“In three places, at least, in North Carolina a Negro is not allowed to stay over night. They are Canton (Haywood County), Mitchell, and Madison Counties, all in the western part of the State. Negroes may work unmolested all day, but, if they linger after nightfall, they are reminded that it would not be healthy for them to remain during the night.”
— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910)
Mitchell County and Hot Springs in Madison County are listed among James Loewen’s “Possible Sundown Towns in NC.”
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.