In a sense two Ku Klux Klans existed in Fort Worth during the 1920s—two Klans as different as, well, day and night. The daytime Klan gave money to charities and churches and helped needy widows. The nighttime Klan whipped and tarred and feathered those people whom it deemed deserving of its vigilante justice.
Some background: The first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in December 1865 during Reconstruction. In the beginning the Pulaski Citizen dutifully printed the Klan’s notices and handbills announcing meetings, parades, et cetera but all the while snickered at the Klan’s costumes, rituals, and lofty titles for officers. By 1867 the Pulaski newspaper noted that the “Kukluxers” were spreading.
During Reconstruction the Klan targeted freedmen and sought to restore—by intimidation and violence—white supremacy. In 1867 the Nashville Union and Dispatch reported “some general and undefined dread among the negroes of a secret order that has recently made its appearance.”
In 1908 Fort Worth businessman E. B. “Bud” Daggett (1838-1911) acknowledged having been a member of the Klan during its first incarnation. (Daggett was named for his uncle Ephraim Merrell, the “father of Fort Worth,” and fathered a son by a Daggett plantation slave.) The Robert E. Lee Camp was a local Confederate veterans group. Clip is from the June 8 Telegram.
The second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia as America coped with its evolution from a rural agricultural culture to an urban industrial culture and responded to developments such as immigration and prohibition. The second Klan’s appeal to PAMs (Protestant Anglo males) was considerable, especially in the South. In the 1920s an estimated four to five million PAMs were members (U.S. population in 1920 was 106 million) as the Klan crusaded for “one hundred percent Americanism,” the purification of politics, strict morality, and enforcement of prohibition. The Klan, while still stressing white supremacy, moved beyond targeting African Americans to include Catholics, Jews, and foreigners.
The Fort Worth Klan organized. In the 1920s Fort Worth was said to have one of the strongest Klans in the country. The Klan had members among Fort Worth civic leaders, city government, and even the police force, local historians say. In 1922 a Klan lecturer said Fort Worth had six thousand Klan members, including “the best men in every walk of life.” Clip is from the April 23 Star-Telegram.
In fact, in 1922 two Metroplex men—Dr. Hiram Wesley Evans of Dallas and Brown Harwood of Fort Worth—were elected to the top two offices of the national Klan.
Indeed, when city finance commissioner W. B. Townsend died in 1923, his funeral included what the Dallas Morning News on September 20 called the “first Ku Klux Klan funeral parade ever held.”
Fort Worth’s Ku Klux Klan lodge 101 began making headlines in 1921. By day the lodge supported local churches. These clips are from the October 23 and December 11, 1922 Star-Telegram.
Here are more examples of the local Klan’s daytime charity. Clips are from the September 5 and December 5, 1921 Star-Telegram.
The Ku Klux Klan called itself the “Invisible Empire,” but in Fort Worth it was quite visible, at least by day. The 1924 city directory listed the Klan’s address on North Main Street. The lodge hall was labeled on the 1926 Sanborn map.
The Fort Worth Klan had even a baseball team! A kleagle was a KKK recruiter. Clip is from the July 13, 1924 Dallas Morning News.
According to this article, the Fort Worth Klan had a stadium “at the end of Evans Avenue.” In 1923 that would have been an undeveloped area north of Echo Lake.
In yet another indication of their openness in the early 1920s, Klan members even attended funerals in their robes (and sang!).
The Fort Worth Klan also had a women’s auxiliary. Mrs. Joseph T. Bloodworth also was president of the local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and Church Women’s Federation.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph T. Bloodworth were the parents of Lloyd P. Bloodworth, grand dragon of the Texas KKK. Father and son were evangelists living within a few blocks of each other in Poly. Clip is from the August 23, 1924 Dallas Morning News.
(Mrs. Bloodworth’s women’s groups also opposed “parading in bathing suits” at Lake Worth and smashed some bootleg whiskey behind the courthouse. Clip are from the July 22, 1921 and March 26, 1929 Star-Telegram.)
Fort Worth had a Junior KKK for boys between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Clip is from the July 12, 1922 Dallas Morning News.
The Fort Worth Klan also endorsed candidates for local political office. Clip is from the July 23, 1922 Dallas Morning News.
But when the sun went down the Fort Worth Klan turned from charity to punishment. In the top clip, a husband was whipped for abusing his wife. In the bottom clip, Benny Pinto, a grocery clerk, was fitted for a suit of tar and feathers and dumped at the intersection of Main and 7th streets for gambling and having immoral relations with women. The report says that the Fort Worth Klan, with “several thousand” members, was “one of the strongest in the country.”
Victim Benny Pinto would quickly do as he had been ordered: He left the county.
