A burning cross and other memories of the Klan

I had known the prolific author William Stadiem was born in Kinston, but I was jarred at seeing this passage in his Feb. 1 column on thedailybeast.com:

“As a 10-year-old Jewish boy in North Carolina, I had a cross burned on my family’s lawn by the local Ku Klux Klan. I am thus particularly sensitive ….”

When I asked for details, Stadiem promptly provided (via his publicist at St. Martin’s Press) this vivid recollection:

“The cross burning happened when I was ten, so I don’t remember many details. I doubt that law enforcement did anything, in that the Klan was still very much feared in eastern NC as a dark shadow presence in the 1950s.

“There was a giant billboard on the Lenoir County line showing a mounted Klansman in white robes on a white horse. The sign read, as I recall: ‘Entering Lenoir County. This is Klan Kountry. All Jews, Negroes and Catholics Stay Out.’ The billboard stayed up for all the years of my youth.

“The mythology was that the Klan had round-the-clock snipers posted in the murky swamps around the billboard, to protect the Klan’s warning sign in case any ‘Yankee Communist Types’ might try to take it down.”

Although the wording of the Klan billboard might not quite qualify it for James Loewen’s list of “Possible Sundown Towns in North Carolina,” its repugnant message could hardly be any more congruous.

 

3 thoughts on “A burning cross and other memories of the Klan”

  1. I thought I’d seen a photo in our collections of a sign similar to the one that Stadiem describes. I couldn’t find one with the exact wording, but here’s one that’s similar.

    http://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/dig_nccpa/id/21051

    According to our records, the sign was (is?) near Smithfield. The photograph was recorded in or about June 1971. The two individuals in the image are listed on the back of the print as Richard D. Thompson and Lawrence S. Thompson. I’m wondering if it’s Lawrence Sidney Thompson, whom, according to our clipping files, was a Chapel Hill native, graduate of UNC and one time library director and classics professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. An obituary for Lawrence Sidney Thompson, who died in 1986, notes that he had a son named Richard Dickson Thompson.

  2. The town of Crusoe, on the borders of Brunswick and Columbus County’s in North Carolina. I have never been there, but I was always told as a young child growing up to never go there. I am told today that African Americans are still not welcome in this town.

  3. I was born,raised and bred in Kinston,N.C. If my memory servers me right i remember the kkk burning a cross on my school (Savannah High ) lawn sometime beween 1966-1968 in opposition to intergration.

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