The Klan in NC

It’s another of those “1,000 word” moments, where a Morton image sends me off on a journey of discovery. On my recent visit to Grandfather, Hugh’s wife Julia told me the following story: she and Hugh got a speeding ticket in 1945 while driving through Columbus County, NC, on the way back home after their honeymoon. A few years later, Hugh was assigned to photograph the arrest of a supposed K.K.K. leader in Columbus County—Morton went to the jail, and to his surprise the man being arrested turned out to be the same man who had given them the speeding ticket. Mrs. Morton couldn’t quite recall his name, but thought it was “Early Bird” or something odd like that.
So, when I saw the negative envelope labeled “K.K.K.,” I thought to myself, maybe these are the negatives Mrs. Morton mentioned . . . and indeed, they do show a man being fingerprinted. I noted that the calendar on the wall read Whiteville, NC (in Columbus County), February 1952.

Accused/arrested Klansman being fingerprinted, Columbus County NC, Feb. 1952

Accused/arrested Klansman being fingerprinted, Columbus County NC, Feb. 1952

To my surprise, a quick web search for the K.K.K. in this time and place returned a bounty of fascinating information. First I learned that the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in Journalism had gone to the Whiteville News Reporter and Tabor City Tribune, two weekly newspapers, “For their successful campaign against the Ku Klux Klan, waged on their own doorstep at the risk of economic loss and personal danger, culminating in the conviction of over one hundred Klansmen and an end to terrorism in their communities.”
Then I read about something called the Carter-Klan Documentary Project, being run right in our backyard at the UNC Center for the Study of the American South. This is an effort begun in 2003 to create a documentary film and other multimedia elements about the work of W. Horace Carter (then editor of the Tabor City Tribune) and others to combat the early 1950s Klan insurgency in Columbus County, led by Grand Dragon Thomas Hamilton. The timeline on the project’s detailed website describes the events of February 16, 1952, whenmore than 35 FBI agents, working in close coordination with state and local law enforcement officials in Columbus County, N.C., arrest 10 Klansmen for the kidnapping and flogging of Ben Grainger and Dorothy Martin on October 6, 1951,” and says that several other area Klansmen were arrested from February to May of 1952.
Far down on the Thomas Hamilton page, I found a photo (below, from the Raleigh News & Observer) and description of Early Brooks, a former Fair Bluff policeman who led “the most vicious and active klavern” in Columbus County. “Eureka!,” I exclaimed to myself, a former policeman named “Early”—this has to be the guy. But when I compare the photos, I actually don’t think it is the same person. What do you think? If it’s not Early Brooks, who is it? And who is the arresting officer?

Early Brooks, ca. early 1950s? (courtesy the Raleigh News & Observer)

One last note about all this: in searching the UNC libraries catalog for information about W. Horace Carter, I found an oral history interview conducted with Carter in 1976 as part of the Southern Oral History Program (available online, both audio and transcript). Turns out Carter and Hugh Morton went to UNC-Chapel Hill at the same time—Carter was editor of the Daily Tar Heel in 1944, and Morton took photos for campus publications . . . surely they knew each other. Did Carter give Morton the assignment in 1952? Was the photo published? I hope someone can fill in the details.

20 thoughts on “The Klan in NC”

  1. Hugh and Horace Carter were great friends, and Hugh was as proud of Horace’s Pulitzer as if it had been his own.
    Horace didn’t give Hugh the photo assignment you refer to, it was one of the, then, wire services that asked him to go up to Whiteville and make a picture of the Klan leader who was being arrested. When Hugh discovered it was Early Brooks, the lawman who had given us a speeding ticket on our way back from our honey moon (It really was a speed-trap.) he told me later, “I could have moved in close and photographed him through the bars, but I backed off so I could get the bars.” The roll of film with that negative probably went to the wire service undeveloped for the sake of speed, in which case you, of course, won’t find it.

