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‘The Devil Took a Hand in the Mess’ – Former Slaves Speak on the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina

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?” 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 South Carolina, the first state to leave the Union. 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.

Frances Andrews, Newberry, SC:
“After the war, the ‘bush-whackers’, called Ku Klux, rode there. Preacher Pitts’ brother was one. They went to negro houses and killed the people. They wore caps over the head and eyes, but no long white gowns. An old muster ground was above there about three miles, near what is now Wadsworth school.”

Millie Barber, Winnsboro, SC:
“Then the Klu Kluxes come and liked to scare the life out of me. They ask where Prince [her husband] was, searched the house and go away. Prince come home about daylight. Us took fright, went to Marster Will Durham’s and asked for advice and protection.”

Anderson Bates, Winnsboro, SC:
“Does I remember anything about the Klu Kluxes? Jesus, yes! My old marster, the doctor, in going around, say out loud to people that Klu Kluxes was doing some things they ought not to do, by extorting money out of niggers just ’cause they could.

“When he was gone to Union one day, a low-down pair of white men come, with false faces, to the house and ask where Dick Bell was. Miss Nancy say her don’t know. They go hunt for him. Dick made a bee-line for the house. They pull out horse pistols, first time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, second time, ‘pow’. Dick run on, third time, ‘pow’ and as Dick reach the front yard th ball from the third shot keel him over like a hit rabbit. Old miss run out but they get him. Her say: ‘I give you five dollars to let him alone.’ They say: ‘Not enough.’ Her say: ‘I give you ten dollars.’ They say: ‘Not enough.’ Her say: ‘I give you fifteen dollars.’ They say: ‘Not enough.’ Her say: ‘I give you twenty-five dollars.’ They take the money and say: ‘Us’ll be back tomorrow for the other Dick.’ They mean Dick James.

“Next day, us see them a coming again. Dick James done load up the shotgun with buckshot. When they was coming up the front steps, Uncle Dick say to us all in the big house: ‘Git out the way!’ the names of the men us find out afterwards was Bishop and Fitzgerald. They come up the steps, with Bishop in the front. Uncle Dick open the door, slap that gun to his shoulder, and pull the trigger. That man Bishop hollers: ‘Oh Lordy.’ He drop dead and lay there ’til the coroner come. Fitzgerald leap away. They bring Dick to jail, try him right in that court house over yonder. What did they do with him? Well, when Marse Bill Stanton, Marse Elisha Ragsdale and Miss Nancy tell about it all from the beginning to the end, the judge tell the jury men that Dick had a right to protect his home, and himsself, and to kill that white man and to turn him loose. That was the end of the Klu Kluxes in Fairfield.”

Millie Bates, Union, SC:
“The worst time of all for us darkies was when the Ku Klux killed Dan Black. We was little children a playing in Dan’s house. We didn’t know he had done nothing against the white folks. Us was a playing by the fire just as nice when something hit on the wall. Dan, he jump up and try to get out of the window. A white spooky thing had done come in the door right by me. I was so scared that I could not get up. I had done fell straight out on the floor. When Dan stick his head out of that window something say bang and he fell right down in the floor. I crawles under the bed. When I got there, all the other children was there to, looking as white as ashed dough from hickory wood.

“Us peeped out and then us duck under the bed again. Ain’t no bed ever done as much good as that one. Then a whole lot of them come in the house. They was all white and scary looking. It still makes the shivers run down my spine and here I is old and you all a sitting around with me and two more wars done gone since that awful time. Dan Black, he won’t no more ’cause they took that nigger and hung him to a simmon tree. They would not let his folks take him down either. He just stayed there till he fell to pieces.

“After that when us children saw the Ku Klux a coming, us would take and run breakneck speed to het nearest wood. There we would stay till they was plum out of sight and you could not even hear the horses feet. Them days was worse than the war. Yes Lawd, they was worse than any war I is ever heard of.”

