This Day in NC History: The Lynching of Wyatt Outlaw

On February 26, 1870, Graham town commissioner Wyatt Outlaw, an African American, was lynched by a band of Ku Klux Klansmen.

Outlaw served in the 2nd Regiment United States Colored Cavalry during the Civil War. In 1866, he attended the second freedmen’s convention in Raleigh and soon after organized the Union League, an organization that aimed to promote loyalty to the United States after the Civil War, in Alamance County, as well as a school and church. Outlaw became the target for a Klan mob because he was an effective leader, able to work with both races.

Kirk_Holden_WarWith Klan violence mounting following Outlaw’s murder, Governor William Woods Holden declared a state of insurrection in Alamance and Caswell counties in July 1870. A militia force under George W. Kirk of Tennessee suppressed the Klan in those counties.

Nearly 100 Klan suspects were arrested during the “Kirk-Holden War,” but most were released on technicalities and none were ever tried. White supremacists gained control of the General Assembly in elections that November and impeached Holden for using the militia against the Klan. He was cast out of office in March 1871.

Superior Court judge Albion Tourgee indicted 18 Klansmen for Outlaw’s murder, but an amnesty bill from the legislature resulted in their never going to trial.

This Day in North Carolina History is a production of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources.

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