logo of university of south carolina

Thomas L. Hamilton letter

Letter, 12 July 1952, from Thomas L. Hamilton, Imperial Wizard of the Association of Carolina Klans, to the trustees of Batesburg-Leesville High School protests their decision to let a "Negro ball team" use the school recreation field for a 4 July sporting event. School trustees had further aroused Hamilton's ire by denying the Klan permission to hold a "Public Speaking" on the same field. Copies of the letter went to all the trustees and to the Twin City News. (The newspaper ignored it.)

As head of a Klan organization active in both Carolinas, Hamilton had masterminded a two-year reign of terror in the Whiteville and Tabor City area of North Carolina and the Conway, Myrtle Beach, and Dillon area of South Carolina. A former Atlanta wholesale grocer, he had been a protege of Georgia Klan boss Dr. Samuel Green and in 1948 moved to Leesville and bought an impressive white-columned house. Soon, he abandoned the grocery business for full-time Klan work. At the height of his notoriety, he posed with robed and masked associates near Florence for a full-page color photograph which appeared in the 31 March 1952 issue of Life magazine.

The letter is written on official Klan stationery. Similar letterheads were used to threaten coastal Carolina residents who had incurred the Klan's displeasure. Klansmen abducted and flogged both whites and blacks accused of immorality, drunkenness, wife-beating, violations of Sunday blue laws, or consorting with members of the other race.

Federal authorities fined Hamilton for sending defamatory messages through the mail, and state authorities prosecuted him for driving through Conway with a battery-operated electric cross on his car. (It violated a state law against cross-burning.) But in February 1952, Hamilton's followers brought down the full force of the U.S. Justice Department when they abducted a white North Carolina couple and flogged them in South Carolina. By transporting kidnap victims across a state line, they had violated the Lindbergh Law.

Just one week after Hamilton sent his letter to the Batesburg-Leesville school board, a Columbus County, N.C., grand jury indicted him. Hamilton plead guilty on two counts of conspiracy to assault and on 31 July he and sixty-two other Klansmen were sentenced in one of North Carolina's largest mass trials. Hamilton received the maximum sentence of four years. The Greensboro papers announced the downfall of the "Tarheel Fuehrer of the meat counter and vegetable bins."

| 1997 Manuscripts Collections | 1997 USCS Program Menu | South Caroliniana Library |

This page copyright 1996-97, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.
URL http://www.sc.edu/library/socar/uscs/1997/hamilt97.html