  2. For the past several years, my colleague, Martin Clark, and I have been producing a television documentary focusing on UNC alumnus Horace Carter and his campaign against the Ku Klux Klan between 1950 and 1953. Working under the name of the Carter-Klan Documentary Project, we’ve examined hundreds of photographs related to our subject and have listened to almost as many stories.
    We had not seen Hugh Morton’s Klan photographs, however, nor had we heard of his experience photographing the Klan. We thank Elizabeth Hull for alerting us to Morton’s K.K.K. photographs (Hull, “The Klan in NC,” April 23), and we enjoyed Julia Morton’s story of her late husband’s experience getting those photographs (Morton, comment, May 4).
    As Hull suggests in her post of April 23, the man being fingerprinted in Morton’s K.K.K. photographs is not Early Brooks. We think we know who the man is, but because we can’t confirm his identity with absolute certainty, we prefer not to mention his name.
    We have other photographs taken in the same room where Morton took his Klan photographs, but we don’t know who the photographers were that shot them. The room in question is almost certainly in the Columbus County courthouse in Whiteville, NC, and though a different man is doing the fingerprinting in our pictures, everything else in the photographs is identical: the desk, the books, the calendar, the door, and the windows.
    Dozens of suspected Klansmen were arrested by local, state, and federal lawmen during the first three months of 1952. The press reported on most of these cases, and several photographs related to the cases are located in the Raleigh News and Observer Collection at the North Carolina Division of Archives and History in Raleigh. Unfortunately, most of the Klan-related photographs in the N&O collection—about 30 in number—do not identify the photographer.
    Did Hugh Morton take any of the Klan-related photographs in the N&O collection? Perhaps. Although he photographed the Klan for the wire services, as Julia Morton recalls, he may also have offered some of his photographs to the N&O.
    It’s also possible that Morton shot the N&O photograph of Early Brooks posted in the blog by Ms. Hull. Unlike the fingerprinting photographs—all of which were taken in Whiteville in late February or early March of 1952—the photograph of Brooks appears to have been taken in early February, 1952, in Fayetteville, NC, at the Cumberland County courthouse.
    Our thanks again to you, Ms. Hull, and to Mrs. Morton, for bringing this information to our attention. We depend upon such efforts to enrich our own and we hope we’ve contributed in turn to the impressive effort to organize Hugh Morton’s wonderful photographic work. We also ask anyone with information that might be considered helpful to our film project to contact us by using the information provided on the project Web site:
    Walter E. Campbell and Martin Clark

  3. 6/25/08: If you can, get a copy of today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune (apparently not available online). It features two great columns by Deuce Niven and D. G. Martin on the Morton collection, this blog post, and the Klan in Columbus County, NC.

  4. Hi, were any of you all related to any Campbell’s who lived in or around Norfolk, VA? My grandfather came from a big clan of them….just searching. He married a woman, Elma Ipock. I have a lot of her information, but not much of his. He also worked at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. He was Walter Erlin Campbell. If you would let me know, I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thanks, Ann

  5. Hi,
    Not sure if you’re still monitoring this. I just came across this story and your Carter-Klan project today, and I find it fascinating. Is there somewhere where I can see the film? Is it finished or still under production?
    I believe I am related to Ben Grainger, I am a Grainger from Tabor City. I left the town for Pennsylvania when I was 4 years old, and lost all contact with that side of the family. So lately I have been doing some research and reconnecting (35 years later), and learning all about the Graingers. I’ve never heard this story of the KKK flogging. Do you have any more information specifically on Ben Grainger and Dorothy Martin? Did they testify in the case? Any pictures or maybe you could recommend where I could look?
    Thanks for your time,

    1. Hello David…I’m a Grainger grandpa as a constable in old dock..Williams (Bill) Grainger…wondering if you are kin.

  6. Mr. David Grainger,
    You should read Horace Carter’s book, “Virus of Fear”.
    Here is a link to how to purchase it on Amazon:,d.cWc
    You may still be able to order it by contacting the Tabor-Loris Tribune, or Atlantic Publishing Company, in Tabor City, NC.