Soloman Caldwell, Newberry, SC:
“I remember the Ku Klux and how they rid around in white sheets, killing all the niggers.”

Thomas Campbell, Winnsboro, SC:
“Does I remembers anything about the Ku Klux? No sir, nothing. I was always with the white folks side of politics. They wasn’t concerned about me. Marster James have no patience for that kind of business anyhow. Him was a lawyer and believed in letting the law rule in the daylight and would have nothing to do with work that have to have the cover of night and darkness.”

Maria Cleland, Newberry, SC:
“When the Ku Klux and paddrollers [patrollers] traveled around in that section, they made Mr. Satterwhite [her former owner] hold the niggers when they was whipped, but he most all the time let them loose, exclaiming, ‘they got loose’ —h e did not want many of them whipped.”

Dinah Cunningham, Winnsboro, SC:
“I remember about the Ku Klux just one time, though I heard about them a heap. They come on the Robertson place all dressed up with sheets and false faces, riding on horseback, hunting for a republican and a radical nigger, (I forget his name, been so long) but they didn’t find him. They sure was a sight and liked to scared us all to death.”

John Davenport, Newberry, SC:
“I remember the Ku Klux, too, how some of them killed niggers. I voted in town on the Republican ticket. I am still a Republican.”

Wallace Davix, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux was there. I heard old folks talk about them. They had white sheets over their heads and white caps on their heads.”

Isabella Dorroh, Newberry, SC:
“Ku Klux went around the country and caught niggers and carpetbaggers.”

Alice Duke, Gaffney, SC:
“I was pretty good-size child when the Ku Klux come and tried to get my daddy. They whipped him; then he run off and stayed off for over seven years. Them Ku Klux was in all kinds of shapes, with horns and things on their heads. They was so scary looking that I ain’t never forgot them. Thems the awfulest ‘boogers’ I is ever see’d before or since. I was in the bed and so was Pa, but they broke in our door and got him. I covered up my head and did not make narry a sound. That’s all that I can recollect now.”

Silas Glenn, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux and Red Shirts didn’t like Negroes. They would catch them and whip them.”

Sim Greeley, Spartansburg, SC:
“A nigger republican leader got killed. I held the horses for the Ku Klux. Great God-a-mighty, Dave and Dick Gist and Mr Caldwell run the store at the Rutherford place in them times. Feeder of them horses was Edmund Chalmers. Mr. Dick say, ‘Hello, Edmund, how come them mules so poor when you got good corn everywhere — what, you stealing corn, too?’ Mr. Oatzel say, ‘Yes, I caught him with a basket on his shoulder.’ ‘Where was you carrying it?’ Edmund say, ‘To Mr. Caldwell’. Mr. Caldwell say he ain’t seen no corn. They took Edmund to the jail. He had been taking corn and selling it to the carpetbaggers, and that corn was for the Ku Klux horses.”

W.M. Green, Gaffney, SC:
“Cap, I was born on the Bonner place, five miles from Gaffney. Just about the very first recollection that sticks with me, is my mammy hiding me when the Ku Klux was riding. She heard the horses a-trotting and she rushed us out of our beds and took us and buried us in the fodder out in our barn, and told us to be as quiet as possible. Both my parents went and hid in the edge of the woods. The Ku Klux passed on by without even holding up their horses.”

Madison Griffin, Whitmire, SC:
“The Ku Klux had bad niggers dodging like birds in the woods. They caught some and threw Them on the ground and whipped them, but the master say he don’t know nothing about it as he was asleep. They caught a nigger preacher once and made him dance, put him in muddy water and walloped him around in the mud.”

Charlie Jeff Harvey, Union, SC:
“Mr. Harvey has a bullet that Gov. Scott issued to the negroes during reconstruction times when he was governor of South Carolina under the carpetbag rule. Scott issued these bullets to the negroes to kill and plunder with. Mr. Harvey says that bullets like this one were the cause of many negroes finding their graves in the bottom of Broad River. Mr. Harvey, so it is said, is still a Ku Klux. They were the chief instruments in getting him into the County Home of Union in 1925.

