t whip.”
John Peterson, Pine Bluff, AR:
“Oh, there was plenty of Ku Klux. I’ve known them to catch people and whip them and kill them. They didn’t bother me — I didn’t give them a chance. Ku Klux — I sure remember them.”
The recorded Slave Narratives of Arkansas span seven volumes, the third, fourth and fifth were used for this post. Those can be read here:
References [ + ]
|1.||⇡||More about the founding of the Klan can be found here.|
|2.||⇡||It must be kept in mind that most of the former slaves were young when the first incarnation of the Klan came into existence. Most were probably under fifteen; some were probably as young as five. Additionally, it should be remembered that when interviewed in the 1930s, most were between 75 and 85. With all the decades in between, the memory certainly suffered. That said, while the accounts vary, many are nearly identical.|
|3.||⇡||While almost all of the former slave were asked the Klan question, many claimed to have had no contact with them. Those who said little or nothing have not been included. Still, there are some included who claimed to have little contact with the Klan, and reaped a benefit for that distance.|
|4.||⇡||This is one of the only accounts that mentions the revival of the Klan, which happened in 1915, not in the 1890s.|
|5.||⇡||The black population might have been more superstitious in the 1870s, but most seemed to understand that the water trick wasn’t supernatural. Almost all accounts of it also explain how it was done.|
|6.||⇡||This narrative stands in contrast to many others from Arkansas. It should be noted that Mr. Jenkins was speaking about times in Tennessee.|
|7.||⇡||This isn’t the only account of the Klan cutting a woman’s breast off.|