Showdown: Camp Summerlane’s trial by fire (Part 3)

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Cruel Summer is a four-part series. To view key documents, photos and other materials, as well as subsequent installments (as they’re published), visit mountainx.com/cruelsummer.

Robin Ludwig’s first experiences in the South were something close to magical. The 14-year-old New Yorker started summer vacation at the brand-new Camp Summerlane in the first week of July 1963.

To get there, he’d hopped on a bus that joined a caravan of campers from up north who were headed for Western North Carolina. The first day of the trip, “We drove and drove, and somewhere in Virginia, we pulled over to the side of the road in this incredible grove of giant pine trees,” Ludwig recalls. “There were fireflies everywhere, and we just spread out our sleeping bags and camped out. When we woke up in the morning, we found out we were in the middle of a boysenberry thicket, so we got to eat boysenberries for breakfast. We were all little teenagers from heavy, urban places … and suddenly, we were turned into nature.”

That sense of wonder continued as the caravan reached Camp Summerlane, a 165-acre retreat a few miles outside Rosman, a mountain town southwest of Brevard. “It was someplace else,” he says. “We figured we were in the middle of a bluegrass song.” Along with the rest of the 50-some campers, Ludwig planned to stay for the remainder of the summer.

The first few days, things went pretty well. “We had all the usual camp stuff,” remembers Tomm Friend, then a 15-year-old camper. During the day, “we had an archery range, and canoes and field trips.” At night, “there was a lot of music,” as camp staffers pulled out guitars, banjos and conga drums, playing while others danced.

Still, he and other campers found Summerlane’s program lacking in some respects. Rules and order were intentionally in short supply—the camp had been designed so that the kids would have almost as much say as the adults in how things were done. Friend liked the approach in theory, but found the “general meetings,” where everyone from the youngest camper to the oldest instructor debated and voted on what to do, tedious. Peter Orris, a 17-year-old from New York City who was already active in the civil-rights movement, didn’t care for the arrangement at all.

“It was much too laissez-faire,” he says. “They wanted all the kids and counselors to participate in the decision-making, which was fine, but I was unhappy with the discipline in the camp. The younger kids were staying up late at night doing one thing or another, and there was very little direction and leadership.”

Orris didn’t have much time to take stock of the situation: He was only passing through, en route to a Summerlane side project in South Carolina, where he would pick peaches with migrant laborers and explore options for helping them. But he thought the camp would be fine. “It was rustic, of course,” he recalls, yet “the area of North Carolina was beautiful, and the camp had all the resources that one would want in a summer camp.”

Rumors and rage

Photo illustration by Laura Ladendorf from an N.C. Highway Patrol photo of Summerlane

But the setting quickly turned from hospitable to hostile, as rumors of black campers at Summerlane swirled around Rosman. In a report in The Realist magazine, camp Director George von Hilsheimer later noted the main themes that surfaced in the local chatter: that the camp was hiding black families in its secluded cabins; that in the fall, it would force the integration of all-white Rosman High School.

None of that was true. “We didn’t have any black people—that’s the amazing thing,” von Hilsheimer says today. “Nobody [at Summerlane] was black.” He had hoped to set up a camp with children of various races, but it didn’t quite work out that way. “I advertised it as an integrated school and camp,” he explains. “But it was 1963, and even in New York City,” where he was based at the time, “you didn’t get many blacks coming voluntarily to [predominantly] white camps.”

Two mixed-raced sisters did sign up, offering Summerlane just a tint of color. “There were two girls from New York City who were creamy in terms of their complexion but who were legally, in the South, black,” says von Hilsheimer.

No one seemed to notice, however. “There was some discussion among the campers that there was one or another person of mixed background, but nobody looked African-American,” remembers Orris. (“Having been involved in the civil-rights movement,” he adds, “I was reasonably disappointed when I arrived to find that this camp appeared to be entirely white.”)

But the facts concerning Summerlane’s demographics didn’t matter. The Rosman rumor mill was in high gear, fueled by a widely disseminated issue of The Herald of Freedom, a far-right political newsletter published by Frank Capell of Staten Island, N.Y. Distributed at a Rosman Chamber of Commerce meeting, the entire issue was devoted to spelling out the supposed sins of Summerlane staffers, who were said to be atheists, communist sympathizers, race-mixers, homosexuals etc. Capell implored “the decent citizens of Rosman” to “insist on bringing such activities to an end.”

