While their baby boy was still in the cradle, George and Flora McDonald issued him a challenge: They named him after not one but two famous men—Shakespeare and the fourth president of the United States. “What’s in a name?” Shakespeare had asked. Would a name lead William Madison McDonald toward an interest in both words and politics?
He was born in Kaufman County in 1866, three years after emancipation. His father had once been a slave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. His mother was a freewoman. As a youngster William worked for—and studied law under—attorney and rancher Captain Z. T. Adams. According to William Oliver Bundy, who wrote The Life of William Madison McDonald, after McDonald graduated from high school, he was appointed principal of the African-American school at Kaufman County’s Flat Rock community—at age eighteen. But his interests soon led him elsewhere. You guessed it: politics. In 1892 he was elected to the Texas Republican Party’s executive committee. In 1896 he formed a political partnership with railroad capitalist Edward Howland Robinson Green (son of Hetty Green, “the Witch of Wall Street,” richest woman in America, and notorious miser). Both men were leaders in the Texas Republican Party’s Black and Tan faction, a group of African-Americans and whites who shared leadership roles. In 1896, when Texas Republican Party Chairman Norris Wright Cuney was unseated by the GOP faction Cuney called the “Lily-White Movement,” McDonald replaced him, becoming perhaps the most powerful African-American politician in the South. (Photo from History and Directory of Fort Worth, 1907.)
Also by 1896 McDonald had been nicknamed “Gooseneck Bill” by Dallas journalist William Sterrett. Clip is from the Fort Worth Register.
McDonald moved from Forney in Kaufman County to Fort Worth about 1906. Here he built a grand three-story house on East Terrell Street. He patterned his new house after the house of George Martin, the man who had last owned McDonald’s father before emancipation. (Photo from The Life of William Madison McDonald, 1925.)
McDonald’s house was demolished shortly after his death.
In Fort Worth McDonald continued to be active in politics and civic affairs. He also was active in business. The Dallas Morning News said McDonald was “probably Texas’s first black millionaire.” In 1912 he founded the city’s first African-American bank, the Fraternal Bank and Trust Company.
This full-page ad in the Dallas Express is from 1919. (Photo from UNT Libraries.)
This full-page ad also is from the Dallas Express of 1919. McDonald’s drugstore was in his Masonic Temple Building, which McDonald had built at 401-405 East 9th Street, where the Intermodal Transportation Center is today. The building also housed McDonald’s bank and the hall of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of African-American Masons (see Part 3), of which McDonald was a local member and a state officer (grand secretary for forty-seven years). McDonald’s son, pictured, had died in 1918 at age nineteen. (Photo from UNT Libraries.)
This sketch from History and Directory of Fort Worth shows McDonald’s just-completed building in 1907. The bank became the main depository of assets of the state’s African-American Masonic lodges. Fort Worth’s Prince Hall lodge hall continues to be the fraternal organization’s state headquarters.
Current lodge state officer Willie High Coleman Jr. of Houston said, “Gooseneck is probably the reason that the Prince Hall Grand Lodge is in Fort Worth.”
A few years later, when the Fort Worth Prince Hall Masons added a college of industrial arts to their next lodge hall, on East 1st Street, they named it after McDonald. (Fort Worth’s first African-American YMCA branch was named after McDonald in 1944 when he donated a building at 1600 Jones Street to house the branch. The McDonald YMCA is now on East Berry Street.)
Just days after the United States entered World War I in April 1917, McDonald helped to recruit African-American units. (Note that the other recruiter was William Oliver Bundy, McDonald’s biographer. Bundy was principal of the “colored high school” in the Third Ward.)
The baby who had been named after Shakespeare indeed grew up to have a way with words. McDonald was much in demand as an orator. In 1893 he addressed the five thousand delegates of the National Baptist Convention meeting in Fort Worth. In this excerpt from the speech, taken from his biography, he speaks about the tyranny of brute force as personified by Napoleon.
Just a few blocks west of where McDonald’s home stood on East Terrell Street is this plaque at Evans Avenue Plaza. McDonald built the Jim Hotel (named for his wife Jimmie) in the 1920s behind the Fort Worth Press building.
In 1930 McDonald was a near-neighbor of Dr. Riley Andrew Ransom (see Part 2).
McDonald died in 1950. He is buried in the Trinity section of Oakwood Cemetery.
At Oakwood William Madison “Gooseneck Bill” McDonald is said to have chosen for his final resting place a hillside where this thirty-eight-foot-tall obelisk can look down upon the North Main Street lodge hall of a different fraternal lodge—the Ku Klux Klan.
Tomorrow: On This Date in History: People in Trees, Horses on Roofs