Frank Bellew, “Visit of the Ku-Klux,” 1872.
Frank Bellew, “Visit of the Ku-Klux,” 1872.

“The Ku Klux made a boat twenty-five feet long to carry the negroes down the river. They would take the negroes’ own guns, most of them had two guns, and tie the guns around their necks in the following manner: The barrel of one gun was tied with wire around the negro’s neck, and the stock of the other gun was fastened with wire around the negro’s neck. When the captain would say, ‘A-M-E-N’, over the side of the boat the negro went, with his guns and bullets taking him to a watery grave in the bottom of Broad River. The wooden parts of the guns would rot, and sometimes the bodies would wash down on the rocks at Neal’s Shoals what was then Jeter’s Old Mill. Old gun stocks have been taken from there as mementoes.

“Bill Fitzgerald was my first Ku Klux Captain. He organized the clan in Newberry. When I came to the Klan over on the Union [county] side, Judge W. H. Wallace and Mr. Isaac McKissick were leaders.

“When we got the negroes from the county jail, the same jail that we have now, that were arrested for killing Matt Stevens, I broke the lock on the jail door. Buck Allen was the blacksmith. He held a sledge hammer under the lock while I threw a steel hammer overhanded on the lock to break it.”

Fred James, Union, SC:
“Right after the war the Ku Klux started. I remember them when they would march up and down the road. They marched most at night, and we could hear the horses for a long distance as their feet struck the ground.”

Mary Johnson, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux was not a bother. They just marched sometimes at night, with long white sheets over them and all over the horses. Their heads were covered with small holes for eyes, nose and mouth, and had long white ears like a horse’s ears.”

Wesley Jones, Union, SC:
“I also remembers Gen. Wade Hampton, when I was a building up the breastworks to keep the Yankees from shooting us. Them was scary times, but the Ku Klux days was scary times the most.”

Ella Kelly, Winnsboro, SC:
“Yes sir, Ku Klux was a terror to certain colored persons. I remembers they come dressed up in white and false faces, passed on to the Richardson place and whipped somebody one night.”

Mary Jane Kelley, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux was in our section. They killed lots of niggers around there.”

Nellie Lloyd, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux wore white clothes and white caps. They made out they was ghosts from the cemetery, and they would get a man and carry him off, and we never would see him again.”

Bill McNeil, Ridgeway, SC:
“I vote the Republican ticket, as I try to show my appreciation, and that gets me in bad with the Ku Klux. They scare me, but no touch me.”

Andy Marion, Winnsboro, SC:
“My marster was not a Ku Klux. They killed some obstreperous niggers in them times.”

Milton Marshall, Newberry, SC:
“After the war, the Ku Klux did bad in our neighborhood. They killed five or six niggers. I guess it was ’cause they was Republicans and had trouble at voting times.”

Cureton Milling, Winnsboro, SC:
“After the war was over, freedom come, and with it the excitement of white folks coming down here and having us believe us just as good as white folks. I have lived to see it was all a mistake. Then come the Ku Klux and scared some sense into my color.”

Sena Moore, Winnsboro, SC:
“Ku Klux? Does I remember them? This left knee remembers them! One night the big road full of us niggers was coming from church. Just as us get to the top of the hill us see, coming up the hill, a long line of horses, with riders dressed in pure white, hoods on their heads, and painted false faces. They busted into a gallop for us. I was with my brothers, Luther and Bill; they jump the side gully and got away in the woods. I jump but the jump was poor as a cow, I reckon, and this very leg crumple up. I lay there in my misery ’til daylight, and my brother, Luther, come back and carry me home.”

George Patterson, Spartansburg, SC:
“You remember reading about Joe Crews and Jim Young — what they did in this state? Well, they tried to lead all the niggers after the war was over. I was the one who got Jim Young away from the whites. I carried him to Greenville, but he got back somehow, and was killed. Joe Crews was killed, too. The Ku Klux was after them hot, but I carried Jim Young away from them.”

