ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's the viral campaign ad turning heads across the country. Rep. Charles Graham, a Congressional candidate, was just 7 years old during the Battle of Hayes Pond.
"When I was a young boy, the KKK announced a night rally in my home county. A cross burning with hundreds of Klansmen to terrorize the Blacks and Lumbee," said Graham in the campaign ad. "50 Klansmen. Not a bad turnout. Problem is, they were surrounded by 400 Lumbees. Hundreds of normal folks deciding to stand against ignorance and hate. Lowery shot out the light. The Klansmen scattered."
ABC11 caught up with Graham in downtown Raleigh. We asked him why he decided to use this campaign ad as a launchpad to Congress.
"Our democracy as recent as this year is under attack. We have people who came to our nation's Capital with the same intent that folks had back in 1958 and the one difference is they were not wearing sheets," said Graham.
The Battle of Hayes Pond took place the night of Jan. 18, 1958, when a group of Klansmen held a rally in a field near Maxton. The intent was to intimidate the county's Lumbee residents.
Maxton Police Chief Bob Fisher, who later became mayor, had sent several letters to other law enforcement agencies, including State Police and the FBI asking for assistance with the demonstration, which was likely to turn violent. But the Lumbees took matters into their own hands, showing up with sticks, rocks and other weapons.
In the chaos that ensued, the Lumbee men overran the Klansmen, who fled for the safety of nearby woods and swamps. As the University of North Carolina-Pembroke put it: "The Klan did not really die that night, but it did apparently learn to stay out of Indian Country."
Graham, a Democrat, served 11 years as a state representative. He ran into his own controversy within his party in 2016 when he voted in support of House Bill 2, the controversial bathroom bill that sparked national outrage on the left by requiring people to use public bathrooms that corresponded to their biological sex.
"I'm sorry, and I apologize because I understand as a result it was hurtful," he said.
The 9th Congressional district has been held by Republicans since the 1960s. Native Americans make up 40 percent of the population in Robeson County, followed by 25 percent Whites, 24 percent Blacks and 9 percent Hispanics. The median household income is $35,035 and the county population is 130,625.
The retired educator is hoping to flip District 9 in 2022. The seat is held by Republican Rep. Dan Bishop, who easily defeated Democratic challenger Cynthia Wallace in 2020.
"My campaign is running on uniting our country and not dividing," Graham said.