Date of Award

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

John Weber

Committee Director

Maura Hametz

Committee Member

Elizabeth Zanoni

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.H47 H56 2015


This thesis examines the influence of Reverend James "Catfish" Cole on the North Carolina Ku Klux Klan (KKK). By focusing on the white supremacy movement, it shows efforts made by white North Carolinians who opposed the Civil Rights Movement. Cole's contributions to the white supremacy movement are unique. As an evangelist and Grand Wizard of the North Carolina Knights of the KKK, Cole believed he was ordained by God through what he called his "divine commission." His divine commission led him to believe he was a prophet leading whites in a fight against civil rights.

A study of Cole's time as Grand Wizard reveals that the North Carolina Civil Rights-era Klans were struggling to find a balance between violeni and nonviolent tactics. This struggle led to infighting and factionalism allowing Cole to stay a key player on the white supremacy circuit from 1956 to 1967 despite colossal embarrassments at the hands of African Americans and Lumbee Indians in Monroe and Maxton, North Carolina. Furthermore, it examines how perceived "progressive" politics from North Carolina politicians allowed the Klan to maintain its status as a viable political option for white working-class men of the Civil Rights-era. Overall, this thesis shows how white resistance to African American civil rights created a netherworld where working-class white men like Cole became powerful and influential leaders among their peers.

Sources include the James "Catfish" Cole personal papers located at East Carolina University, various North Carolina Governors papers, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation {SBI) and State Highway Patrol (SHP) reports, and North Carolina Supreme Court records courtesy of the State Archives of North Carolina. Results of this research show that despite being perceived by historians as ridiculous and unimportant, James "Catfish" Cole played a vital role in growing and maintaining the white supremacy movement in North Carolina.


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