Continuing in our series, we’ll hear tales of the Ku Klux Klan as told by former slaves in Georgia.
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.
In this post, we’ll look at the answers given in Georgia – a state that saw an early rise of the Klan in its eastern counties. 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.
James Bolton, Athens, GA:
“Right soon after the war we saw plenty of Ku Kluxers but they never bothered nobody on our plantation. They always seemed to be having heaps of fun. Of course, they did have to straighten out some of them brash young nigger bucks on some of the other farms round about. Most of the niggers the Ku Kluxers got after wasn’t on no farm, but was just roaming around talking too much and making trouble. They had to take them in hand two or three times before some of them fool free niggers could be learned to behave theyselfs! But them Ku Kluxers kept on after them till they learned they just got to be good if they expects to stay round here.”
Alec Bostwick, _________, GA:
“When the Ku Kluxers come through, us children thought the devil was after us for sure.”
Willis Cofer, Athens, GA:
“Ku Kluxers went around with them doughfaces on heaps after the War. The Niggers got more beatings from them than they had ever got from their Old Marsters. If a Nigger sassed white folks or killed a horse, them Kluxers sure did evermore beat him up. They never touched me for I stayed out of their way, but they whipped my Pa one time for being off his place after dark. When they turned him loose, he couldn’t hardly stand up. The Yankees just about broke up the Ku Kluxers, but they sure was bad on Niggers while they lasted.”
Martha Colquitt, Athens, GA:
“Us heard a heap about them Ku Kluxers, but none of my folks never even saw any of them. They was suposed to have done lots of beating of colored folks, but nobody knowed who them Ku Kluxers was.”
Anderson Furr, Athens, GA:
“Niggers got so bad after they got deir freedom that the Ku Kluxers come around and made them behave theirselfs. One of them Kluxers come to our house and set down and talked to us about how us ought to act, and how us was going to have to do, if us expected to live and do well. Us always thought it was our own old Marster, all dressed up in them white robes with his face covered up, and a-talking in a strange, put-on like, voice. None of Marster’s Niggers never left him for about two or three years.”
John Hill, Athens, GA:
“I remembers the Klu Klux Klan good. They kept Niggers scared plum to death, and when they done something brash the sure got beat up if the Kluxers catched them.
“One time the Kluxers come by our place on the way to beat an old Nigger man. I begged them to let me go with them, and after a while they said I could go. There was horns on the mask they covered up my head with and I was mighty scared but I didn’t say nothing. Atter us got there, they tied the old man up by his hands to the rafters in his house. He was begging them to let him off and yelling ‘O Lordy, have mercy!’ There was a little gal there and I wanted to scare her, so I started after her, and the old man told her to hit me on the head. She picked up a shovel and throwed it and cut my leg so wide open the blood just spilt down on the floor. I got so bad off they had to take me back to old Marster, and he fix me up. It was six months before I could use that leg good, and, I never did want to go with them Kluxers no more.”
Charlie Hudson, Athens, GA:
“Where us lived, Ku Kluxers was called ‘night thiefs.’ They stole money and weapons from Niggers after the war. They took $50 in gold from me and $50 in Jeff Davis’ shinplasters from my brother. 4Shinplaster was a term for paper money, named so because it roughly resembled a medical plaster that was used in the treatment of sore legs. Pa and Ma had left that money for us to use when us got big enough.”
Alice Hutcheson, Athens, GA:
“It weren’t long before there was plenty of Ku Kluxers around about. They had on doughfaces and long white robes what come down over the horses they was a-riding. Ma always told us that if one of them Kluxers touched a Nigger, that Nigger was going to die, and us was so scared us stayed out of their way so they didn’t catch none of us, but they sure did work on the hides of some of them other Niggers what they did get a hold of.”
Susan McIntosh, Athens, GA:
“No, Ma’am I never saw no Ku Kluxers. Me and Ma didn’t leave home at night and the white folks wouldn’t let them get Pa.”
Anna Parkes, Athens, GA:
“One night, just after I got in bed, some mens come walking right in Ma’s house without knocking. I jerked the cover up over my head quick, and tried to hide. One of the mens asked Ma who she was. Ma knowed his voice, so she said: ‘You knows me Mister Blank,’ (she called him by his sire enough name) ‘I’m Liza Lumpkin, and you knows I used to belong to Judge Lumpkin.’ The others just laughed at him and said: ‘Boy, she knows you, so you better not say nothing else.’
“Then another man asked Ma how she was making a living. Ma knowed his voice too, and she called him by name and told him us was takig in washing and living all right. They laughed at him too, and then another one asked her something and she called his name when she answered him too. Then the leader say, ‘Boys, us better get out of here. These here hoods and robes ain’t doing a bit of good here. She knows every one of us and can tell our names.’ Then they went out laughing fit to kill, and that was the only time the Ku Kluxers ever was at our house, leastways us suposed they was Ku Kluxers.”
Georgia Smith, Athens, GA:
“Most of the slaves stayed with Mistress after freedom come, because they all loved her, and they didn’t have no place to go. Mistress fed them just like she had always done and paid them a little money too. Us didn’t never have no fussing and fighting on our place, and the Ku Klux Klan never come around there, but the niggers had to have a ticket if they left the place on Sunday. That was so de paddyrollers wouldn’t whip them if they catch them.” 5Mr. Smith is likely conflating the pre-war patrolers with the post-war Klan. This is common as both groups were often made up from the same people and had roughly the same goal.
Nancy Smith, Athens, GA:
“Us weren’t scared of the Kluxers here in town, but they was right bad out on the plantations.”
Addie Vinson, Athens, GA:
“I sure did keep out of the way of them Ku Kluxers. Folks would see them coming and holler out: ‘The Ku Kluxers is riding tonight. Keep out of their way, or they will sure kill you.’ Them what was scared of being caught and beat up, done their best to stay out of sight.”
Frances Willingham, Athens, GA:
“After the war was over Niggers got so rowdy them Ku Kluxers come along to make them behave theirselfs. Them Niggers and Kluxers too just went hog wild.”
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.||⇡||Shinplaster was a term for paper money, named so because it roughly resembled a medical plaster that was used in the treatment of sore legs.|
|5.||⇡||Mr. Smith is likely conflating the pre-war patrolers with the post-war Klan. This is common as both groups were often made up from the same people and had roughly the same goal.|