In January 1958, the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally in the Robeson County town of Maxton to protest what members called race mixing in the county. Members of the Lumbee Indian tribe, which made up about a third of the county's population, had other ideas.
James W. Cole, a Free Will Baptist minister who called himself the leader of the Klan in North Carolina, had leased a field in Maxton, and the meeting had been well-publicized. A group of Lumbee Indians surrounded the outnumbered Klan members and drove them off without any casualties. Their victory was featured in a Life magazine photo spread the following week.
N&O reporter Charles Craven provided this account at the time.
When 8:30 p.m. arrived, time for the announced rally, Rev. Cole stood in the bitter cold with Sheriff (Malcolm) McLeod and a handful of deputies... Facing him in savage looking lines revealed by car lights, were the Indians, rifles and shotgun barrels projecting from their ranks.
Cole's Klansmen walked restlessly around him, staying in the shadows. "I can't promise you anything with this crowd," said the sheriff. "You can see that. Now you can go ahead and have the rally if you want to, but look around you."
Cole spoke with a dry tongue. His fuzzy-bearded face appeared livid with fear. He swallowed, his thin neck muscles working....
One of his cohorts came up and asked respectfully, "Governor, you want us to put up a rope. We got one."
"No, I don't believe so," said Cole weakly. "There's no use agitating them."
Klansmen around the public address system began to waver, move back slowly. The shouting Indians crept forward. Some of the teen-agers had smeared their faces with lipstick, war-paint fashion. One wore a feather war bonnet.
Cole looked up at the tall sheriff. "I know these Indians," he said condescendingly of them. But the inflection of condescension in his voice was not convincing.
Suddenly the light suspended over the KKK's P. A. system was blown out. The horde of Indians moved forward. Their silhouettes leaped in the darkness. Gun flames stabbed the night. The crowd scattered in panic. A deputy tossed a hissing tear gas bomb.
Only three or four persons were reported hit by the wild firing, none were reported critical. As far as could be determined in the darkness and confusion, not a Klansman returned the Indian fire. The Indians were firing mostly in the air. This action reportedly was a prearranged agreement among them, that they would not shoot to kill unless one of them was killed.
Before and during the riot, the metallic clink of guns being cocked and cartridges ejected could be sharply heard on the cold air.
As the riot was subsiding, 16 State Highway Patrolmen moved in with sub-machine guns. The crowd dispersed. Patrolmen directed the jam-packed traffic.
The contrast between the arrival of the Klansmen and their departure was something to behold. The first bunch of them arrived on the scene, a dry-grass field just outside of Maxton, in six or eight cars. They got out holding rifles and shotguns. Some wore revolvers and automatics in holsters at their belts. Several wore little white caps, like dunce caps. One sported full regalia, his chest decorated by a cross....
Then the Indians began to arrive. They just stood around. Not a weapon was in sight. The crowd grew. The yells began. ...
The incident was set off by a cross being burned in the driveway of a St. Pauls home..., reportedly as a warning to an Indian woman to stop dating a white man. Later in the week another cross was burned at East Lumberton, where an Indian family had moved into a white neighborhood. -- The News & Observer 1/20/1958
A published photo showed Lumbee Indians wrapped in a banner they took from one of the Klan cars.
Simeon Oxendine, son of the mayor of Pembroke, a Veteran of Foreign Wars district commander and a proud Lumbee Indian, smiled cockily as he displayed his trophy of a routed KKK rally...
"Whites and Indians have been mingling, intermarrying and living near each other in Robeson County since the Civil War," he declared. "The Klan was the cause of what happened last night.
"I don't know how many Indians were there. But enough to do the job. And I think the Klan is finished in Robeson County."
Folk singer and songwriter Malvina Reynolds, who was famous for her song Little Boxes, wrote and recorded the satirical song The Battle of Maxton Field.
(Top photo courtesy of the NC State Archives)