In the 1920s and 1930s, Superintendent Harvey Enloe, called "Mr. Harv" by his employees, applied a night-watch system on the Lowell Mill Village. Each evening at dusk, Enloe's employed African-American driver would motor him quietly and slowly up and down the streets of the Mill Village. If any cursing, fighting or drunkenness was observed or heard, the offending party would be fired the next day, thus losing their rental house, which also belonged to the mill. Enloe, like other mill superintendents, wanted men and women who cared about their families, community and workplace. It made for a good working environment and good production.
During the summer of 1927, the local Ku Klux Klan sought to put down drunkenness and immoral living in Randolph County and made national headlines with their violent acts. Throughout the summer a number of floggings were induced by the Klan.i The membership included the local "exalted cyclop of the Roanoke den" by the name of F.M. Vann, who was also the appointed pastor of the Lowell Methodist Church on the Mill Village.ii Vann also owned and operated a dry cleaning and tailoring business. It was originally located in the old City Hall building and later moved next door to Griffin & Satterwhite's on Main Street.
Vann and others were not so far removed from the ideology of the Reconstruction period in the South as white-supremacy and anti-federalism held hands. However, the 1920s rise of the KKK was steeped in morality issues, and they placed themselves in a position of "judge and jury." The close of World War I had given way to Social Darwinism, prohibition constraints, and perceived communist activity that challenged morality and the way Americans had always lived. The Randolph County KKK in the summer of 1927 pulled more white men and women from their homes than African-Americans.
Local Klan included other businessmen, such as Henry Bass. Bass was well known and employed many tenant farmers who lived on his land and picked cotton in his fields, just off the old LaFayette Highway. (Where Candlewick is located.) When Bass died, his wife, Dora Bell, cleaned out his chiffarobe and discovered his hidden KKK robe and hood. She claimed she had never known that he was a part of the organization until after his death.iii Nevertheless, the group dragged people from their houses and beds, or lured them to a private location on the assumption of needing help and then stripped, beat and flogged the offender for various alleged immoral acts. Some of the victims were taken to the rural countryside on private land, but a former mill-worker remembers as a small boy lying in bed at night and hearing the screams coming from the 'whipping ground,' which was located on the back side of the Mill Village between North Avenue and Central Avenue.
With the ever-looming threat of losing a job at the mill, Lowell residents were cautious to not ever meddle in anyone else's business—they never knew who might be listening or watching. Therefore, weavers, carders and loom fixers always kept their silence regarding such activity taking place in their section of town. The former weaver said, "You could hear them screaming and hollering and getting tangled up in the barbed wire fence while trying to flee." Even today, he still whispers those words as he tells the story.iv
On December 7, 1923, the Ku Klux Klan held a parade throughout the residential sections of Roanoke and downtown. The group met and formed at the Masonic temple on Chestnut Street. The parade was headed by two horsemen on white steeds. One rider held a large American flag, while the other held up a fiery cross for which the organization is known. The other members followed on foot behind the horsemen. All of the members were dressed in white robes and headgear so that no one was recognized. The dual purpose of headgear also included the intimidation factor. Those walking held placards identifying the purposes of the Klan.
Among the victims of the summer of '27, was Fred Hamilton Inman (born 1905). He was the son of John Henry Inman (born 1879) and Minnie Lee Beam Inman (born 1887) and lived in the Lost Creek area of Cleburne County on Arrington and Copper Mine Road. He worked as a general farmer. In August 1927, the Klan accused Inman of not letting his wife go to visit her sick mother. Late one night, he was lured from his house and taken to a wooded area, tied to a tree, and flogged. Within days, according to the Alabama death records, 22-year-old Inman died.
Likewise, in May of 1927, 60-year-old Lon Royston worked as a night watchman at the Handley Mill. The Klan was told that Royston beat his wife. Late one night, a man that Royston knew went to his house and pretended that he needed some gas from the little store Royston ran nearby. Once he was on his way, the Klan captured him and took him to the Mill Village "whipping ground" for 50 lashings. When Royston denied that he beat his wife, the lashings became more severe. When the trial was held in Wedowee, Royston told Assistant Solicitor Burns Parker that he finally admitted the charge to the Klan but he had lied to them in order to save his life. (It should be stated, that there is absolutely no evidence that the Enloes, the Handley Mill Company, or management, in any way, had anything to do with the Klan or the "whipping ground.")
The July 18 edition of The Helena Independence newspaper in Helena, Montana read, "Frenzy of Flogging in Alabama." Two days later, The Birmingham News headline blared, "Report of Outlawry in Randolph County." The May 18, 1927 issue of The Roanoke Leader stated, "People beaten by masked men in Roanoke on Friday and Saturday evenings."v
(To be continued)
i Feldman, Glenn. (1999). Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama 1915 - 1949. Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, p. 126.
ii Ibid. p. 50, 149 - 150.
iii Name withheld, interview by Rhonda Bailey Baldwin, July, 2009.
iv Name withheld, interview by Rhonda Bailey Baldwin, August, 2008.
v The Roanoke Leader, May 18, 1927, p.1.