The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Redemption of Harrison County

Harrison County deserves its own post. This county borders Louisiana in the Red River region, and became a negro sanctuary; it was, it seems, Texas's answer to Colfax. There's a whole book on the topic, A southern community in crisis: Harrison County, Texas, 1850-1880 (1983). If that's your focus, you'll want to read that. I haven't, yet.

I have this narrative from one Jerry Moore formerly a slave. I dug this up at New Deal Network; originally Published in George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. Westport, Connecticut: The Greenwood Press, Inc.,1979, v.5, p. 121-124.

I rec'lect the time the cullud folks registered here after the war. They outnumbered the whites a long way. Davis was governor and all the white folks had to take the Iron Clad oath to vote. Carpetbaggers and Negroes run the government. In the early days they held the election four days. They didn't vote to precincts but at the court house. The Democratic Party had no chance to 'timidate the darkies. The 'publican party had a 'Loyal League' for to protect the cullud folks. First the Negroes went to the league house to get 'structions and ballots and then marched to the court house, double file, to vote. My father was a member of the 11th and 12th legislature from this county. He was 'lected just after the Constitutional Convention, when Davis was elected governor. Two darkies, Mitch Kennel and Wiley Johnson, was 'lected from this county to be members of that Convention.

'Durin' the Reconstruction the Negroes gathered in Harrison County. The Yankee sojers and 'Progoe' law made thousands of darkies flock here for protection. The Ku Klux wasn't as strong here and this place was headquarters for the 'Freedman.' What the 'Progoe' Marshall said was Gospel. ...

My father told me about old Col. Alford and his Kluxers takin' Anderson Wright out to the bayou. They told him, 'You'd better pray.' Wright got down on his knees and acted like he was prayin' till he crawled to the bank and jumped in the bayou. The Klux shot at him fifty or sixty times, but he got away. The Loyal League give him money to leave on and he stayed away a long time. He came back to appear against Alford at his trial and when the Jury gave Alford ninety-nine years. Anderson was glad, of course.

Richard Jackson reported that sometimes, the Klan just wanted people to know they were around:

The Ku Kluxers come to our house in Woodlawn, and I got scart and crawled under the bed. They told mammy they wasn't gwine hurt her, but jus' wanted water to drink. They didn't call each other by names. When the head man spoke to any of them he'd say, Number 1, or Number 2, and like that.

Gus Bradshaw reported that the Klan was... well, the Klan:

The Klu Klux done lots of cuttin' up [he means, general mischief and mayhem] round there. Two of 'em come to Dr. Taylor's house. He had two niggers what run off from the Klux and they want to whip 'em, but Dr. Taylor wouldn't 'low 'em.

Nancy King related this hadith from her brother-in-law, that when the Klan first came calling, the blacks gave back what they got:

My brother−in−law, Sam Pitman, tells us how he put one by the Ku Kluxers. Him and some niggers was out one night and the Kluxers chases them on hosses. They run down a narrow road and tied four strands of grapevine 'cross the road, 'bout breast high to a hoss. The Kluxers come gallopin' down that road and when the hosses hit that grapevine, it throwed them every which way and broke some their arms. Sam used to laugh and tell how them Kluxers cussed them niggers.

But then Wikipedia tells me that in 1878, the Citizen's Party "won" an election "involving the placement of a key ballot box".

Let's get back to this "Colonel Alford" whom Jerry Moore cited as the Klan's ringleader. This would be one Lodwick P Alford - apparently a big cheese in the region, with lots of Google hits. Alford had several cases before the Texas Supreme Court up to 1860, for instance. As for that 99-year sentence, Alford didn't serve his full time. Gus Bradshaw informs us:

I knowed old Col. Alford, one of the Klux leaders, and he was a sight. He told me once, 'Gus, they done send me to the pen for Kluxing.' I say, 'Massa Alford, didn't they make a gentleman of you?' He say, 'Hell, no!'

And in the 1890s, it was all over. Moore: They broke up all that business [protecting negroes from the Klan] in Governor Hogg's time. They divided the county into precincts and the devilment [Kluxing] was done in the precincts, just like it is now.

Since the book on Harrison County has already been writ, I don't have much to add on this region for its own sake. I'll just note the bigger-picture point that Harrison was special within Texas; more an outspur of upstate Louisiana than a Texan province proper.

What we find here is that "Redemption" - white terrorism - did occur in Texas, at the county level. I expect there were other counties like Harrison, along that border and also on the Gulf Coast. Ramsdell pointed to the Oklahoma border as well; although I have not yet seen the narratives from this region.

Harrison was a Republican bastion, and Governor Edmund Davis had ensured its safety. Davis lost his re-election because the other counties overwhelmed it. Conservative whites in Texas, by 1876, were a generally small-government lot and could have ruled the state without such Republican counties. The Redeemers there, then, had non-political and local reasons for their acts.

Will Adams delivered this postmortem:

I 'members when that Ku Klux business starts up. Smart niggers causes that. The carpet−baggers ruint the niggers and the white men couldn't do a thing with them, so they got up the Ku Klux and stirs up the world. Them carpet−baggers come round larnin' niggers to sass the white folks what done fed them. They come to pa with that talk and he told them, "Listen, white folks, you is gwine start a graveyard if you come round here teachin' niggers to sass white folks." Them carpet−baggers starts all the trouble at 'lections in Reconstruction. Niggers didn't know anythin' 'bout politics.

Adams hints that the local blacks were feeling their oats as a (local) majority, and were boasting to whites that the latter were now a minority in this brave new democratic county. (I haven't checked the local newspapers as to criminality during the 1870s.)

I am still keeping in mind Ward's warning, which is basically Aaron McGruder's, that there exist negroes who will tell white folk what they think white folk want to hear. But McGruder also knows of black people who have a real animus against... black people: this inspired his Uncle Ruckus antihero (a character whom blacks like, I am told). That many blacks (mostly women it seems) can't stomach other blacks has been noticed by pro-white bloggers, like Unamusement Park. Back in 1937, nobody asked Adams to deliver his postscript. Adams honestly preferred Harrison County back when everyone knew his place.

posted by Zimri on 10:42 | link | 0 comments

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