At that point, the talk among the locals heated up rapidly, Rosman resident Brenda Morgan remembers. “People were going to run [Summerlane] out of town,” says Morgan, who was 18 at the time. “That was the big talk: You know, ‘We’re just going to go out there and run these people out. We’re not going to stand for this in our quiet little mountain community.’”

Things quickly escalated. The Chamber meeting took place on a Tuesday night. The next day—Wednesday, July 10—a group of young men from the area amassed near the camp’s entrance.

“They stopped some of our cars as we’d go in and out,” says von Hilsheimer. Peering into the vehicles, the locals would ask if there were any black campers on board. At one point, he remembers, they fixated on one of the mixed-raced girls. “They confronted the girl, nose-to-nose in the bus. ‘Ain’t you black, girl?’ they said—that kind of thing. It was horrifying. Fortunately, she just looked at them as if they were crazy,” and the inquisitors backed off.

The blasted bus: The camp bus that Summerlane staff were driving when the camp’s exit was blocked by a mob, which fired through the front window while Elliot Fried, crouched behind the wheel, tried to back away. Courtesy Asheville Citizen-Times/Citizen-Times.com

That night, however, dozens of cars flooded the public road that girded the camp. “They ran the cars very slowly up and down the road, almost like a candlelit ceremony,” Friend remembers. But was it merely local curiosity? A warning? A threat? No one at Summerlane seemed to know.

The next day—Thursday, July 11—the camp tried to go about its business as usual. Campers and counselors had planned to paddle the nearby French Broad River from Rosman to Brevard. Soon after they hit the water, however, a group of local teenagers began stoning them from the riverbank.

Elliot Fried, a 19-year-old counselor from California, was with the kids in the canoes. “We were ambushed by some of the locals, who were onshore and who did a fairly good job of throwing as many rocks at us in the boats as possible, hitting some of the students,” he remembers. “There’s really nothing we could have done at that point, except just row like hell to get out of there, and that was what we did.

“It was clearly a foreshadowing of things to come,” says Fried—a strong sign that “people in the community were not particularly happy with us.”

Fire on the water

The news of the stoning sent Summerlane director von Hilsheimer reeling. Grabbing a gun or two—the camp had a few—he enlisted a staffer to head down the road with him and talk to Rosman Mayor Austin Hogsed.

In a detailed account later published in The Realist, von Hilsheimer recounted what happened next. “Hogsed allowed as how he couldn’t do anything while the jeering group of teenagers responsible smirked across the street,” he wrote. Soon after, Transylvania County sheriff’s deputies arrived and “ordered us back to camp, confiscated a shotgun and threatened us for disturbing peaceable folk.”

Around 6 p.m., von Hilsheimer wrote, “a nice chap” from Brevard paid a visit to Summerlane, telling the camp “that thousands of The Herald of Freedom had been distributed and that there probably would be trouble.” After taking note of the risks, however, the staff decided to proceed with that night’s special program.

A white-haired older man with a handlebar mustache, Les Heath—aka “The Snake Man”—held center stage. A noted Southern snake expert, he displayed plenty of live specimens and talked about the good ones and the bad ones—and what to do if you were bitten by one of the latter.

Near the end of Heath’s presentation, there was new bad news: The procession of cars had returned, and someone was making a suspicious ruckus on Summerlane’s periphery.

“It was a dead night, no moon,” von Hilsheimer remembers. A couple of people from the camp ventured out to check on things. With their flashlights, they spotted a male neighbor who was in his 20s. He’d been friendly before, but no longer. According to von Hilsheimer, the man knocked down the Summerlaners, who promptly fled. One of them hid nearby and watched while the local man poured gasoline on the ground and set it aflame. “Luckily it was stamped out,” von Hilsheimer wrote.

The state steps in: The North Carolina Highway Patrol kept Gov. Terry Sandford informed about events at Summerlane. Above, the first page of a report on the attack, passing on the observations of Lt. E.C. Guy, who stayed up all night protecting the camp. Click here to view the Summerlane documents

Still, Summerlane’s luck was running out. The camp had two sections: the main camp, where everyone was gathered at the time, and the “work camp,” a clearing a quarter-mile away where there was a pond and a barn with a few horses in it. About 9:30 p.m., word came that the pond was on fire: It had been doused with gasoline and set aflame.

