Candidate for NC’s 9th congressional district recalls KKK rally – and Jan. 6 riot

By Sarah Nagem

sarahnagem@borderbelt.org

A candidate for North Carolina’s 9th congressional district is gaining attention for a campaign video in which he recalls the night in 1958 when the Ku Klux Klan planned a rally in Robeson County, where he grew up in a Native American community. 

“That night they rolled in with their cars, their crosses and a single light bulb hooked to a car battery. Fifty klansmen – not a bad turnout on a cold night,” Charles Graham, a Democrat, said in the video. “Problem is, they were surrounded by 400 Lumbee.” 

The video later cuts to images of the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of people protested the results of the presidential election.

“The biggest lie is that America is at war with itself,” Graham said. “That you can’t trust your neighbor, that they want something that’s yours. That you must live in fear of them.” 

Graham, who currently serves in the North Carolina General Assembly, launched his campaign Monday for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 9th district, which spans the state’s southern border from Mecklenburg to Robeson counties. Congressional districts are being redrawn for the 2022 election, however, as North Carolina gained a 14th seat in the U.S. House as a result of its growing population.

There has been plenty of drama for the seat in Washington, which Republicans have held since 1963. Republican Dan Bishop won in a special election in 2019 after allegations of election fraud in the 2018 race.

McCrae Dowless, a Bladen County political operative, was sentenced in September to six months in prison for financial crimes that prosecutors say came to light as a result of a state investigation into ballot harvesting.

Graham’s campaign video had 2 million views by Tuesday morning, a day after it was released. 

In the video, Graham said the Battle at Hayes Pond more than 60 year ago is “a piece of forgotten history worth remembering, especially today.” 

“The people who stood up at Hayes Pond refused to be afraid,” Graham said. “I grew up with their story, and the lesson is, human dignity is a human right.”

In 1958, the KKK tried to “terrorize” Blacks and Lumbees in Robeson County, where Graham said his parents and grandparents were sharecroppers. 

“The klansmen called us mongrels, half breeds, and told (the police chief) the klan would show him how to handle people like us,” Graham said. 

But Graham said members of the Lumbee community – a war veteran, a pregnant woman, a barber – gathered to push back the KKK.

“Hundreds of normal folks deciding to stand together against ignorance and hate,” Graham said. 

One of the Lumbees shot out the light bulb, he said, and the klansmen ran away. 

“By the time the sheriff arrived to fish them out of the swamp, the press was running with the story,” he said. 

Graham said he is running for Congress “because sometimes we’re called upon to make things right, like Hayes Pond in 1958 and America today.”