Educating Ourselves on Forgotten History: A Fritz Hutchison Guest Blog



I’m no historian. I’m not a very highly educated or political guy in general. Just a regular white musician living in a pigpen-like filth cloud of privilege.The times being what they are, I’ve had plenty of spare hours to spend scouring the internet filling in gaps in my knowledge of United States history, and no shortage of reasons to do so. I was recently made aware of a Reconstruction-era event known as the Kirk-Holden War, in which the U.S. government battles the KKK and nothing goes well. I’d like to relay this story to you now.
 
There once was a lawman named Outlaw. Hell yeah. Wyatt Outlaw had been appointed as the Town Commissioner and Constable of the town of Graham, North Carolina in the wake of the Civil War. The first Black man to do so. His rise in prominence included serving as a cavalryman for two years in the Union  Army and helping to establish the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in his home county of Alamance, North Carolina. Seems like an all-around good dude and his freakin' name is Wyatt Outlaw, how cool is that?
 
The mere fact that this man existed was enough to royally piss off those faceless coward sacks of shit - the Ku Klux Klan. Soon Wyatt was joined by two other Black constables, making the entire police force of Graham Black men. I’m gonna go ahead and say that sent the Klan members into a tizzy. Then the year 1870 rolls around and the 15th amendment is passed, granting Black American men the right to vote! Those evil bastards were about to shit their sheets over all the fairness happening right before their eye-holes. A campaign of terror was unleashed upon the Black population of the south as the Klan, the White Brotherhood, and other such hate groups wielded their wealth, power, and influence to LITERALLY GET AWAY WITH MURDER via their ties with community leaders and intimidate the newly emancipated voting population into silence. Outlaw, being a popular bad ass, was naturally targeted. One night, as a mob of racists in the worst Halloween costumes ever rode through the town of Graham, hootin’ and hollerin’, waving torches and screaming for blood, Outlaw stood his ground and opened fire, dispersing the crowd and quieting the streets. I like to imagine "Voodoo Chile" by Jimi Hendrix blasting as this is happening.
 
Within a year, Wyatt Outlaw’s body would be hanging from a tree in the courthouse square. On his chest was written “beware, ye guilty, both black and white.” A local Black man who claimed to know who was responsible would be soon found dead floating in a pond. No one would ever be tried for these murders. Ever.
 
This is only the beginning.
 
A few months after Outlaw’s murder, the Klan assassinated John Stevens, a white Republican state senator sympathetic to the Black population. Now that white guys were getting murdered, the Governor of North Carolina, Republican William Holden, decided that it was time to put a stop to things. Go figure. Holden hired George Washington Kirk, a former commander in the Union Army who had flipped over to the good guys from the confederate forces. In the war he developed a reputation for some nasty guerrilla tactics and had fought alongside Malinda Blalock, one of the few female soldiers in the Civil War. Look her story up, it’s wild.
 
So Holden suspends Habeas Corpus, declares martial law in Alamance and Caswell counties, and nasty ol’ George Kirk rolls into town with a volunteer force of 300. Please stop what you’re doing, put on "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham, and imagine a montage of over 100 Klansmen being arrested in a matter of weeks. Beautiful.
 
Here’s the thing about the Klan though… they run the shit round these parts. We’re talking about congressman, sheriffs, lawyers, bankers, and some guy named Barzillai Graves -  all sorts of prominent community members whose position in society was abetted by the idea that they were of the superior race, and who violently resented the blossoming freedom of their Black peers - being arrested in the name of the state. As rock and roll as this all is, white society was not having it, and the Klan retaliated. Several bloody skirmishes later, 12 militiamen were dead along with 16 of the Klan. The violence eventually came to an end, with Kirk’s army being the victor.
 
The aftermath of all this is where things get really fucked up and relevant. Even though the Shitty Hateful LARP-Ghost Clubhouse had been subdued into not openly killing innocent people for a while, they did ultimately succeed in terrorizing the Black population into not voting. August of 1870 saw Democrats regaining control of the state Legislature, and William Holden became the first Governor in United States history to be removed from office after being impeached and convicted on the grounds that the men arrested in connection with the murder of John Stevens and the lynching of Wyatt Outlaw were treated unfairly. Kirk was arrested and sent back to Tennessee from whence he came, and the Klansmen walked away scot-free. Don’t worry though, Holden was pardoned of his crimes in 2011, only 119 years after his death.
 
Think about this for a minute. The first governor ever removed from office in the U.S.lost his job because he sent volunteer forces to put a stop to the killing of Black people and their protectors by organized murderers with a fucking logo. He lost his job because tactical voter suppression made it possible. His crime was protecting the people who were led to believe they had just gained their right to be protected. I’m not telling you all this just to say “man, history is cRaZy!” or to say “dang the south sUcKs!” - I’m urging you to recognize and exercise your power as a voter, and to not feel hopeless or cynical about the use of that power. If we do not, then those who wish to step on the weak and the different for their own hateful gain shall capitalize on our complacency. Wield love against them. We are deeply, deeply embedded in a system that willfully turns a blind eye to those in need. We cannot escape it, or pierce it’s scales from the outside. We must change it from within.
 
Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In this story we have a police officer firing his weapon into a crowd of protesters… suspension of Habeas Corpus… mass arrests… sound familiar? It is sad and ironic, and I haven’t yet wrapped my head around this cycle of violence. I can only hope that one day true equality can be achieved, and that America will have no reason, just or unjust, to attack its own citizens. The baton is in our hands now. What path will we lay for those who come next?
 
Thanks for reading.