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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Arthur Little, December 14, 1979. Interview H-0132. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reflecting on the Populist Party and the need for the Klan after the Civil War

Little's family, longtime Republicans, joined the Populist Party toward the end of the nineteenth century. Little remembers that the Populists were conservative, promoted equal rights for African Americans, and may have opposed the Ku Klux Klan. Little believes that the post-Civil War South needed the Klan to, as he says, "keep the nigger in his place." He has lost his sympathy for the Klan, though, and no longer thinks they have a role to play in the South.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Arthur Little, December 14, 1979. Interview H-0132. 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

JACQUELYN HALL:
After the Civil War, in the 1880's and '90's, did you have any relatives that joined the Populist Party?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, my folks were in the Populist Party.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, really?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes. You see, that Populist Party came in here before, really, the Republican Party got very much in the… Yes, when the Populist Party went out, it joined the Republican Party. Oh, we had Congressmen elected in the Populist Party. Shuford was one, I remember. Of course, I don't
JACQUELYN HALL:
Which Shuford was that?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
That was the Shufords over here on South Fork River. Some of these Shufords, it seems, probably would know. He was elected on the Populist ticket. 1 * Alonzo C. Shuford, elected in 1895.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you remember any stories about the Populist Party that you could tell me?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Not particularly, except I've heard rumors and things that there was a lot of gunfire between each other. I remember this one nigger when I was a young boy. He was a driver for one of these fellows runing on the Populist Party, and they started shooting at him, and he said, "I got down in the buggy as low as I could to keep the middle horse a-going as fast as I could, and the old boss was sticking his head up over the back seat and shooting." I heard those things, but those are rumors that I've heard, but . It wasn't peaceful altogether.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What did the Populist Party stand for around here?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
More or less what the Republican Party stands for now, conservative. They were the conservative part of the party. And of course they stood more or less for equal rights for the Negro, too. They were probably against the Ku Klux Klan, but they had to have theKu Klux Klan back in those days, of course. If you read history, you couldn't have never done what …
JACQUELYN HALL:
Back during the Reconstruction period?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, they had to have that. No question about it.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Why is that?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, because you never would control the nigger at all. You just wouldn't have no… You just couldn't control him at all. He wouldn't work; he wouldn't do nothing. And the carpetbagger would think you owed him a living and all that stuff, you know. Go down to the old State Capitol. You see where the stones are all broke off the steps? Well, they say that it come about by rolling whiskey barrels down the steps, and break them off. It was under carpetbagger government. We couldn't have existed under such as that.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was the Klan strong in this area during Reconstruction?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, it was strong all from here on through the South. Sure it was, and they did a lot of good. Of course, there was a lot of… It's just like everything, you know. It's the way with anything the human element's got anything to do with. It'll swing from one extreme to the other. And then other people got to taking it up. If they had a spite at somebody, they'd give him a good whipping and they'd pin it on the Ku Klux Klan when it wasn't. See.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you have people that were in the Klan in those days?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, yes, all my folks were in the Klan.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of people would have been in the Klan at that time?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
The people that wanted to try to set up a government that we could live under, and wanted their laws obeyed some way or another, and keep the nigger in his place. He had to be kept in his place. If you didn't, why… Carpetbagger government through here was terrible, and further south it was worse.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the same people in the Klan that later on joined the Populist Party?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes, they was sent() through there, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But isn't that a contradiction?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Well, it evoluted; it didn't just change overnight. Of course, the Klan through here wasn't very active many years after the War. Things began to settle down and the Democratic Party began to get hold of the government a little better. But immediately after the War, under the carpetbagger and all that stuff that was feeding to us from the South, why, that was the only recourse to keep the black man in his place. Some people don't believe that, but, now, I do.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were any of your relatives elected on the Populist Party ticket?
ARTHUR LITTLE:
No, I've had no politicians in my family. I had a first cousin that was chairman of the board of county commissioners here a few years ago.
JACQUELYN HALL:
But they were supporters.
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, they were supporters of the Populist Party.
JACQUELYN HALL:
About the Klan, have you been reading about this stuff that's been going on in Greensboro? 2 * Reference is to the killing of Communist Workers Party members by the Ku Klux Klan in 1979.
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Oh, yes, that's altogether a different… That's not even an offshot of the old Klan.
JACQUELYN HALL:
This is a completely different thing.
ARTHUR LITTLE:
Yes, yes. I don't have no sympathy for them. I think it's out of place. I don't think we need it. I don't think we need the Communist Party, either. So there you go. It's the misfits on both sides. No, the Klan lived its day, and after that, why, I think it was out of place.