Mar. 21, 2019

Remembering Wyatt Outlaw #joesmokeblackthoughts

The lynching of Wyatt Outlaw occurred in the courthouse square in Graham, North Carolina in 1870. That horrendous act of terror continues to reverberate across the generations of black families related to ancestor Wyatt Outlaw. The consequences for the State of North Carolina were profound. The public lynching of Wyatt Outlaw leads to the impeachment of that state's governor the first impeachment of a governor in United States history. Wyatt Outlaw’s death, like that of State Sen. J. W. (“Chicken”) Stephens in the basement of the courthouse in Caswell County, North Carolina combined together in precipitating the “Kirk-Holden War" in North Carolina

Carole Troxler, Elon University professor, has examined the historical record concerning Outlaw. Biographical details gleaned from Congressional investigations into the 1870-71 Ku Klux Klan “outrages” and transcript of the impeachment trial of Gov. W. W. Holden are spare. Wyatt Outlaw, likely the offspring of white merchant Chesley Faucett and Jemimah Phillips, a free black. Wyatt Outlaw served in the Union army, in the 2nd Regiment U.S. Colored Cavalry, first in Virginia and then a later posting in Texas along the Rio Grande. On his return home, Outlaw opened a woodworking shop on North Main Street in Graham, North Carolina, repairing wagons, making coffins as well as specialty wood trimwork. (Dr. Troxler believes it likely that Wyatt Outlaw trained with Thomas Day of Caswell County.) 

In 1866 Wyatt Outlaw attended the second freedmen’s convention in the state capitol, Raleigh, North Carolina and soon after that convention Wyatt Outlaw organized the Union League in Alamance, North Carolina, as well as a building and organizing a school and a church. Governor Holden in 1868 appointed Outlaw Town Commissioner in Graham. He ran for that position and was elected to the post the following year. That Graham City Board in 1869 organized an armed night patrol to defend the town against the racist activities of the Ku Klux Klan.

On Feb. 26, 1870, Wyatt Outlaw became the primary target for a Klan mob of 70-100 who chose Outlaw because he was an effective leader and had the ability to work with both blacks and whites. Wyatt Outlaw was seized in his house (over the cries of his young son), Outlaw was hanged from the limb of an elm tree which pointed to the courthouse. His mouth was slashed and a note pinned to his body: “Beware you guilty both white and black.” 

Another target of intimidation left town that night. Governor Holden, acting on the authority of the Shoffner Act, declared Alamance and Caswell to be in a state of insurrection. That declaration set in motion a sequence of events leading to Holden's impeachment and removal in 1871. In 1873 eighteen men were charged with the murder of Wyatt Outlaw but ex-Governor Holden, among others, pleaded for their release and charges were dropped. Albion Tourgee used details from Outlaw’s life in composite characters in his Reconstruction novels.

I'll say a prayer of remembrance today for Brother Wyatt Outlaw for his ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom for Americans of African Descent. We must remember that the enslavement of our ancestors didn't end with the 13th Amendment in many ways it just began again in a more complex form.