James W. "Catfish" Cole

James W. "Catfish" Cole (1924-1967) was a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Rise to Infamy

Cole attended Grainger High School in Kinston, North Carolina, and served in the military during World War II. In 1953 he and his wife, Carolyn, began Southern Bible College in Marion, South Carolina. Cole was ordained into the ministry by the Wayside Baptist Church in Summerfield, North Carolina in 1958. While in Marion, he toured North Carolina and South Carolina as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, "The Free Will Hour". During this period he became an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, eventually becoming Grand Dragon in both North Carolina and South Carolina. Cole's rallies drew as many as 15,000. Cole incited violence against blacks, and after his rallies Klan motorcades often drove through black neighborhoods in order to terrorize the inhabitants (accompanied by the police, who maintained that they accompanied the Klan to keep order).

Klan defeated by the NAACP and NRA

Dr. Perry, a black doctor in Monroe, NC, was presumed to be financing the local chapter of the NAACP, and consequently he received numerous death threats from the Klan. In 1957, under the leadership of Robert F. Williams the local chapter of the NAACP (which not by mere coincidence was also the local chapter of the National Rifle Association) began organizing for self-defence, and guarded Dr. Perry's house in shifts. Many of these men were veterans.

Their preparations paid off on 5 October 1957, when Cole held a rally near Monroe. After the rally, a Klan motorcade headed to Dr. Perry's house, accompanied by shouting and the firing of weapons at houses along the way. When they reached Dr. Perry's house, the defenders returned fire from their fortified positions, and the Klan turned and ran. The city government in Monroe banned Klan motorcades the next day. After this unexpected resistance in Monroe, Cole directed his attention to the Lumbee in Robeson County.

The Lumbee Rout the Klan

Cole is best known for his harassment of the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County, North Carolina and received brief national attention in 1958 for his role in the Battle of Hayes Pond when armed Lumbees attacked a Klan rally and routed the Klansmen. Cole considered the Lumbee to be "mongrel" race, and in 1957 began a campaign of harassment against them, announcing, "There's about 30,000 half-breeds in Robeson County and we are going to have a cross burning and scare them up." Cole gave several speeches inciting whites against the Lumbee and staged a cross burning in St. Pauls, North Carolina at the home of Lumbee woman he claimed was having an affair with a white man.

In the midst of Cole's campaign of terror against the Lumbee, Cole was warned by local law enforcement officials that his public speeches and demonstrations would provoke a reaction from the Lumbee. Undeterred, he called a Klan rally to be held on January 18, 1958, near the small town of Maxton where Cole predicted 5,000 Klansmen would remind the Lumbee of "their place". Realizing that the Lumbee would use this rally to muster together their own show of force, only 50 Klan members arrived to attend the rally. Cole and his fellow Klansmen were attacked by a heavily armed force of over 500 Lumbee Indians. The battle turned to a rout as Cole and the Klansmen fled into the nearby swamps.


Whereas Cole's defeat in Monroe was met with indifference by the press, the Klan's failed confrontation with the Lumbees was highly publicized and led to Cole's arrest and conviction. Cole served a prison sentence (1959-1960) for inciting a riot after which he moved to Portsmouth, Virginia. There, Cole worked as a private detective before returning to Kinston, North Carolina, in 1962, to operate a print shop. Cole began the Helping Hands C.B. Club and was also involved in the Committee for Better Government, a political action group with Ku Klux Klan overtones. In 1966, Cole attempted a takeover of the Klan organization but died less than one year later from injuries sustained in a car accident.


*"James William Cole Papers," "Joyner Library", East Carolina University.
*Tyson, Timothy B. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. 416 pages. University of North Carolina Press (February 1, 2001). ISBN 0-8078-4923-5.
*"Raid by 500 Indians balks North Carolina Klan rally." "New York Times", January 19, 1958: 1.
*"Cole Says His Rights Violated." "Greensboro Daily News", 20 Jan. 1958: A1.
*"The Lumbees Ride Again.” "Greensboro Daily News", 20 Jan. 1958: 4A.
*Morrison, Julian. "Sheriff Seeks Klan Leader's Indictment: Cole Accused of Inciting Riot Involving Indians and Ku Klux." "Greensboro Daily News", 20 Jan. 1958: A1-3.
*"Cole faces indictment; disgusted . . . quits." "Robesonian", 21 Jan. 1958: 1.
*Ryan, Ethel. "Indians who crushed rally were mature tribesmen." "Greensboro Record" 21 Jan. 1958: A1.
*"Judge deplores Klan entry into peaceful Indian land." "Robesonian" 22 Jan. 1958: 1.
*"Redskins whoop Lumbee victory." "Robesonian" 23 Jan. 1958: 1.
*Brown, Dick. "The Indians who routed the ‘Catfish’." "News and Observer" 26 Jan. 1958: Sec. 3, p.1.
*"North Carolina: Indian raid." "Newsweek" 51 (27 Jan. 1958): 27.
*"Bad medicine for the Klan: North Carolina Indians break up Kluxers’ anti-Indian meeting.” "Life" 44 (27 Jan. 1958): 26-28.
*"When Carolina Indians went on the warpath–." "U. S. News and World Report" 44 (31 Jan. 1958): 14.
*"Indians back at peace and the Klan at bay." Life 44 (3 Feb. 1958): 36-36A.
*"Klan Wizard Cole gets 2-year sentence; Titan Martin draws 12 months. Both free on bond; both file appeal." "Robesonian" 14 March 1958: 1.
*"Heap bad Kluxers armed with gun, Indian angry paleface run." "Ebony", 13 (April 1958): 25-26, 28.
*"Lumbee Indians form own news service." "News and Observer" 10 April 1958: 23.
*Craven, Charles. "The Robeson County Indian uprising against the Ku Klux Klan." "South Atlantic Quarterly" 57 (Autumn 1958): 433-42.

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