What happens when hate comes to town or bubbles to the surface from some buried depth? Historically in America, someone has been hurt — sprayed with fire hoses, taunted by men in peaked hoods, run over by a speeding car.
Some of that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, as “alt-right” white men protested what they said was their diminishing power in America.
In response, demonstrators in Durham on Monday pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier, then repeatedly kicked and spat on it. Across the country, statues commemorating the Confederacy are toppling, usually peacefully.
Is tumult in the cards for Richmond County?
It’s not likely, says Neal Cadieu of the Richmond County Historical Society and past owner of the Daily Journal.
“Richmond County’s been even tempered” historically, Cadieu said Tuesday. He thought a moment before adding: “But times have changed. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen tomorrow.”
Cadieu could remember several occasions during which the people of Richmond County handled themselves with decorum in the face of difficulty:
“Even when Martin Luther King was killed” in 1968, violence never broke out, Cadieu said — but it wasn’t for lack of trying. One Hamlet city official, either expecting or promoting violence, deputizes a slew of white friends.
“It could have turned ugly,” Cadieu said. But then, Sheriff R.W. Goodman called a stop to the shenanigans. Elected in 1950, he had promised black residents that they would be treated fairly. On the heels of the assassination, he visited again, asking for peace. He got it.
“He was ahead of his time,” Cadieu said. “The sheriffs before had been very abusive (to non-white residents). One of the first things he did was go to the black communities and (say) that kind of thing was gone.”
Eventually, Goodman served as sheriff longer than anyone else before or since in North Carolina — more than 40 years.
• In the mid-1970s, when the Ku Klux Klan asked the Rockingham City Council for a permit to rally downtown, the council said no. The Klan went to the County Commission. It said no, too. So the Klan held its rally in a “cornfield out in the country,” Cadieu said. No one bothered them.
During a similar rally in Robeson County, however, crowds of Lumbee Indians chased away rapidly disrobing Klansmen. Cadieu chuckled while telling the story, adding that “I guess Richmond County doesn’t get excited that easily.”
• A few years later, a group of residents asked that a monument to the Confederate soldiers be moved from Harrington Square downtown. The campaign amounted to a number of letters to the local paper — no marches.
“Nothing happened,” Cadieu said. “It’s still there,” as it has been from the 1930s, when the Daughters of the Confederacy erected it. Thanks to legislation passed in 2015, it cannot be moved without permission from the N.C. Historical Commission.
But hate groups are active in other parts of North Carolina, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which uses litigation to advocate for civil rights.
The SPLC lists 31 active hate groups in North Carolina, from black separatists, to white supremacists of all ages, to anti-Muslims. That makes North Carolina 11th in the country for its number of hate groups.
The SPLC also claims an “explosive” rise in the number of hate groups nationwide, fueled in part by demographic projections showing that whites no longer will be in the majority in a little more than 20 years.
Anti-Muslim groups have increased 197 percent since 2015, the SPLC says. In 2016, the country also had 663 anti-government “patriot” groups and 130 active Ku Klux Klan groups. Black-separatist groups numbered at 193 in 2015.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.