The Story of Elias Hill, "Kuba Jim", and the Indomitable Black Folk of Rock Hill

Updated on July 3, 2020
Ayende Alcala profile image

Ayende is a life long organizer, activist, and educator. He holds Degrees in Sociology (Social Inequality), and Afro-Ethnic studies.

Famous "Kuba Jim" Knife
Famous "Kuba Jim" Knife

The Story of Elias Hill, "Kuba Jim", and the Indomitable Black Folk of Rock Hill

"The Rain Beats the Leopard’s Skin, but it Does Not Wash Out His Spot1s"

Elias is my name. I was born right here in Rock Hill, South Carolina on the infamous Hill’s Ironworks plantation under a glorious Carolina sky, in year 18 hundred and 19. I was brought to life by my Ma', Dorcas and my Pa' Elias, after whom I was named. Ma was born right here too, but I think Pa' was born in, “The Land of Our Mothers” as he called it. I can’t be for certain as he never talked much about his youngin' days, as it seemed to pain him so, like a hot poker searing his flesh to the barren bone. We all learned soon enough to never ask and to just let it be. He didn’t talk about those days gone by, but he did often talk about the glorious time before our forced exodus at the hands of the white man in “The Land of Our Mothers.” In fact, it was one of his most favorite things in this world. He would sit us around the warming fire and light up like an ol’ Reminton flintlock flash as he spoke dazzlingly about astonishing people and place so vividly that after while it was like we had been there and known them folks all our lives.

I don’t really know the exact day I come into this hellish world as they didn’t care enough for us Nigg… pardon me as I swore to God Almighty himself that if he found way for us to be free from our hellish conditions that I would never use that horrid expression ever again as long as he gave me breath. Anyways, they didn’t care for us enough to study that which they saw as such trivial things. Just as you wouldn’t mark the date your sow farrowed a new shoat, massa would never see fit to mark the date one of us youngin’s came into the world. However, I do know my name is Elias because that’s what Pa' had always wanted, but as for my last name, well that’s a different story all together. Our last name, or "masas name" as Pa' called it, is one that made my Pa’s soul churn. For the record, it’s Hill, after maasa hill. Even though that monstrous man had nothing to do with giving any of us life, as that was the sacred doing of the good Lord alone, we all carried his name all the same. That was just how things worked for us enslaved folk, not quite human enough to be dignified with our own name, for in this land we were nothing more than massas belonging no different than a common yard bird or a chest of drawers. Although, that name would be attached to me for all of my days, it’s a name that, like Pa, made my soul seethe with resentment and disdain for as long as I lived!

My early life wasn’t much different than the rest of the youngin’s round my way. Well, at least until round bout the time I was maybe 7. That’s when I was “fflicted” as Ma’ would say it. From then on the other youngin’s treated me very bad. They called me “cripple” and would point and snicker whenever they passed. What they didn’t know was that my “ffliction” was my greatest blessing. Since I couldn’t get round like the others and the atrophy of my limbs didn’t grant me the strength to slave for massa hill, I was just left to kinda stay around, do small chores, and stay out the way while the rest broke they backs day in and day out for massa and the misses hill's pleasure.

It was a cruel torture almost as perverse as the peculiar institution that bond us itself. To have to sit and watch your Ma’, your Pa', and all of your kin folk and skin folk slave for the every desire of those devils. Knowing that the same fate beset all of your brethren from the nearest pillar to the farthest post was a torment so ghastly that it engulfed my deepest depths to furious flames of righteous indignation. It was the catalyst of my lifelong quest towards helping my people reclaim the dignity of our maker while at the same time exposing the horns and hooved feet of the despicable beast they resembled and served.

I couldn’t see it at the time, but my “ffliction” was indeed my greatest blessing, and the way by which my fate through the grace of the Creator would be secured. For, it was only because of this that I was allowed to become learn'ed. It was only due to my “ffliction” that I became invisible enough in plain sight, like an old bent forger left forgotten in the tall grass in the yard, that allowed me sit quietly every day near enough to hear as the white youngin’s got their lessons. After while, the white school children got so use to me that they even started to take time to seek me out and and boastfully teach me their lessons. Even massa’s hills son daniel havey took a liking to me, he befriended me, and would help me work on my reading and writing.

Yeah, massa’s son daniel harvey is the same daniel harvey hill that would grow up to be a confederate general during the “War Between the States.” During those long uncertain nights during the war, I would often think about how the same boy who had helped me learn my book lessons could grow up to hate me so much that he would risk a burning hot musket ball to the heart to protect his right to own and subjugate me and my people. I would often wonder what his fellow generals and soldiers would think if they knew of our early bond, and the act of treason he committed by equipping me with the most deadly of tools with which I would ultimately fight their hate and thrusts deadly blows to their most wicked ways of life.

After general daneil harvey hill, massa hill, and the rest of the southern confederates knew their cause was lost, when they grew tired of their blood and the blood of their sons soaking up southern battle fields like crimson mud puddles after a violent southern storm, they eventually waived the white flag of defeat. It was at that very moment that we were truly free. I had waited almost 50 years of my life for that jubilant day. Forced to bide my time in dedicated study and prayer, invisible in plain sight like that deformed forger, for the very moment that was now at hand. Unlike so many of my brethren who had toiled in the field or the big house my path into freedom was not uncertain as I had spent years secretly re-forming and re-forging my malformed iron spear in the burning fires of ever hopeful despair.