Lina Anne Pendergrass, Union, SC:
“I never had no schooling and the Ku Klux sure scared me. They took my daddy; my brother was too young. It was on Saturday night. Next day was Sunday, and they didn’t fix the doors what the Ku Klux broke down. Us never did see Pa no more.” [..] “My pappy was named Henry Dorsey. When he was young, he was Marse Sander’s butler boy. He got well from the shot. Then the Ku Klux got him for something. I ain’t never knowed what.”

Amy Perry, Charleston, SC:
“I remember when the Ku Klux was out too, the people been scared ’cause they is beat some and kill some.”

Sam Polite, Beaufort County, SC:
“I hears about Ku Klux. They been bad people.”

Sam Rawls, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux didn’t have much influence with the slaves or ex-slaves. As soon as the war broke, they went riding up and down the public roads to catch and beat niggers. My brother run off when they got after him. He went to Orangeburg County and stayed down there.”

Jesse Rice, Gaffney, SC:
“The Ku Klux was the terriblest folks that ever crossed my path. Who they was I ain’t never knowed, but they took Alex Leech to Black’s Ford on Bullet Creek and killed him for being a radical. It was three weeks befoe his folks got hold of his body.”

Charlie Robinson, Winnsboro, SC:
“Him have pappy and all the colored folks go to the election box and vote. Ku Klux come there one night and whip every nigger man they could lay their hands on. Things quiet down then but us no more go to the election box and vote.”

Tom Rosboro, Winnsboro, SC:
“I doesn’t remember much about the Yankees, though I does remember the Ku Klux. They visit pappy’s house after freedom, shake him, and threaten that if him didn’t quit listening to them low-down white trash scalawags and carpetbaggers, they would come back and whale the devil out of him, and that the Klan would take notice of him on election day.”

Joe Rutherford, Newberry, SC:
“When the Ku Klux was in dat country I lived with a man who was one of them. The first I knew about it was when I went down to the mill, the mule throwed me and the meal, and down the road I went to running and met a Ku Klux. It was him.”

Morgan Scurry, Newberry, SC:
“In Ku Klux times, I met five or ten of them in the road one night. They never bothered me. They had long white sheets over them and the horses. Slits were cut for the head, eyes, nose and mouth.”

Mack Taylor, Winnsboro, SC:
“Us was never pestered by the Ku Klux, but I was given a warning once, to watch my step and vote right. I watched my step and didn’t vote at all, that year.”

Robert Toatley, Winnsboro, SC:
“Bad white folks come and got bad niggers started. Soon things got wrong and the devil took a hand in the mess. Out of it come to the top, the carpetbag, the scalawags and then the Ku Klux. Night rider come by and drop something at your door and say: ‘I’ll just leave you something for dinner’. Then ride off in a gallop. When you open the sack, what you reckon in there? Liable to be one thing, liable to be another. One time it was six nigger heads that was left at the door. Was it at my house door? Oh, no! It was at the door of a nigger too active in politics.”

Emoline Wilson, Newberry, SC:
“The Ku Klux Klan never bothered us then, and we never had nothing to do with them, nor with politics.”

Jane Wilson, Newberry, SC:
“After the war, a colored man named Amos Baxter was killed by the Ku Klux at the old courthouse. My father was on Judge Johnstone’s farm a few miles away. He was sent for and came with another colored man to town, and prayed and preached over the body of Baxter. The Ku Klux came to kill my father for doing this, but they never caught him. […]

“The Ku Klux wanted to kill any white people who was Republicans. They killed some negroes. A white man named Murtishaw killed Lee Nance, a store keeper. I was a little girl and saw it. Some little children was standing out in front. Murtishaw came up and said he wanted to buy something or pretended he wanted to; then he went up to Nance, pulled his pistol quick and shot him through the throat and head.”


The recorded Slave Narratives of South Carolina span four volumes. Those can be read here: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4.

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

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.