Buckley Report: Remembering Wyatt Outlaw

Buckley Report

It’s the second Civil War that no one wants to talk about.

“When people began hearing about the activities – particularly the violent ones the Klan were doing to people here – they were so embarrassed they just did not talk about it,” said Walter Boyd an Alamance County attorney and amateur historian.

It’s hard to overstate how miserable conditions were for everyone in the south, including Alamance County, in the years after the Civil War. 

The newly-emancipated enslaved people had been provided little education during their enslavement and were not the target of much relief from the federal government. 

The former Confederate soldiers came back from four years of constant fighting to find their farm fields completely overgrown with weeds, their livestock either dead or stolen and no money to start over again.

“A lot of people starved to death, and there were a lot of suicides in the area. People just didn’t know what to do so they went out in the woods and hanged themselves. It was actually quite common,” Boyd said.

One who found a way was a man named Wyatt Outlaw. 

He had been born a slave in the northern part of Alamance County – the son of a white man and a slave woman. He escaped during the war to fight with the Union Army but returned to his home and settled in Graham where he became both part of the town government and very small predecessor of the police force. 

Both of those positions made him a marked man who was caught between two worlds.

“There’s always got to be a scapegoat, so to speak, so one group blames the other, things happening of a violent nature in response to that. And Wyatt was somewhere in the middle, trying to juggle things,” said Samuel Merritt, Wyatt Outlaw’s great-great grandson who now lives in Raleigh. “He was in a position at a troubled time, and the role that he had to play was unenviable.”

The Ku Klux Klan and a local group of mostly Black residents known as the Union League began a series of violent acts that lead Republican Governor William Holden to send in troops to end it. 

His main officer was a Civil War veteran names George Washington Kirk who used rough tactics to round up several dozen Klansmen in what came to be known as The Kirk-Holden War.

“The Kirk-Holden War greatly upset Alamance and Caswell Counties,” Boyd said. 

Caswell because a state senator from there had been murdered and Gov. Holden wanted to find who did that as well.

Over the years, what happened to Wyatt Outlaw was largely forgotten. 

So were the issues so prevalent then that still exist but often aren’t talked about even though they relate well to our current environment and racial unrest.

Samuel Merritt sees that well.

“A lot of things we’ve not faced. It’s like having some type of illness that’s bad – you just take cough drops, and you have lung cancer. It will quell some of the symptoms, but we don’t deal with the real issues involved, and I think this is a classic example of that type of situation,” Merritt said.

 See what happened to Wyatt Outlaw and Gov. Holden in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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