During that long devilish age of enslavement, we as a people, were forced to hear the word of their god used against us without end. We were forced to receive their serpent tongue and venomous fanged gospel of the good slave until our ears bleed. They misused selected verses from their "good book" calling for an obedient, submissive, and good slave religiously to perpetually inject their spiritually deadening poison into our imprisoned flesh. With clear purpose and devilish design they intended to, if even only by osmosis, cast chains around our unconquerable souls. But those day ended the moment our emancipation was won, and I was ready!

I thrust myself immediate into preaching the word of our Creator. My mission was to give hope, repair the spiritual damage of the pro-slavery abomination they called the church, and smite our enemy by empowering any freedman who would listen to the good news I had to share. I traveled around the Piedmont preaching the truth about the southern democrat white man’s wickedness. I taught freedmen, women, and children to read and write as to equip them to truly engage in, not only the true word of God, but so that they could in turn pick up the steel nib pen as their new sword and plunge it deeply into the inkwell of reconstruction that would be the mechanism of building our futures and freedom.

I was convicted to my cause; however, I was always a practical and humble man. Since, I knew for certain, that I was no Joshua, I realized early on that even though the pen maybe as mighty as the sword, that if any of us were to survive in Rock Hill during those treacherous times we would need more than a unified shout to collapse the walls of our southern Jericho. Hence, I enlisted the services and began a partnership with Mr. Jim Williams.

Jim was an esteemed Black man who had escaped enslavement the first chance he got after the war had begun. He seized his freedom so rapaciously that I think he broke his chains even before the first cannon ball had come to rest at the foot of the Fort Sumter Wall. He crossed the union lines and proudly volunteered to return to the land of his former enslavement to seek virtuous retribution on the battle fields of the treasonous southern secessionist. He delighted in the fact that God would see fit for him such a blessing that he could stand shoulder to shoulder with other proud men, in their all Black Union regiment, and together they could reclaim their manhood by striking might blows for freedom one dead slaver at a time. Jim was a feared and respected soldier, so much so that he earned the name “Kuba Jim” among his brothers in arms. They say he got the name from the African Kuba knife that hung next to his belt plate, instead of the standard issued Union side knife that he wore throughout the entirety of the war. They say he took it off the first rebel he killed in battle, a particularly vile man who was an ex-slaver. A proud tormentor known for his particularly brutal handling and treatment of Black men, women, and children as an overseer on slave ships before the war. A monstrous man who proudly dawned the ornate knife as a trophy from his days of looting and murdering Africans from his days running slaves.

After the war, “Kuba Jim” as he insisted we call him returned to Rock Hill and led our local chapter of the Union League. They were our militia. They were our soldiers. They were our life line against the thuggish race soldiers of our defeated yet ever determined enemy. “Kuba Jim” led them proudly, professionally, and capably with his gun in his hand and his trusty Kuba knife by his side. So, with a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other we worked as a dynamic duo for our peoples safety and liberation`.

We spread literacy, empowerment, and the word of God with great efficiency and effect for several years following the war. However, things began to quickly devolve part way through 18 and 68. When rj brunson retuned from Tennessee and planted the first roots of a new group called the klu klux klan in South Carolina. It was no coincidence that because of our effectiveness, and the threat it posed the white southern democtat way of life, that the very first place he chose to begin to build his new Klan was none other than right here in Rock Hill.

Dr. j rufus bratton, Dr. klansmen as we called him, picked up the baton with vicious fervor and the whites in Rock Hill quickly jumped on board like fleas on a filthy hog. It was not long before almost every man and even many women, in Rock Hill, For Mill, and the surrounding areas were either members or affiliated in some way with the klan. In a six month span we suffered over 300 vicious acts of violence and murder from those hooded thugs. They whipped, beat, and lynched their way through innocent Black men, women, and children alike. We fended them off the best we could, but with the backing of the local, state, and national governing bodies and in conjunction with their clandestine and random style of racial terrorism we were limited in our defense.

We held strong until early in 18 and 71, when we reached a point where the local Black population could bare their barbarism no longer. We had exhausted all of our resources, after years of being perpetually betrayed, being left to the wolves by that wretched tennesse drunkard andrew johnson, and then having our every plea ignored by mr. grant in the big house we were left completely exhausted. The assault on our Black Lives was never ending. It was clear that in this land; Black Lives didn't Matter! We had reached a point of desperation. We had reached a point where we Black folk in Rock Hill simple Could Not Breathe! As we edged closer and closer to total collective asphyxiation from the relentless knee of the klan driving our connected chest into the unforgiving Carolina clay I felt I had no other choice but to put my life on the line and call the savages to the table.

Even then, I refused to subordinate myself or the purposefully proud Black folk for which it was my calling to serve, in the face of those devils. Instead my goal was to try to reason with, appeal to any sliver of humanity they might have possessed, and call on the tenants of their so called Christian faith, but alas just as the snake in the garden they had nothing worthy of redemption to call upon.

