The lynching of Wyatt Outlaw and the "Kirk-Holden War"

147 years ago today, chaos and hatred ruled the land:

On February 26, 1870, Graham town commissioner Wyatt Outlaw, an African American, was lynched by a band of Ku Klux Klansmen.

Outlaw served in the 2nd Regiment United States Colored Cavalry during the Civil War. In 1866, he attended the second freedmen’s convention in Raleigh and soon after organized the Union League, an organization that aimed to promote loyalty to the United States after the Civil War, in Alamance County, as well as a school and church. Outlaw became the target for a Klan mob because he was an effective leader, able to work with both races.

Aside from all the other considerations and concerns surrounding this cowardly act, we need to keep this in mind when recruiting and supporting candidates for state and local office. African-Americans are still severely under-represented in these positions of authority, and changing that will take all of us. We must also never forget what can happen if we don't keep an eye on the General Assembly:

With Klan violence mounting following Outlaw’s murder, Governor William Woods Holden declared a state of insurrection in Alamance and Caswell counties in July 1870. A militia force under George W. Kirk of Tennessee suppressed the Klan in those counties.

Nearly 100 Klan suspects were arrested during the “Kirk-Holden War,” but most were released on technicalities and none were ever tried. White supremacists gained control of the General Assembly in elections that November and impeached Holden for using the militia against the Klan. He was cast out of office in March 1871.

Superior Court judge Albion Tourgee indicted 18 Klansmen for Outlaw’s murder, but an amnesty bill from the legislature resulted in their never going to trial.

While the lynching of an African-American local government official was the catalyst of the Kirk-Holden War, if you'll notice the historical landmark pictured above, Wyatt Outlaw is not mentioned. It was not an oversight, they intentionally left it out so as to not stir up anger. Or to not embarrass the town, or some other white-washing hogwash:

Wyatt Outlaw’s hanging, it has been written, is the second-most recognized event in Alamance County history, but won’t be commemorated on a state marker placed where he died. His murder led to the Kirk-Holden War, which led to the arrest of more than 100 local men and torture at the hands of a state militia. There were also other murders and attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, like the killing of state Sen. J.W. “Chicken” Stephens in Caswell County. It also led to the first impeachment of a U.S. governor, William W. Holden. At the end of it all, Holden was gone, the men who killed Outlaw were free and it was a lot harder to tell who really won the Civil War.

The State Highway Historical Marker Program will place a plaque at the top of a pole, probably on Elm Street in front of the Graham Historical Museum. The spot is not far from where Outlaw was hanged from the elm tree for which the street is named. Outlaw’s name, however, will not be on that marker. It will say:


Racial violence in Caswell
& Alamance counties in
1870 led to martial law,
under Col. Geo. W. Kirk,
impeachment & removal
of Gov. W.W. Holden.

That wording came from the Graham Historical Society, said Mayor Jerry Peterman, who is an active and enthusiastic promoter of his hometown’s history. But Peterman is not embarrassed to be an even bigger promoter of Graham’s present and future. “It was a real delicate thing,” Peterman said. “It could have caused racial tensions and that’s something we wanted to avoid. “Graham is a nice little town.”

You know what causes racial tensions? Allowing ACTBAC (Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County) to parade around downtown waving Confederate flags. They'd like to take Alamance County back to the time you could hang a black man from a tree if he got too uppity, and maybe a big reason they feel they can do that is the refusal of Graham officials and historians to remember Wyatt Outlaw.