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Brawley Gilmore and the Ku Klux Klan

Less than a year following the surrender of the Confederacy, six former Confederate officers gathered together in a second story law office in Pulaski, Tennessee. Forming the Ku Klux Klan, their intent was to “get up a club or society of some description.” While their claimed intent was, at first, “amusement,” they soon found such amusement in spreading terror to newly-freed black citizens and their white allies. 1More about the founding of the Klan can be found here.

Local at first, the Klan soon caught on in the surrounding states and then all across the South. These terrorist operations lasted from 1866 to 1874, when they were disbanded in name.

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?”

Over the next couple of months, we’ll be posting various compilations of memories. In them, the former slaves themselves will share their recollections of the Ku Klux Klan. 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.

For this post, we’ll begin with one of the longest accounts I’ve come across. While most former slaves spoke only a sentence or two about the Klan, Brawley Gilmore of Union, South Carolina had quite a bit to say.

The relevant parts of his interview are below in his own words:

Brawley Gilmore on the Ku Kluxers

We lived in a log house during the Ku Klux days. They would watch you just like a chicken rooster watching for a worm. At night, we was scared to have a light. They would come around with the ‘dough faces’ on and peer in the windows and open the door. If you didn’t look out, they would scare you half to death.

1825 map of some of the ground discussed in the narrative, including the Indian Mound and Chester.
1825 map of some of the ground discussed in the narrative, including the Indian Mound and Chester.

John Good, a darkey blacksmith, used to shoe the horses for the Ku Klux. He would mark the horse shoes with a bent nail or something like that; then after a raid, he could go out in the road and see if a certain horse had been rode; so he began to tell on the Ku Klux. As soon as the Ku Klux found out they was being give away, they suspicioned John. They went to him and made him tell how he knew who they was. They kept him in hiding, and when he told his tricks, they killed him.

When I was a boy on the ‘Gilmore place’, the Ku Klux would come along at night a riding the niggers like they was goats. Yes sir, they had them down on all-fours a crawling, and they would be on their backs. They would carry the niggers to Turk Creek bridge and make them set up on the banisters of the bridge; then they would shoot them off of the banisters into the water. I declare them was the awfulest days I ever seen. 2The location of the Turk Creek Bridge is probably along Route 9/Pinckney Road in Union County, Georgia. The actual name is Turkey Creek Bridge. See map.

A darky named Sam Scaife drifted a hundred yards in the water down stream. His folks took and got him out of that bloody water and buried him on the bank of the creek. The Ku Klux would not let them take him to no graveyard. Fact is, they would not let many of the niggers take the dead bodies of the folks no where. They just throwed them in a big hole right there and pulled some dirt over them. For weeks after that, you could not go near that place, ’cause it stink so bad.

Sam’s folks, they throwed a lot of ‘Indian-head’ rocks all over his grave, ’cause it was so shallow, and them rocks kept the wild animals from a bothering Sam. You can still see them rocks, I could carry you there right now.

Another darky, Eli McCollum, floated about three and a half miles down the creek. His folks went there and took him out and buried him on the banks of the stream right by the side of a Indian mound. You can see that Indian mound to this very day. It is big as my house is, over there on the Chester side. 3Mr. Gilmore is referring to the McCollum Mound on the Broad River – the boarder between Union and Chester Counties.

Exavation at the McCollum Mound, mentioned in the narrative.
Exavation at the McCollum Mound, mentioned in the narrative.

The Ku Klux and the niggers fought at New Hope Church. A big rock marks the spot today. The church, it done burnt down. The big rock sets about seven miles east of Lockhart on the road to Chester. The darkies killed some of the Ku Klux and they took their dead and put them in Pilgrims Church. Then they set fire to that church and it burnt everything up to the very bones of the white folks. And ever since then, that spot has been known as ‘Burnt Pilgrim’. 4This would be along the same Route 9/Pinckney Road.

The darkies left most of the folks right there for the buzzards and other wild things to eat up. Because them niggers had to get away from there; and they didn’t have no time for to fetch no word or nothing to no folks at home.

They had a hiding place not far from ‘Burnt Pilgrim’. A darky name Austin Sanders, he was carrying some victuals to his son. The Ku Klux caught him and they asked him where he was going. He allowed that he was a setting some bait for coons. The Ku Klux took and shot him and left him lying right in the middle of the road with a biscuit in his dead mouth.


If you like, you can read the unedited transcription here.

For more information on my own process for handling slave narratives, see this.

Next week, we’ll hear from the rest of the former slaves of South Carolina.

References   [ + ]

Has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, writing the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.