Their response was just as devilish as their nature, and they responded to our meeting by quickly rallying their terrorist troops. Upwards of 700 hooded white devils seemed to unleash the wrath of satan himself, as they in short time lynched 8 more innocent Black men here in Rock Hill.

Next, they set their sights on Jim. On March 6th, 40 klansmen pulled him from his home and tortured him is if they were the athenian tyrants of antique themselves, expended more musket balls into his unflinching body then were fired during the entire Skirmish of York County itself, and then hung him like the weeping Spanish moss that hangs limp from a southern Oak, with its slightly reddish tint during dusk of the Carolina falling sun.

Next, they came for me. On May 5, they dragged me by my crippled limbs out of my home. In my own yard, they brutally beat me tried to batter the very life force form my body. They used a horse whip to try to break me, but like a mighty Black stallion, I refused to be broken. I took each crack of their whip with grimace and a prayer. I called upon the creator to give me strength or to give me death, for I would rather die than submit. As the blood poured from each new opening that each new blow had created I felt a peculiar surge of power. With each crack a different face of an ancestor who had passed before me appeared like a ray of sunshine coming up over the morning horizon. I felt a divine surge of power build from the deepest essence of my being until it would be contained no longer and it exploded with a thunderous guttural sound. Out came the words my father had said to me a thousand times, words that he brought from “The Land of our Mother."

“The Rain beats the leopard’s skin but it does not wash out his spots!” With each snap of the leather lash, the sound grew brasher and ever more shatterproof, “The Rain beats the leopard’s skin but it does not wash out his spots!” Just as the lash seemed it would explode my back and expose my misshapen spine, the voice of none other than God Almighty himself, trumpeted from my soul, “The Rain beats the leopard’s skin but it does not wash out his spots!” Then all at once the beating stopped. The yard fell dead silent. The hooded men parted like the red sea. They disappeared as quickly as they had arrived like it was all just a bad re-occurring nightmare from scenes of days gone by replaying over and over to the torment of the so deeply scared Black collective psyche.

However, my wounds never for one moment allowed me to forget just how real it all was. Once my flesh had healed just enough to leave my bed. I went straight away to see former Union Army Major Lewis Merrill, a sworn enemy of the Klan, a truly decent white man, and true friend of the Freedman in Rock Hill.

I contacted Congressman Alexander S. William. Despite the most menacing of threats the impotent Klan could muster, I spoke the truth of the terrorism, violence, and lynching’s. I spoke forthrightly to all the evils we were forced to endure here by their hand of their hate. I spoke unequivocally and in as much detail as I could recall of every act of violence they had committed here in Rock Hill and York County. Within months the strong hold of the Klan in Rock Hill would be broken, the message of the indomitable spirit of the righteous and proud Black folk here had echoed throughout the land, and that the milksop j rufus bratton had fled to Canada never to be seen or heard of again.

The white folks round here will tell you that ol rufus disappeared in the middle of the night and that he did indeed flee to Canada never to be seen of or heard from again; however, if you ask any of our folk around here they might tell you that the coward is still here. They might tell you that he may have run into “Kuba Jims” eldest son on his way out of town. They might tell you that he may have suffered a terrible accident. They might tell you that good ol’ rufus might have slipped and accidently slit his own throat with the razor sharp blade of Jim’s elaborate Kuba knife. They may also tell you that he just may be buried right here in the grave yard of our ancestors. Here in these hallowed grounds, where over 300 former enslaved Africans, from the Hill and surrounding plantstions, will forever rest. Right here next to the Allison Presbyterian Church who later purchased the land adjacent. They may tell you that he may be buried in a deep grave, one seven and a half feet down, slightly off line with the body of non-other than “Kuba Jim” himself, where he will spend eternity kissing the buttocks of a proud Black man. They may tell you that if that is indeed the case then ol’ rufus ended up right where he deserved.

Anyways, by this time, the cumulative effects of years of daily struggle and the totality of my experience had caught up with my weary mind, body, and soul. It was clear to me and to my people that neither Rock Hill nor America herself would ever truly repent or overcome her original sin, and that there would never be a place for us here. So, I telegraphed Robert Finley and The Society for the Colonization of Free Color People in America, and made arrangements for myself, my family, and those who could take no more to find safe passage to migrate to Liberia.

In the end, nearly 170 of us boarded this great steam ship of freedom on this day as refugees of hate, terrorism, and racial violence. We have been left with no choice other than to turn our backs to the land that had enslaved us and so savagely turned its back on us. We have been forced like so many other righteous innocent Black man and women, to without last dying breath call for our Mothers, as the hate of this nation attempts to snuff out or very existence. We the proud and indomitable folk of Rock Hill are determined to preserve our life, and thus we must flee to the relative safety of our mother’s arms. We are determined not look back upon the treachery of this land, but to only looked forward and out upon the new horizon of possibility as we set sail to return to “The Land of Our Mothers.”

This is our story. To God be the glory!

Sincerely, Elias Hill

October 24, 1871

© 2020 Ayende Alcala

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