Hannah Irwin Describes Ku Klux Klan Ride (Late 1860s)

The document that appears below is a fascinating example of the small number of existing narratives by former slaves. The narrator recounts her first-hand experience with the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama during Reconstruction. This narrative probably was transcribed during the WPA projects of the 1930s.

Ku Klux Rides When de Niggers Starts Trouble.

On a high knoll overlooking the winding Chewalla Creek is a little one room shack. Its rusty hinges and weather-beaten boards have seen many a glowing sunset; have stood against many high winds and rains; they have for many years sheltered Aunt Hannah Irwin, ex-slave. Now the old Negro woman is too old and feeble to venture very often from her small home. She lives almost in solitude with her memories of the past, and an occasional visit from one of her old friends who perhaps brings her some fruit or a little money.

“Yas’m, I’ll be pleased to tell you ’bout when I remembers aroun’ de time of de War.” Aunt Hannah sat stolidly in a chair that virtually groaned under her weight; and gave utterance to this sentiment through a large thick mouth, while her gold ear rings shook with every turn of her head, and her dim eyes glowed with memory’s fires. “Dere ain’t much I can tell you, dough,” she went on, “kaze I wuz only twelve years old when de war ended.

“I wuz bawn on Marse Bennett’s plantation near Louisville, Alabama. Ma Mammy’s name wuz Hester an’ my pappy wuz named Sam.

“I remembers one night raght atter de war when de re’struction wuz a-goin’ on. Dere wuz some niggers not far fum our place dat said dey wuz a-goin’ to take some lan’ dat warn’t deres. Dere massa had been kilt in de war an’ warn’t nobody ‘ceptin’ de mistis an’ some chilluns. Well, Honey, dem niggers, mo’ dan one hundred of ’em, commenced a riot an’ a-takin’ things dat don’t belong to ’em. Dat night de white lady she come ober to our place wid a wild look on her face. She tell Massa Bennet, whut dem niggers is up to, an’ wid out sayin’ a word massa Bennett, putt his hat on and lef’ out de do’. Twarn’t long atter dat when some hosses wuz heered down de road, an’ I look out my cabin window which wuz raght by de road, an’ I saw a-comin’ up through de trees a whole pack of ghosties; I thought dey wuz, anyways. Dey wuz all dressed in white, an’ dere hosses wuz white an’ dey galloped faster dan de win’ right past my cabin. Den I heered a nigger say: ‘De Ku Klux is atter somebody.’

“Dem Ku Klux went ober to dat lady’s plantation an’ told dem niggers dat iffen dey ever heered of ’em startin’ anything mo’ dat dye wuz a-goin’ to tie ’em all to trees in de fores’ till dey all died f’um being hongry. Atter dat dese niggers all ‘roun’ Louisville, dey kept mighty quiet.

“No m’am, I don’t believes in no conjurin’. Dese conjure women say dat dey will make my hip well iffen I gives ’em half my rations I gits fum de gover’ment, but I knows dey ain’t nothin’ but low-down, no-count niggers.”

“Speaking of the Ku Klux, Aunt Hannah. Were you afraid of them?”

“Naw’m, I warn’t afeered of no Ku Klux. At fu’st I though dat dey was ghosties and den I wuz afeered of ’em, but atter I found out dat Massa Bennett wuz one of dem things, I wuz always proud of ’em.”

“Well, what about the Yankees?” She was asked. “Did you ever see any Yankees; and what did you think of the ones that came through your place? Were you glad that they set you free?”

“I suppose dem Yankees wuz all right in dere place,” she continued, “but dey neber belong in de South. Why, Miss, on of ’em axe me what wuz dem white flowers in de fiel? You’d think dat a gentmen wid all dem decorations on hisself woulda knowed a fiel’ of cotton. An’ as for dey a-settin’ me free! Miss, us niggers on de Bennett place was free as soon as we wuz bawn. I always been free.”

Alabama

Irwin, Hannah.

Gerta Courc, John Morgan Smith.

Library of Congress, Manuscript Division