Friday, July 18, 2008

"A True Story of the Ku Klux, White Caps and Happenings in the South"

I thought I'd share with you all some excerpts from a typescript from the collection of the Chattanooga History Center. Written by E. G. Carroll, a Rossville, Georgia attorney between 1920 and 1930, this record of extra-legal violence provides a fascinating insight into the postwar environment of Northwest Georgia and Southeast Tennessee and the ongoing act of memory making that made Klansmen and White Caps into heroes who upheld morality, racial order, and law.
Today's excerpts:
"This is a true story of the activites of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Caps in North Georgia, and teh incident that led to the destruction of the White Caps. I have gotten my information in regard to the Ku Klux Klan from men who belonged to the organization and women who lived through those terrible Carpetbag days. Most of the information that I have gathered in regard to the White Caps was given to me by the late Steve Shackleford of Gordon County Georgia, who lived in a community where most of the men belonged to the organization.
I find that most people think that the Ku Klux Klan and the White Caps were the same organization but they were not. The Ku Klux Klan was a secret organization that operated in the South during the Carpetbag days immediately after the Civil War. The White Caps were the outgrowth from the original Ku Klux Klan and operated in North Georgia until sometime in the nineties. They wore the same disguise and probably started out under the same laws and regulations as the Ku Klux Klan, but they were not the same organization."
..... "Of course we have no written records of what happened in those days, this is the Klan kept no records of what they did. I have gathered what little information I have of Klansmen and conditions in those days, from talking with men and women who were there. Those old Klansmn were very stingy with their information. My father T. B. Carroll of Marion County, Tennessee, was a Confederate soldier and a Klansman, but he would tell me very little about the organization. He did tell me about some of the things Uncle Bill Smith did over in Marion County. I don't suppose there is anyon in Marion County Tennessee, who remembers one arm Bill Smith. Uncle Bill and his company used to come over and do the hanging for the Chattanooga Boys. They hung some carpetbaggers down on the river one night to the beams of an old building. There was no chance to charge that hanging to the Chattanooga Boys, for they made it convenient to be seen on the streets at the time of the hanging. It seem[ed] to be a rule of the Klan to never make a raid in their own community."
Copyright, Chattanooga History Center, 2008

1 comment:

Editorial Staff said...

Great post. It was a long-held story that my great-great grandfather was a "leader of the Klan" in Dent County, Missouri.

Later, I found an old family history said he "was a member of the Vigilantes and was shot and killed while riding with them."

Here is the story from the local paper:

Whitecaps Shot
The Harveys, Near Salem Mo., Fire to Kill

SALEM, MO., June 13 [1895] – The residence of Eli M. Harvey, two and one half miles north of Salem was the scene of the tragical result of a whitecap affair last night. Shortly after midnight a mob composed of twenty five or thirty men called at Harvey’s and demanded that John, a son of Harvey, come to the door. John answered the call, but not until the mob had entered the house.

Harvey immediately fired into the crowd, fatally wounding Joseph Nelson and injuring to some extent another whitecap, whose name has not yet been learned. -[From the St. Louis] Star Sayings.

It's clear they were vigilantes of the Klan sort, although perhaps out on a mission that apparently did not involve race this time.

Here's a follow-up article that sheds some more light.

[From the] Salem Leader

In the case of the State against John Harvey, before Esq. Hogle, last Friday, upon the charge of burning three ricks of hay belonging to John Robnett, the defendant was held to bail in $1500 to the next grand jury. The evidence showing his presence in the vicinity of the Robnett place was very direct, and sundry letters were introduced in testimony, claimed to be written by John Harvey, which seemed to threaten the destruction of some of Robnett’s property by fire. As usual, a young women was the prime cause of the trouble. Harvey was in love with a girl whom he accused Robnett of keeping from him, and he wrote the letters in question to induce Robnett to give the girl up to him. Harvey has been regarded as a young man of good character and we hope to see him clear and himself [sic] of the accusation. [Dent County Prosecuting Attorney] Mr. [J.J.] Cope prosecuted; Capt. [J.S.] Ault defended.

Certainly an interesting case of extra-legal violence, but apparently not one that (officially anyway), served as an "ongoing act of memory making that made Klansmen and White Caps into heroes who upheld morality, racial order, and law."

I'm very interested in reading more. thanks for the great post.