These two victims were white men. How do we know? Had they had been African American, they would have been identified as such by the newspaper (if, indeed, their victimization would have been reported). These two attacks occurred in the same week. Clips are from the July 2 and 6, 1921 Star-Telegram.
But the Klan was not too busy punishing white men to remember the black man. The April 3, 1921 Star-Telegram reported that Alexander Johnson, “negro, vagrant,” was whipped and branded in Dallas. The report said law enforcement probably would not investigate the attack. Johnson, the report said, had confessed to “improper relations with a white woman.” Said Dallas County Sheriff Dan Harston: “The men who attacked the negro were good citizens—I feel convinced—and I am satisfied with their treatment of him. He no doubt deserved it.”
The Dallas Morning News said the attack was the first evidence of Klan violence in north Texas.
The revival of the Klan in Texas understandably created controversy. On August 28, 1921 the Star-Telegram printed a full-page feature.
An excerpt from the full-page feature.
On August 14, 1921 the Star-Telegram reported that the Reverend Caleb A. Ridley, chaplain of the national Klan, had spoken to an enthusiastic audience in the auditorium of the Chamber of Commerce. The Reverend Lee Heaton of St. Andrew Episcopal Church introduced Ridley and sat next to him on the stage along with sixty-five masked men.
On May 19, 1924 Fort Worth’s Ku Klux Klan lodge 101, its membership growing, laid the cornerstone of a new lodge hall at 1012 North Main Street. Topics of speakers at the dedication were “For God,” “For Home,” and “For Country.” The Klan band played “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
The new lodge hall’s auditorium, which seated four thousand, was used for Klan meetings, of course. But the hall also hosted outside entertainment. For example, on October 18, 1924 escape artist Harry Houdini mounted the hall stage to ask the question “Can the dead speak to the living?”
But just three weeks later, on November 6, the hall was destroyed by a fire of suspicious origin. The front-page story mentions two officers of the local Klan: cyclops Julian Hyer and treasurer Howard P. Sandidge. Hyer was an attorney; Sandidge was assistant cashier at Fort Worth National Bank. Note that the news story mentions a “fiery cross” mounted atop a telephone pole near the Klan hall entrance. The cross can be seen in the accompanying photos. Members of the Klan lodge had rehearsed a minstrel show in the hall just hours before the fire.
A Texas sesquicentennial marker near the Trinity River east of the hall says “. . . violence hit the controversial group in 1924 when a home-made explosive was dropped from an airplane.”
After the Klan hall burned, J. Frank Norris of First Baptist Church—himself controversial—agreed to let the Fort Worth Klan stage its minstrel show in the church auditorium.
The Handbook of Texas says that Norris “openly supported the Ku Klux Klan.” On the Sunday before Valentine’s Day in 1922, two men dressed as Klansmen presented Norris with a bouquet of roses. Clip is from the February 13 Star-Telegram.
After Norris killed D. E. Chipps in 1926, Lloyd P. Bloodworth of Poly, grand dragon of the Texas Klan, met with Norris and offered Klan support. Clip is from the July 23, 1926 Dallas Morning News.
In February 1922 five thousand Klansmen from north Texas marched in downtown Fort Worth. Special interurban cars brought in Klansmen from Dallas, Waco, Corsicana, and Greenville. Clip is from the February 17 Star-Telegram.
But by 1922 the Klan’s violence created a backlash. In Fort Worth the Citizens League of Liberty formed to oppose the KKK. This ad in the May 23, 1922 Star-Telegram promoted a public (i.e., “every white American citizen”) meeting whose topic would be “Why the Invisible Empire should not exist.” Among the speakers at the Majestic Theater would be former Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt.
Just four days later, on May 27, 1922, the Star-Telegram reported that the local Klan “answered” the Citizens League of Liberty by initiating 932 new members in a “weird” ceremony that included a burning cross whose light was “visible for several miles.” The newspaper estimated that three thousand men attended the ceremony.
After the lodge hall on North Main Street burned in 1924, the lodge replaced the hall with the current building.
Klavern 101 opened its new hall on June 5, 1925.
But by 1931 Klan membership was dwindling; the lodge sold the building to the Leonard brothers to use as a warehouse. Later the building housed a boxing arena. In 1946 the building was bought by Ellis Pecan Company. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas later occupied the building. Today the building, at age ninety-one, is vacant, its doors padlocked, some windows boarded, others with broken panes. But the building’s large windows on the south wall let plenty of light into a place where hooded men once waited for dark:
Some more views of the former home of Ku Klux Klan lodge 101:
The lynching of Fred Rouse: Christmas 1921: “Southern Trees Bear a Strange Fruit”
Read about the Dallas chapter of the women of the KKK at Flashback: Dallas.