Summerlane staffer Bruce Grund, a 34-year-old school psychologist who’d been through basic military training, volunteered to go guard the work camp. He took a rifle and one of his two sizable German shepherds with him.

On the way, Grund encountered “Snake Man” Les Heath, who was about to leave the camp. “I went up to him and I said: ‘Listen, you’ve got to call the state police and tell them that we are here, and we are isolated, and we are being threatened. This is an emergency.’”

Heath agreed to sound the alarm. About 40 local men were sitting on a hill across the road from the main camp, toting guns and yelling threats, but they let Heath leave. Meanwhile, Grund sidled off to the work camp.

Arriving there, he crouched in the woods. Before long, he recalls, “Two cars drive up, with five or six guys in each car. I walked up to the cars, and one of the drivers said to me, ‘What are you doin’ here, rubber-belly?’” Funny as that might sound today, Grund says, it was nothing to laugh about at the time.

“Just don’t get out of the car,” Grund said, raising his rifle and backing into the woods. “They stayed there five or 10 minutes, but didn’t get out of the cars. Even though I was vastly outnumbered, they saw that I had the rifle and had the dog.”

But the intruders weren’t done. “They drove about 100 yards or so away, and they set fire to one of the buildings. Then I had a decision to make: Do I start to shoot these guys, or what? I thought, ‘I really don’t want to kill anybody if I don’t have to,’ so I didn’t fire.”

The glow of the fire at the work camp caught the attention of the increasingly frightened Summerlane residents. Then, around 11 p.m., the small lake near the camp’s main buildings also burst into flames—the attackers had poured gas on it and ignited it too.

The lake burned for only a few minutes, but Summerlane staffer George Hall quickly decided to seize the occasion to make a gesture of defiance: “I got into one of the little boats and paddled next to the reeds that were still burning. Then I roasted some marshmallows.” His fellow staffers thought it a brazen move, but the attackers had momentarily melted away, and they let Hall do his thing.

Rescue attempts

Shortly thereafter, Les Heath returned to Summerlane, reporting that he’d called the state police from a phone in Rosman and that they’d be on their way. Heath brought with him “a delegate from the mob,” as von Hilsheimer put it—a stout young man wearing a Rosman High School T-shirt. The visitor was there “to see how many Negroes there are,” the camp director wrote. Staffers escorted the youth through Summerlane’s cabins, and, seemingly satisfied, he left.

About 11:30 p.m., however, shots were heard from the direction of the work camp, where the gymnasium was burning to the ground. Three staffers decided to drive the short distance to the site to check on both the facilities and Grund, whom they hadn’t heard from in hours. Fried drove one of the camp buses—a medium-sized, white Chevrolet school bus—with Hall and fellow counselor Michael Goldblatt on board.

Driving down the main camp’s long, narrow, dirt driveway, the trio found a group of 20 or so men—some of them armed—blocking the road out, Fried recalls. “So I stopped the bus, and George and Michael decided to get out and talk to these people. I sat behind the wheel with the engine running.”

But the local men were in no mood for talking. “George and Michael were out a very brief period of time when people in the crowd started swinging at them. They both did the best job they could to defend themselves against the crowd, but people were surrounding them and punching them from all angles. There really was no way for them to successfully defend themselves. And I thought the best thing for me to do, rather than to get out of the bus and also be overwhelmed, was to go back to camp and get help. So I closed the bus door and started backing up.”

The vehicle crawled into reverse as part of the crowd followed. “I remember people trying to get into the bus through the door, but fortunately the mechanism gave me enough leverage to keep the door shut,” Fried says.

Then, “I started noticing strange sounds—little buzzing sounds were zipping past me. I thought that maybe there are some bees on the bus, until I realized, ‘No, they’re shooting at me, and these are rounds going past my head.’ Then I could see the bullet holes in the windshield.

“I tried my best to duck and still back the bus up, and people were still trying to get into the bus. I don’t know how far I got—50, 60 yards?—before I went off the edge of the road and the bus partially turned over.”

