Wyatt Outlaw

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Wyatt Outlaw (1820 – February 26, 1870) was the first African-American elected to be Town Commissioner and Constable of the town of Graham, North Carolina. He was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan on February 26, 1870. His death, along with the assassination of white Republican State Senator John W. Stephens at the Caswell County Courthouse, provoked Governor William Woods Holden to declare martial law in Alamance and Caswell Counties, resulting in the Kirk-Holden War of 1870.[1][2]


Outlaw was apparently of mixed racial heritage. He was mentioned in a letter as being the son of a white Alamance County slave-owner Chesley F. Faucett, and apparently lived on the tobacco farm of Nancy Outlaw on Jordan Creek, northeast of Graham, North Carolina. Sources conflict on the question of whether Outlaw was born a slave or a free person of color.[1]

Outlaw served in the 2nd Regiment U. S. Colored Cavalry from 1864-1866. He served in various engagements in Virginia and late in the Civil War was stationed on the Rio Grande in Texas until he was mustered out in February 1866.[1]

After returning from his service in the Civil War, Outlaw became a prominent African-American in Alamance County. In 1868, Outlaw was among a number of trustees who were deeded land for the establishment of the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Alamance County. He was also prominently involved in the Union League and the Republican Party.[1]

Outlaw's prominent activities on behalf of African Americans in Alamance County made him a target of the White Brotherhood, the Constitutional Union Guard, and the Ku Klux Klan. As a prominent Republican in Alamance County, Outlaw was appointed to the Graham Town Council by Governor Holden and soon became one of three constables of the town - all three of whom were African Americans.[3] On one occasion in 1869, white residents of the area who were incensed by the prospect of being policed by an all African-American constabulary organized a nighttime ride in Klan garb through the streets of Graham in an effort to frighten the African-American constables. Outlaw and another constable opened fire on the night riders, but no injuries were sustained.[3]

Outlaw's aggressive response to the night riders further inflamed the anger of Klan sympathizers. The night of February 26, 1870, a party of unidentified men rode into Graham, dragged Outlaw from his home and hung him from a tree in the courthouse square in Graham. Outlaw's body bore on the chest a message from the perpetrators: "Beware, ye guilty, both black and white." [3][4]

A local African-American man named Puryear claimed to know who was responsible for the lynching, but Puryear was soon found dead in a nearby pond.[1]

In 1873, Guilford County Superior Court Judge Albion Tourgee advocated for re-visiting the murder of Wyatt Outlaw. That year the Grand Jury of Alamance County brought felony indictments against 63 Klansmen, including 18 murder counts, in connection with the lynching of Wyatt Outlaw. However, the Democratic-controlled state legislature repealed the laws under which most of these indictments had been brought, so the charges were dropped. No one was ever tried in connection with Outlaw's murder.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Troxler, Carole Watterson and William Murray Vincent (1999). Shuttle & Plow: A History of Alamance County, North Carolina. Alamance County Historical Association.
  2. ^ The Hillsboro Recorder, April 6, 1870.
  3. ^ a b c Whitaker, Walter (1949). Centennial History of Alamance County 1849-1949. Burlington Chamber of Commerce.
  4. ^ The Greensboro Patriot, March 3, 1870.