  7. I’m the daughter of Early L Brooks. My dad wrote a book outlining his part and explanation of the Klan incident. “The Crucifixion of the South.” Its not published. I believe there has been a lot of speculation about my dad and the incident. I understand PBS televised a special using my dad’s picture and his name without approval from any of his family. Like all media – – it was sensationalized.

    1. Hi Linda. My family says that my grandmother worked for Mr. Brook’s family. Her name was Carrie Etta— she lived in Fair Bluff. Any memory of her? Where can one get ahold of your father’s unpublished book?

  8. My grandfather, NC Superior Court Judge Clawson L. Williams, was the judge in the trial of the KKK in Whiteville. I am writing a book about him and the trial. The coincidence is that Hugh Morton was my father’s fraternity brother at UNC. Hugh’s younger brother Tommy was one of my father’s best friends. And Hugh’s son Jimmy was one of my friends and classmates at UNC. Jimmy was an amazing photographer.

  9. Hi Margaret,
    My father was Waldo H. Hyman, Jr. and he was law partners with George Keels in Florence, SC. Thomas Hamilton turned himself in at their law office in Florence and was escorted by my father to turn himself in to Sheriff Hugh Nance in Whiteville. I do not know, but am assuming they represented him in court. George Keels represented various other Klan members in court and Keels and my father are both mentioned in Horace Carter’s book. I know AP photographer Rudy Faircloth (friend of Horace Carter) went to Florence when Hamilton was arrested. I have long been looking for photographs/information about the day Hamilton was arrested and subsequent court appearances (I think he pleaded guilty and there was no trial). My father passed away when I was 3 years old, so there was no opportunity to ask him about the incident. If you have any information/photos relating to Hamilton’s arrest, I would greatly appreciate any sharing. Also, I would love to have a copy of your book when completed. Also, George Keels was apparently an interesting character in his on right. He was one of the last SC attorneys admitted to the Bar without having gone to law school. He was a renown litigator known for courtroom antics, his photographic memory and lack of ever taking notes. His second wife is still living but has no recollection of his time with Hamilton. Thank you. Tres Hyman (843) 687.4645;

    1. Thanks for your contribution, Tres. A side note: Rudy Faircloth worked in the 1930s for photographer Bayard Wootten, whose collection is also part of the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

    1. Sorry, Tres, I do not, but I suspect they would be unattributed studio portraits. He also may have worked assisting in the Wootten-Moulton studio without making images. He frequently was Wootten’s driver. Wootten’s biography, Light and Air, begins “‘Stop the car, Rudolph! Stop the Car!'”

  10. The kidnapping and flogging of Ben Grainger and Dorothy Martin happened on my family farm. They did some work for us and were living in a cabin on the property. A little know fact was the tree these group of men originally choose for the flogging was in North Carolina but they stopped and picked another tree they felt was better suited for the task. However, since our farm crosses the state line, the second tree they selected was in South Carolina. By crossing state lines, they made this a federal crime.

    My grandparents were in the 60s, my grandfather with lung issues dating from WWI and my father was just 13 at the time, could do nothing to help. But they did make sure to point out the specific location of that whipping tree and where the state line was.

    My mother said that she remembered Dorothy Martin and was always a little scared of her. I reckon she had a hard life.

    We still own the farm but the cabin and the tree are gone.

    My mother, who was from Tabor City, lived next door to Horace Carter and remembers hearing gunfire at the Carter’s house as a girl. It was a scary time for her.

  11. I am the granddaughter of Early Brooks. All of these published things enlighten me to the struggles of the past. I never met my grandfather, and struggle with the things I read.y siblings say after his incarceration, he was a loving man. I was too young to know. I do know at the end of his struggle, he was complicit.

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