Shaken but uninjured, Fried was able to scamper out of the bus, hightail it back to camp and report what had happened. Hall and Goldblatt, meanwhile, were able to escape on foot when the crowd went after the bus. Running down the driveway toward the commotion, von Hilsheimer encountered both men, Hall with a gash in his back and blood streaming from above his eye, and a “badly battered” Goldblatt. It looked like the attackers “had tried out his head for soccer,” the camp director wrote.

The mob retreated after blasting the bus, and staffers took another vehicle to the work camp, where they were able to safely retrieve Grund. Shortly after the quick but tense drive back, Transylvania County Sheriff Carter McCall arrived at Summerlane.

It was about 12:30 a.m. McCall told von Hilsheimer that there were maybe 1,000 armed men in the woods, the camp director recounted later.

Briefing reporters the next day, however, a Highway Patrol captain cited a lower figure, placing the number of locals amassed near the camp at between 400 and 500. The vast majority were spectators; an estimated 40 men actually participated in the attack. “We are informed that the Sheriff was called upon for assistance,” a Highway Patrol report informed the governor. “However, apparently little, if anything, was done on his part as he is from the Rosman Community and is in sympathy with the local population.”

Summerlane’s savior

Around 1 a.m., a Highway Patrol officer from Asheville, Lt. E.C. Guy, appeared at the camp, saying that a few more officers were on their way. Guy asked Grund to hand over his rifle. “He said, ‘You know, you can’t be carrying this,’” Grund remembers. “But within an hour, he gave it back to me, because he was scared of these guys too.” By that point, “Everybody was terrified,” says von Hilsheimer.

With mobs still milling about the margins of the camp, Guy and the Summerlane staffers decided it was too dangerous to attempt a mass departure, opting to hole up at least until dawn. The camp’s few weapons—about five firearms and a couple of machetes—were passed out to staffers and two of the teenage campers.

One of them was 14-year-old Karen Messinger of New Jersey. “The adults were starting to really freak out,” she recalls. “They knew that trouble was coming, and they asked if any of us had any experience with guns. I had been to a camp where we had riflery, so I said, ‘Sure, I do,’ and they handed me a rifle.” Her assignment: to sit on the porch of the cabin where the youngest campers were gathered, while the other armed Summerlaners spread out in the woods around the camp.

“We were up all night,” Messinger remembers, hearing sporadic gunfire and shouts in the dark. “We were real scared. The whole time that all this chaos was going on, there was a huge part of me that just didn’t believe it was going on, like I wasn’t taking it in. … It was surreal.”

Close by, Lt. Guy held his position for the remainder of the night, perched in a prominent spot above the camp’s entrance with a high-powered rifle and a canteen of coffee. Guy “was everything you’d dream about and pray to have in a cop,” von Hilsheimer says. “He was just splendid.”

Several campers say they believe the officer may well have saved the camp that night. “There was no replacing him,” says Friend. “We knew that if these people came in, it was going to be bad. And they would have come, if it wasn’t for that highway patrolman. … He made it pretty clear that if they rushed the camp, it was going to be bad news for somebody.”

While most of the campers huddled in centrally located cabins, Friend chose to roam a bit. He talked to Lt. Guy, asking why the officer was risking his life to help them. Guy’s reply: “Because if they can do this to your land, they can do it to mine.”

As dawn approached, the mobs receded. Another patrolman showed up to relieve Guy, but he took a very different approach. Calling the new officer “an officious asshole,” von Hilsheimer says he was “rigid, pompous and pretty nasty to us.” Still, he made the camp a welcome offer: If they decided to leave—and he thought that a good idea—the Highway Patrol would gladly provide an armed escort to the state line.

The sleepless staff and campers had had enough, and most believed the officer when he warned that more trouble was probably in the offing if they stayed. “We were all agreed that we could not use the kids as weapons in a war against lawlessness and segregation,” von Hilshimer later explained. Accordingly, “We made a determination that we should take the offer of an escort and get the heck out.”

By 7 a.m. on Friday, July 12, the decision was made: A week after opening, Camp Summerlane would evacuate.

Next week, Cruel Summer part four: “Smoked Out: Camp Summerlane’s Conflicted History.” To view key documents, photos and other materials as the story unfolds, visit http://mountainx.com/article/35433/Cruel-Summer-The-attack-on-Camp-Summerlane-a-four-part-story

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

23 thoughts on “Showdown: Camp Summerlane’s trial by fire (Part 3)

  1. Stephen Jones

    I didn’t know Karen Messenger back in the early days. She had departed the Summerlane operation before I arrived in early 1964.

