Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Uncle Pat and the KKK story

In the middle of the torrential rains and tornado sirens last week, I was sitting in my car waiting to make a mad dash into Kroger when my cell phone rang. On the other end of the line (odd that we still say "line." I guess it's really the other end of the beam?) was the executive assistant to the publisher of the Fayetteville Observer newspaper who was looking for a relative of my Uncle Pat Reese on behalf of the Lumbee Indian Tribe in North Carolina. She told me that 50 years ago, on January 18, 1958, Uncle Pat and a photographer covered a story about a skirmish between the Lumbees and the KKK which was favorable to the Lumbees. The story got national attention in times when standing up to the KKK could be dangerous to one's health and livelihood.

Sidebar about Uncle Pat. My father grew up the youngest of four boys in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Uncle Pat was the third of the four and was supposed to be "Patricia," much to my grandmother's disappointment. To say Pat was a wild man would be a gross understatement. We grew up hearing tales of him womanizing, playing pranks, becoming and recovering from being an alcoholic and drug addict, and knew that he was a renowned "newspaperman" in Fayetteville as a crime reporter. The earliest memory I have of him is the stress he caused my grandmother when he and an extremely large black man named "Smitty" showed up at my family's vacation rental in Hilton Head, SC in the early 1960's. Mamoo was not pleased - but plenty of time to post about her later.

Pat cleaned up his act in 1957 when he started at the paper and became an icon in Fayetteville. He's profiled in a book the publisher wrote about the community, he started the drug and alcohol centers in Fayetteville, acted in or directed more than 100 plays, and broke many famous crime stories. Remember "Fatal Vision" about the army officer who blamed hippies for murdering his family? Uncle Pat reported that story and never believed Jeffery MacDonald's innocence.
Pat's obituary is pretty fascinating He even played a "mourner" in Night of the Living Dead.

Back to the award. I passed my cousin Patty's contact information to the very nice person at the Observer as Patty lives in North Carolina. Once contacted, she started an email buzz among the cousins. None of us had ever heard about the story. I turned into an obsessed history detective for a week and found out that in 1958 the KKK were very active in the area and advertised a rally in the heart of the Lumbee territory in order to scare them out of the county. I've found various versions, but the long and the short of it is Uncle Pat and a photographer embedded themselves in with the Lumbee. Expecting 1,000 or more, the KKK only had 50+/- members show up while 100's of the Lumbee encircled them. There's a great report of a speech being giving on the back of a truck with a generator lighting up a single bulb. Out of the dark a shotgun blew the bulb and the Lumbee descended upon the Klan. The KKK ran like scared little girls and never bothered them again.

Uncle Pat and the photographer caught a bit of buckshot and stopped by the emergency room on the way to the newsroom to file their story. Great stuff!

The Lumbee have been celebrating the event every year for the past 50 and Friday made my Uncle Pat an honorary member of the tribe. My cousin attended the ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of the family (it's kinda nice that a "Pat Reese" received the award). I can't wait for the pictures.

And a special report this week: with great photos.

I am in love with the story. Who could make something like this up?

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