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Fighting the Ku Klux Klan in 1958 makes for a great election ad in 2021

A history lesson from North Carolina congressional candidate Charles Graham has caught national attention.

Fighting the Ku Klux Klan in 1958 makes for a great election ad in 2021
[Source images: Gerry Dincher/Flickr; bswise/Flickr; others public domain]
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Chances are you’ve never heard of the Battle of Hayes Pond. Or, if you don’t live in North Carolina, the name Charles Graham likely doesn’t ring a bell. But with a new congressional ad, the state Assemblymember has made a national impression telling the story about how his community of poor Black, white, and Native Americans kicked the Ku Klux Klan out of town in 1958.

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The Klan had announced a rally in order to terrorize the local Blacks and Lumbee. But when 50 Klansmen showed up, they were met by 400 angry townspeople. In the ad, Grahams describes it as, “Hundreds of normal folks deciding to stand together against ignorance and hate.” The New York Times story about that night cites 100 Klansmen and 500 Indians.

Then Graham uses his town’s history as a way to address the January 6 riots, and the images of the McCloskeys pointing guns at peaceful protesters in St. Louis. “A piece of forgotten history worth remembering, especially today,” says Graham. “In Washington, lies turned to violence, and the biggest lie is that America is at war with itself, that you can’t trust your neighbor, that they want something that’s yours, that you must live in fear of them.”

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It’s a political advertising strategy that worked for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Just as Biden’s “Go From There” ad used togetherness and dignity as a patriotic emotion, Graham appeals to those who don’t want a resurgence of poisoned political rhetoric and daily tweet-fueled chaos, offering a much-needed balm.

What makes Graham’s ad really stand out isn’t really the broader message of unity and dignity. Great sentiments, to be sure, but it’s the specificity of his story, his personal connection to the Battle of Hayes Pond and what it represents. The retweets spreading this spot far and wide, well beyond Graham’s congressional district, are a reminder that for any great ad, political or otherwise, a good story well told can go a long, long way.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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