    She is a friend now via an alumni group we have and I’d like to commend her here for being, at age 14, an enormously courageous person for standing guard over the little kids during what must have been the quite terrifying ordeal of being under attack by these crazed xenophobic, bigoted, cowardly bullies.

    Staffers Goldblatt and Hall deserve praise too for putting their own safety on the line with their standing up to the thugs.

  2. Ivin

    This is very interesting, the first time I have heard the story from the opposite side…I was there on the night and the next day when they left, only out of curosity…I lived in Rosman. and read the papers of the freedom thing..But there was so many rumors, I did not know what to believe,,,But I do believe that a lot of it stemmed from jealousy or at least from the younger men..One thing about mountain people, if you come into their area..it is best to make friends with them…Oh, what happen to the lady that was going to ride a horse througth Rosman nude…that I was looking forward to….

  3. Jane Johnstone

    Mr.Elliston, I think you’re doing a fine job of writing this series. I look forward to part 4. Thank you.

    I’m curious about where George von Hilsheimer was when the camp came under attack? There’s no mention of him being out on patrol or guarding kids or anything. I agree with Scott that he showed poor judgement in setting up his camp in Rosman.

    Ivin, I find it very sad that “only curiousity” allowed you to stand idly by and watch as your townsfolk terrorized a camp of young adults and children. Was that your idea of entertainment?

  4. Ivin

    The problem was caused mainly by this paper that was published, I remember reading it…The next day every majority new’s paper in the South carried that story, exagrated out of sight..it said the local people came in the hundreds carrying pitch froks, and axes and guns..all lies..I would say theere was no more than 20 local rednecks involved..I could just about name the one’s that caused the trouble..there was other things..I think Jealousy played a part, there was rumors of girls nude swimming..and they wanted to be involved..as I stated before, I did not know all this had even happened..when we got there, we saw harly anything and everything quite..but if there had of been, trying to do anything would have been next to commiting suscide..the way the paper describbed it, it was suppose to be a cummist organization..and that was a bad thing among a bunch of rednecks Southerns..at that time..

  5. Ivin

    Just another commit on the paper by the Hearld of Freedom or something like that, decadcated to fighting communism..right or wrong..I do not know..the paper said in round and about words..that they would pick on poor or migrant childern that never had much in life and try to get them to join them..and make them feel a part of the group and then they would slowly start teaching them comminism…then there was a rumor that they went to the bean fields where a lot of migrant workers and very poor kids work and tried to get them to join them…again I do not know this for fact…I do know that if they had not of left when they did, there would have been some serious trouble…as I said I knew most of the trouble makers and they relish in this sort of stuff..but that does not include me and lot’s of people in Rosman, I am more open minded than that…and I learned long ago not to believe News papers.. my two cents worth…

  6. Stephen Jones

    Ivin,

    I surely take your point that it probably would have been ‘suicidal’ for you, or any other single person there, to try to stop the violent marauders. Bullies are pretty much the same everywhere, after all. Reason and common sense rarely deter them, they are not usually able to admit they’re wrong about anything, and their ignorance and cowardice combine to make it just as likely they’ll turn their violence on anyone who challenges them if they feel they can beat him, even if that person has been a close friend or neighbor. I certainly don’t fault you personally for not forcefully stepping up and trying to stop these pathetic thugs.

    Here’s something I find curious though. If, as has been suggested by several people who’ve commented on this story, this was about ‘outsiders’ and a general suspicion of them typical to small communities, and that there’s a “Northerner/Southerner” angle involved as well, why is it that so many people apparently chose to believe the unsubstantiated charges of a radical New Yorker, (convicted war profiteer Frank Capell with his idiotic ‘Herald of Freedom” rag), rather than believing the words and stated intentions of bona fide southerners like the Reverend von Hilsheimer, his wife, and several of the other staff at the camp? This to me is really quite a mystery. Good southern Christians attacking children at a camp run by a southern Baptist preacher based on the incendiary words of a Staten Island NY felon convicted of war profiteering. I don’t get it.

