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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel Duke, August 22, 1990. Interview A-0366. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Strongarming confessions within Ku Klux Klan loyalty networks

Duke describes the tactics used by himself and his allies in convicting thirteen Ku Klux Klan members for flogging various victims. According to Duke, there was both public resentment and and support of the activities of the Klan. Ultimately, Duke explains how he strongarmed confessions from various members of the Klan, guaranteeing safety for some in order to target the more brutal offenders. As Duke recalls, the loyalty oaths the Klan took meant he often had to employ elaborate tactics in order to force confessions and to get a jury that was free of Klan members. His comments demonstrate the ways in which the Klan network served as an obstacle, albeit a surmountable one, for rendering justice.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel Duke, August 22, 1990. Interview A-0366. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

I didn't do this completely alone. I had a lot of help. A lot of people would secretly come and give me information and express their feelings about this kind of conduct. Bill Hartsfield was mayor of Atlanta. He was very interested in seeing that this thing was . . . One of his primary interests was to keep Atlanta with a good image. Therefore, he knew that this Klan activity would poison the image so he moved over and was terribly interested in getting them prosecuted. See, there again, you get the subjective values there. I doubt that he had much moral attitude toward it. He was a pretty well read man. Mr. Boykin and he would confer. Mr. Boykin and I were working night and day and got this information. When I got this statement from this man, I didn't let him sign a confession, I just told him, "if you'll give me everything you will never be mentioned."
JOHN EGERTON:
You agreed to protect his name?
DANIEL DUKE:
I sure did and I did. I didn't even tell Mr. Boykin. I later told him who it was and Boykin said that was a smart move. I said, "if you rely on me I'll tell you." He never was mentioned. I would take that thing and then I would call them in. I wore them out pretty well. I did things that the Federal Government today would say was wrong. I remember a little fellow named Bishop. I studied him. Bishop had an invalid son. He worked in the mill. Tall, pretty nice looking old fellow, some age. He lived over in a certain section of Eastpoint. He was poor but he kept his house. He looked after his boy and he loved his boy. About the only outlet he had was going to the Klan. He would go up when they had their meetings and he'd have fellowship with these people. Some of the neighbors of him said that Bishop's been mixed up in that thing and they'd seen him going up. So, I figured out that I would get Bishop, so we'd send out there after he got off work. I would say, "go out there and tell him to come in here, I want to talk to him." So, John Clarke . . . He could have told them to go to hell. They'd say go on up there, I want to talk to you. They'd bring him up there and nope he knew nothing about it. So, I brought him up two or three times and I'd say, "take him back," get him back home about eleven o'clock at night. I'd say, "go down the road and park about thirty or forty minutes, give him time to get his clothes off and get in bed and go back up there and knock on the door" and say, "we want you back." They'd do that and bring that old fellow in there. I took this document that I had with everything on it saying who was in which cars, who did the whipping. They had a fellow that would count, one, two, three, four. One side would whip on one side and one on the other. Take them with their ankles and hands cuffed together. They'd leave them there. Hell, they would struggle up.
JOHN EGERTON:
Practically beat them to death.
DANIEL DUKE:
That's right. The Holiness preacher that was preaching to loud, they flogged him for preaching too loud and he said he prayed. We used as a witness, he was a pretty good fellow. He said he prayed and that was all that saved him. He put on a pretty good show for us. Grady Kent, he was a good man, but narrow minded, very, very prejudiced fellow according to my likes. It was all real to him. I'd bring them in one at a time and finally I documented all of this. I knew that one of the fellows had some money named Henry Cawthon. I had been telling him that Henry Cawthon and them would get by but you will be the one to go. Of course, he would think about his son and about him being a poor man. Henry drove the car.
JOHN EGERTON:
I can see how you'd really put it on them.
DANIEL DUKE:
I wasn't making any progress and I took that statement that this other fellow had given me and had somebody to sign - we never used this, there was never any intention to use it - but I created a fake confession. It had the details right but the name. We then had to sign Cawthon's name to this thing. I said, "now, I'm going to have Bishop in here and I'm going to read it over again. I would read it over to him; you were seated in such and such a place in the car. So and so was driving it. Henry Cawthon was driving the front car. The whips were in there and so and so was here. That's pretty powerful stuff for the fellow and then he'd say, "no, I don't know anything about it." So then I told him, "some of these fellows are going to get by and you'll be left holding the sack." We had that name signed on there. I said, "ya'll go out and call me and I'll leave the thing where he can read it." I would go out for fifteen or twenty minutes. Tell him to wait on me that I got a call. I'll get back and see what effect it has. So I did that.
JOHN EGERTON:
He got over there and looked at it.
DANIEL DUKE:
He looked at it and he saw Henry Cawthon's name on it. Of course, I immediately tore up the whole thing after that I had the other copies but not with the name on it. I destroyed that. Finally, he popped and he said yes. We got that confession. Well, I had that confession and it was a real confession. I mean hell he told it. Then I got two others. A fellow named Floyd Lee and we didn't promise Floyd Lee anything. And a fellow named Luke Trimble. Luke was a pretty good highly respected man. Bishop, of course, I told Bishop that we'd prosecute him but we'd see that he didn't go to the penitentiary if he was cooperative. We were dealing with a conspiracy. They'd take this blood oath and hell, I don't know how you break through a thing like that unless you trick them or something. You get it open and once it opens then it begins to fall in place.
JOHN EGERTON:
How did you manage to use these confessions without having the individuals come forward? Didn't the other side say, "I want to be confronted by my accusers?"
DANIEL DUKE:
We had the individuals. We indicted Cawthon on eighteen counts and he was convicted on only two. There were a lot of people who we tried as best as we could to keep any Klan members off of the jury. But, they had such an oath, they'd lie about it. And too, they flogged a lot of sorry people, you see, in the viewpoint of a community where they believe in respect for parental rights, duties. So there were a lot of people, not the most wholesome people in the world. We got convictions in the Kent case, he was the preacher that they flogged. The Tony case, that was an egregious thing, and we got convictions in . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
What about the man that was killed?
DANIEL DUKE:
We never were able to break that. I had that one cornered with a fellow and I can't think of his name. He lived in Eastpoint. He was sick. They kept people down there at his house day and night. He died. We had a good case on him but before we could get him indicted he died. Well, that ended that. We never were able . . . I always thought that he came out of the crowd from Oakland City. We put a fellow named Foster and a fellow named Walden from the Oakland City Klavern in the penitentiary because they joined with some of them. I always had it pinpointed that this fellow from Eastpoint and that group were the group that killed Gaston. We never were able to do that. On Hawthorne we had eighteen counts and eighteen different floggings and the jury convicted on two and he went to the penitentiary. He was convicted in the Kent case and in the Tony case.
JOHN EGERTON:
How many people altogether got prison terms out of all these?
DANIEL DUKE:
Thirteen.