Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ku Klux Klan gripped Dallas


The Dallas Morning News, "At its peak, Ku Klux Klan gripped Dallas," 15 May 2010 by Bryan Woolley

October 23, 1923, was Ku Klux Klan Day at the State Fair of Texas. It was a festive and noisy day, and a highly visible day for the robed and pointy-hooded folks who called themselves the Invisible Empire.

They arrived by train and wagon and automobile from dozens of outlying small towns, and from across Texas and the South and the Midwest. They marched in the downtown streets and crowded the old state fairgrounds.


Thousands of spectators cheered and applauded them. The Klan was being honored in a city friendly to its white supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-labor union doctrines, which the hooded brotherhood preached under the rubrics of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, patriotism, stern morality, prohibition and "native-born American" racial purity.

They arrived by train and wagon and automobile from dozens of outlying small towns, and from across Texas and the South and the Midwest. They marched in the downtown streets and crowded the old state fairgrounds.

Thousands of spectators cheered and applauded them. The Klan was being honored in a city friendly to its white supremacist, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-labor union doctrines, which the hooded brotherhood preached under the rubrics of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, patriotism, stern morality, prohibition and "native-born American" racial purity.


On the evening of Oct. 24, the day after Ku Klux Klan Day, 5,631 new members took the oath of allegiance to the KKK at an initiation ceremony at the fairgrounds, accompanied by Dallas Klan No. 66's 75-member drum and bugle corps. Eight hundred women joined the Klan auxiliary.

Dallas was a prosperous city of about 160,000 residents then. It considered itself a sophisticated town, but it wasn't. Many of its residents had only recently arrived from cotton farms and rural villages, and most brought a lack of book learning and their grievances and prejudices with them.

Of those 160,000 residents, more than 13,000 belonged to the Klan, the highest per capita of any city in the country. Dallas journalist and historian Darwin Payne, who has written extensively about the KKK in Dallas, has estimated that "after discounting ineligible groups such as women, children and minorities, the membership presumably represented about one out of three eligible men in Dallas."

Nationwide, between 4 million and 5 million belonged to the Klan. Dallas Klan No. 66, according to the KKK itself, was the nation's largest chapter.

Over the last few elections, candidates backed by the Kluxers had won control of City Hall and the county courthouse. The city police commissioner and the county sheriff were Klansmen.

So were many of the law officers they commanded. So were many of the city's working men, businessmen - including Chamber of Commerce members - lawyers and judges, dentists and doctors, and several journalists. The pastors of some of the larger, influential Protestant churches praised the Kluxers from their pulpits.

The Klan's principal adversary in the city was The Dallas Morning News. Years later, the newspaper's publisher, George Bannerman Dealey, called its stand against the Klan "perhaps the most courageous thing The News ever did."

The smaller Dallas Journal, founded and run by The News, and the independent Dallas Dispatch joined The News in the fight. The publisher of the largest evening paper, The Dallas Times Herald, instructed its staff to "go down the middle" in its Klan coverage and commentary "because many solid citizens are members."


Dallas Klan No. 66 was established in 1920, about six years after the rebirth of the KKK in Tennessee. The original Klan, founded by Confederate veterans in 1865 to terrorize and intimidate freed slaves and re-establish white supremacy in the South, was disbanded in 1869.

But in 1915, D.W. Griffith's wildly popular movie, The Birth of a Nation, romanticized and mythologized the old Klan as defenders of white female virtue and became a huge factor in making the new Klan popular.

In spring 1921, the KKK publicly announced its presence in Dallas. Klansmen invited a Times Herald reporter to accompany them while they abducted a black Adolphus hotel elevator operator from his home and drove him to an isolated place in the country. There, they whipped him and burned the initials KKK into his forehead with acid.

Then they drove him back to the city and forced him to walk, half-naked and bleeding, into the Adolphus lobby of the Adolphus. A detailed account appeared on the Times Herald front page on April 2. Both Dallas County Sheriff Dan Harston and the Dallas Police Department refused to investigate.

"The Negro was guilty of doing something which he had no right to do," the sheriff said. The elevator operator's supposed crime was "consorting with a white woman." (source: Dallas Morning News)

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