    One other question I have that maybe some of the folks reading this story who were in Rosman back then might be able to comment on. I’m told by a couple of former campers that there was a sign prominently displayed in or around Rosman that said, basically; “We Ain’t Had No Niggers Here For 50 Years”. Anyone remember such a sign? Anyone have a photo of a sign like this?

  7. Jane Johnstone

    Ivin, I agree that to try to stand up to the rednecks might have been suicidal, but standing around and watching was the same as being cheerleaders. The very large group of onlookers was putting their stamp of approval to the whole horrifying ordeal and the campers may not have been able to distinguish between the active participants and you and the other bystanders. A mob is a mob.

    If you and the other onlookers had all stayed home, the agitators might not have gotten so worked up, but as it is I’m sure they thought they had the support of every one of you.

  8. Ivin

    Jane, apparently you have not read all my committ’s or understood them..I think you had rather argue than understand…well you want get one from me…

  9. john weeks

    Ah, jeez…Y’all can’t seriously be giving Ivin a hard time 45 years later?
    You’re not from around here, are ya?
    You must have been asleep back then, or more likely not born, to assume that standing up to your whole community on an issue like “nekkid, horseback ridin’, negroe lovin’, communists” in your midst was an option for Ivin.

    And giving someone who (gasp) has also lived through the intervening 45 years NO credit for knowing and understanding the finer points of what happened that night is your first, biggest, and most common mistake.

    I assume Ivin has also learned enough about how the world REALLY works to not get into a pissing match with someone who wasn’t there..

  10. Jon Elliston

    Jane, you wrote:

    I’m curious about where George von Hilsheimer was when the camp came under attack? There’s no mention of him being out on patrol or guarding kids or anything.

    I’m sorry the story is unclear on that point. Space limitations prohibited me from describing what all of the campers and staffers were doing that night. Furthermore, since I’d detailed so much of Summerlane director von Hilsheimer’s role in previous installments, I didn’t elaborate on his role the night of the attack. Instead, I focused on what some of the other staffers and campers were up to.

    In researching the story, however, I did learn a lot about how von Hilsheimer spent that night. He, like several other staffers, was armed with a gun and making the rounds, trying to keep people safe and calm. In addition to looking out for the camp as a whole, he had his wife and 1-year-old son to look out for. And in addition to patrolling, he held several meetings about what to do and talked to law officers and other visitors who were trying to resolve the situation. In short, he appears to have been as actively involved in the events that night as were the others on Summerlane’s staff — at the same time word was spreading that some of the attackers wanted him, in particular, dead.

  11. Stephen Jones

    Mr. Weeks, you seem quite exercised about your view that Jane Johnstone doesn’t understand that standing up against the actors in this attack on the people at Camp Summerlane was not an option for Ivin. But her opening sentence in her second comment seems to me to acknowledge precisely that, so I’m not sure from where you’ve drawn your own conclusion about this.

    Ivin, like I said in my comment, and like Jane said too, it’s obvious that had you tried actively to stop the thugs from doing their thing it would have likely been disastrous for you personally. It does seem to me that Jane’s point about the cheerleading effect onlookers can have when things like this take place is a valid one though. Bullies the world over take sustenance from whatever crowds assemble to watch them perform, whether it’s the spectators watching the Taliban hang women from the goal cage in the soccer stadium in Kabul, or the mobs attracted to the lynchings of Negroes in the old South and elsewhere. Mind you I’m not equating what occurred at Rosman with these sorts of murderous crimes, but merely making the point that, generally, the larger the non-confrontational crowd attracted by perpetrators like this, the more legitimacy they accord themselves for their acts, and often the more it encourages them to perform with even more vigor lest they be seen as weak. Typically even the run-of-the-mill schoolyard bully, if he thinks he has a sympathetic crowd, becomes more violent as part of his own hapless desire to be seen as strong and tough in front of his peers.

