A retired state trooper named Bobbie “Bob” Edwards sent me a message a few weeks ago. He told me that he had read my recent story about the bombing of an African American church in eastern North Carolina in 1966. He said my article had brought back memories. He had seen the church explode, he told me. He had been the only eyewitness.
On the day after the Klan blew up their church, the members of the Cool Springs Free Will Baptist Church in Ernul, N.C., gathered in the churchyard for worship. The date was April 10, 1966. It was Easter morning.
While the Klan’s public rallies and cross burnings brought to mind a county fair or a church revival, the soul of the Ku Klux Klan revealed itself most plainly later in the night, after the children’s games had finished and the burning cross extinguished.
A decade ago, I interviewed an African American woman named Miss Dorcas Carter in New Bern, North Carolina. Born in 1913, Miss Carter grew up to teach in the city’s African American schools for more than 40 years. Renowned for her exceptionally high standards for intellectual achievement and personal character, she was 88 years old when I visited her to learn more about the great New Bern fire of 1922. That fire reduced some of the most prosperous black neighborhoods in the American South to ashes and left nearly 3,000 people homeless, including Miss Carter and her family. By the time that I visited her, she was one of the last living witnesses to the fire.