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Saturday, July 16, 2011
The Ku Klux Klan in Texas, 1867-70
I have recently found on Google SLAVE NARRATIVES: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves (DC: The Library of Congress Project, 1936−1938).
Charles Ramsdell sees the Klan in Texas as a band of pranksters and wannabes, almost a joke (232-3). With these narratives, we can now read what the black populace thought of these merrie hooded robins. I already have accounts like Loewen's account of Gainesville in Lies Across America 36, 163-7; that the lynchings after the war were an outgrowth of the Confederate cleansings of proUnion towns like Comfort before it.
I'll restrict this overview to Texans during the 1865-74 period. Since Agatha Babino, Ellen Betts, OW Green, Pauline Grice, Charley Hurt, John James, Lorenza Ezell, Sam Kilgore, and Pierce Harper moved to Texas after that (not sure about Louis Cain); their narratives will be kept in mind as background only.
I will also keep in mind Ward's warnings in the conclusion to The Slaves' War. Some of the elderly black people - "negroes", if you track the Field - might not have told all they wanted to tell. This was still the 1930s and the Klan was still a bother. But unlike Ward, I am not going to censor what I relate just because the speaker happened to drop an N-bomb.
If I can believe Lorenza Ezell, the Klan started in South Carolina as one of the dodges to keep blacks on the farm; but in Texas, the Klan meme arrived as masked vigilante. (Think "Redneck Batman".) John Crawford:
De Ku Klux made a lot of devilment round−about dat county. Dey allus chasin' some nigger and beatin' him up. But some dem niggers sho' 'serve it. When dey gits free, dey gits wild. Dey won't work or do nothin' and thinks dey don't have to. We didn't have no trouble, 'cause we stays on de farm and works and don't have no truck with dem wild niggers.
I did mention Redneck Batman, and Crawford did only say that only some freedmen deserved a kluxing. Betty Bormer:
Sho', I seen de Klux after de war but I has no 'sperience wid 'em. My uncle, he gits whipped by 'em, what for I don' know 'zactly, but I think it was 'bout a hoss. Marster sho' rave 'bout dat, 'cause my uncle weren't to blame. When de Klux come de no 'count nigger sho make de scatterment. Some climb up de chimney or jump out de winder and hide in de dugout and sich.
Then all this white-knight crap got to the Klan's head. Harrison Beckett:
It's at Panola County where I first hears of de Klux. Dey call dem White Caps den. Dey move over in Panola County and ranges at de place call Big Creek Merval by McFaddin Creek. Dey's purty rough. De landowners tell dey niggers not to kill de White Caps but to scare dem 'way. At night dey come knock and if you don't open it dey pry it open and run you out in de field. Dey run de niggers from Merryville round Longview. Dey some good men in de Klux and some bad men. But us work hard and go home and dey ain't bother us none.
Soon enough the Klan emerged in its final form as the Invisible Empire. Eli Davison reported, "
Tom Holland recalls how the Klan resorted to murder:
If the Negro wanted to vote the Klu Kluxes was right there to keep him from votin'. Negroes was 'fraid to git out and try to 'xert they freedom. They'd ride up by a Negro and shoot him jus' like a wild hawg and never a word said or done 'bout it.
William Hamilton witnessed that in his area, after some struggle, the Klan committed an act so heinous that US troops stepped in:
Right over on Massa Ditto's place, am a killin' of a baby by dem Klux. De baby am in de mammy's arms and a bunch of Klux ridin' by takes a shot at de mammy, and it hits de baby and kills it. Right after de baby killin', sojers with blue coats comes dere and camps front of Massa Buford's place and pertects de cullud folks. I goes over to dey camp every day and dey gives me lots of good eats.
Hamilton, in my opinion, is a standout as a witness. He saw that the Klan attacked the local whites as well - even the Bufords. He also noted that the local blacks weren't always on the level themselves. From his mention of soldiery, I date this account to the military period of Reconstruction, in the 1860s.
By 1872, the Governor was Edmund Davis. He set out to protect black Republicans, by means of a local police force. He had established some safe havens, around the cities anyway. Here is Scott Hooper:
but dem Klu Klux causes so much troublement. All us niggers 'fraid to sleep in de house and goes to de woods at night. Pappy gits 'fraid something happen to us and come to Fort Worth. Dat in 1872 and he farms over in de bottom.
The (Communist) historian Eric Foner tells that Davis's police was as intrusive as it was, precisely to root out the Klan. Given Hooper's testimony - and the history of Harrison County - I have to agree. Reconstruction in Texas overall may fairly be deemed "arbitrary" but I would not use the term "oppressive". Loewen wishes it had been more oppressive.
The black vote, I will posit, did get suppressed in Texas throughout the Reconstruction period. The next question is, was the Klan effective enough to end Reconstruction?
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