    Mr. Weeks, even though I’m not from around those parts, I believe these views regarding spectators as cheerleaders are valid and that they’d apply just as well in Rosman and Asheville as they apply here in Florida or in New York or anywhere else. Whether its segregationist hill country bigotry, Islamic extremism in the Middle East, the fascist sadism of military juntas in South America or the murderous Puritanism of early American New England, the actors in these dramas feed off the crowds they attract. And it’s not a function of having to be “from around there” to understand it. IMHO

  12. Ivin

    Steven, I lived in Rosman for 33 years, and I never saw a sign like that..but that is not to say someone could have put one up near the camp..there was at that time no black people in Rosman, along about early 1910 or close a Joe Silverstein came to Rosman and established the Glouster lumber company, and he bulit a company store, tannery, sawmill, and extract plant..I never knew for sure if this was true or not, but I always heard that he went to Brevard and brought in black people to work, because they worked cheaper…and the people ran them out of town, I don’t dought that being true…but there was a rumor that they burned a black man in the extract furnace..that I know was just a rumor put out just to frighten the black people..I don’t think any black people wanted to move in..there was no work…once glouster lumber company shut down there was nothing in Rosman for them to do
    anyway…I worked at Olin Mathesion in Pisgah forest, and they owened cabins in the woods and we used to book them for parties, and the black people used to go with us and we all had a really good time and never any problems..I always found them a lot of fun to work with and when I came to Australia, I really missed working with them…

  13. Ivin

    Jane, I am trying to figure out what onlookers you are talking about we drove by, between 12 Am
    and 1 Am…and there was no one to be seen…we had heard there was a fight and someone had burned the gymnasium, the crowd they are claiming was there, would probably been bigger than the population of Rosman at that time..the ones that was causing the trouble mainly lived right there on the frozen creek road, moonshiner’s and bullies, and real rough necks…they were the main instipuators…but after going to this web site I am inclined to believe the hearld of freedom…www.paulkrassner.com/

  14. Ben

    Jon,
    Why did Frank Capell decide to devote an entire issue to the Summerlane camp? Did he learn of the camp and von Hilsheimer through reading The Realist in New York or did he have some sort of personal vendetta against von Hilsheimer besides the general hatred of all things he deemed “communist” and “degenerate?”
    What ever happened to Capell?
    This is an amazing story. Thanks for telling it in detail and great writing!

  15. Jon Elliston

    Thanks, Ben.

    You ask a good question about why Capell devoted a special issue to Summerlane. He is deceased, and no one surviving seems to know for sure. It would appear, though, that in his crusade to expose and sabotage left-leaning endeavors of all sorts, he saw quite an opportunity to create a firestorm by drawing attention to some of the camp’s policies and staff members.

    As for what happened to him, he continued to publish his newsletter into the 1970s, writing various conspiracy-theory books: one suggested that Communists had killed Marilyn Monroe; another posited that Henry Kissenger was a Soviet agent. Capell was found guilty of libeling some of his targets, and generally faded further and further out on the right-wing fringe.

    He also had a bit part in the Kennedy-assassination investigation, after The Herald of Freedom printed some unsubstantiated rumors about Lee Harvey Oswald having been seen in Havana before the assassination.

  16. john weeks

    Joe, My comment was directed at Jane, not you. But seeing as how you didn’t understand me, I’ll retrace my steps.
    The bit about “not from around here” was metaphorical. It was meant to point up how some people have a hard time distinguishing between how things SHOULD work from how things DO work.
    Growing up in the south has taught me one thing, if it’s taught me anything.
    It’s taught me to forgive people for not only doing nothing to stop racial injustice, but to forgive them for engaging in it.
    When I was a kid, and when most southerners were kids during and before those times, it was a rare soul could be found who would rally round any flag other than not upsetting the apple cart.
    Fact is, For Ivin to stand up to his townfolk (or maybe they were other town’sfolk) and beg them to disperse would’ve been damn near impossible.
    I don’t use the word impossible lightly; I mean to tell you the issues we faced until fairly recent times were insurmountable.
    I know more than a few southerners who are damn glad blacks finally stood up for themselves. There sure weren’t very many others who were going to do it for them.
    What I’m trying to say is we were all terribly guilty of complicity, even if we didn’t actively participate.

    To opine that we should’ve DONE something is miserably revisionist and fairly unproductive.

    Ivin is wise to not get into a tussle with anyone who has the audacity to take issue with something that happened a lifetime ago. Nothing can be done about that night and Ivin will probably tell you that if he could travel back in time he would probably do just the same as he did back then.

    THAT’S how big the deal was back then, and everybody knew it!

  17. Cletis Moore

    This is a real interesting story. Even the letters people are writing are interesting. This one is a real humdinger.

    “I know more than a few southerners who are damn glad blacks finally stood up for themselves.”

    I guess some things don’t change all that much. It’s good for blacks to stand up for themselves but heaven forbid a white man stand up against race hatred.

  18. Ivin

    I have written e-mail to my cousin who was living in Rosman, he was not there with the other five thousand…but he heard about it…I am slso talking to two more people that was there..just to refresh my memory…In these days of lies, half truths, and things taken out of content…it would be so enlightening to just see the real truth printed for just once..as for stepping in and breaking it up..that is what the law is for, but by the time I arrived there at around 12:30 am it was all over..the whole five thousand had gone home…but of course the trouble makers would have returned the next night…and it would not have mattered if Frank Capell had written the paper or not, they certainly would never have survived in that nieghbor hood..simply because of their attitude toward the local people..

  19. joeb

    John Weeks thanks for your comments. I was going to try and say the same things you did but you do it very well.
    Jon: Thanks for your articles. They are so well written and fair to both sides I am amazed at how well you have done.
    Ivin: Thank you for your on site observations.It is really nice to read something from someone who was really there and who can tell us what really happened and not what “should” have happened.
    This story has to be understood in the context of other events going on in the South at that time. Those were the days of freedom riders and sit ins and civil rights workers coming in to the south to forcefully integrate it.
    In October of 1962 James Meredith had been forcefully enrolled by the federal government at Ole Miss. Riots broke out. 2 people were killed. US Marshalls and the US Army had to be called in to restore order. The students at Ole Miss attacked the US Marshals who were holed up in the Lyceum building. One student drove a bull dozer into the front door of the Lyceum almost breaking through. This was before the Army arrived. Riots and chaos raged all night.
    As someone who was living in Mississippi at that time and in college I can tell you it was a dangerous place to be. It was not a cool place to be if you were a Yankee or black. And if you were a white and did not agree with Gov. Barnett and the white citizens council you kept your mouth shut or put your life in peril. Armed rednecks paraded through the streets in open convertible cars recruiting others to go fight the US marshalls and the US Army at Ole Miss.
    I also lived through the antiwar demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s in DC. It was one thing to be against the war and another thing to confront armed police who issued the following orders,”You have 3 minutes to get off the streets or you will be arrested”.
    This was at night with most stores closed and others unwilling to open their doors. Confronting armed soldiers led to the killing of students at Kent State. The question was then in both the civil rights era and the Vietnam protests, “Are you willing to die for what you believe in?” Some gave their lives for what they believed in. Others marched and protested. And were often beaten with billy clubs. Others remained silent or decided to leave the area.
    I was in Miss. at the beginning of the summer of 1964. I decided what I wanted to do was get the hell out of the place and go to NYC and spend the summer in Europe. I did so. Somewhere in Italy I read about the killing of the 3 civil rights workers near Philadelphia,Mississippi. I am from that area. I thought at the time that if I had been there I might have warned those 3 civil rights workers how dangerous it was doing what they were doing. Do you think they would have listened to me? No I don’t think so.
    It was a dangerous and frightening time and anyone who was not there cannot begin to understand it.

  20. Scott

    Joeb, thanks for your good thinking pointing out how important it is to see this story in the context of the violent and dangerous times back then. It reinforces a point made earlier. If the Camp Summerlane organizers did in fact come from a New York activist background, how could they not be aware of the inevitable and dangerous threats that would be directed at them? Sure the choice of location may have been dictated by convenience and affordability, but how could they, given the context, not recognize the threat as the preeminent consideration? All the more glaring then their careless, almost criminally negligent judgment. Putting children at risk in a situation like this is a very big deal in my book.

  21. joeb

    Scott: I have been thinking about your comments about the fact that children were put at risk. I agree with you on that.

  22. Cletis Moore

    Well I don’t know if I’m reading your letter right Ivin. Are you sayin it was their fault the camp people got attacked because they showed some attitude to you locals? Seems to me from what Mr. Elliston has written here that the campers really tried to be nice. Pretty hard to see how naked girls swimming in a lake could cause this kind of ruckus. Were they doing something else?

    That used to happen to us, people trying to beat us up because we were looking at them funny or getting too uppity.

    Maybe you don’t mean what the words look like you mean.

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