While their newborn son still lay in his cradle, parents George and Flora McDonald issued their cooing tabula rasa a challenge by way of nomenclature: 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 almost three centuries earlier. Would the name given to the baby boy lead William Madison McDonald toward an interest in both words and politics?
McDonald was born in Kaufman County in 1866, three years after the Emancipation Proclamation. His father had once been a slave of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (who became grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in 1867). McDonald’s mother also had been born a slave. (Photo from History and Directory of Fort Worth, 1907.)
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.
In 1887, at age twenty-one, he was a charter member of the Colored Lone Star State Fair Association.
The association held its first fair in Fort Worth in October of that year. Principal Isaiah Milligan Terrell (1859-1931) would live to see the African-American high school in the Third Ward renamed for him in 1921.
But a state fair could not hold McDonald’s interest. He soon found his calling elsewhere. You guessed it: politics.
By 1891 he was corresponding secretary of the Texas Republican Party’s executive committee.
And the baby who had been named after Shakespeare indeed had grown 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.
In 1896 McDonald formed a political partnership with railroad capitalist Edward Howland Robinson Green (son of Hetty Green, “the Witch of Wall Street,” who was the richest woman in America and a 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 that Cuney called the “Lily-White Movement,” McDonald replaced him, becoming perhaps the most powerful African-American politician in the South. (Photo from The Life of William Madison McDonald, 1925.)
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, located in Fort Worth’s African-American community on the near East Side, 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.”
McDonald also was a leader among local and state African-American Masons. He was Texas grand secretary for forty-seven years.
On March 18, 1907 McDonald and other Prince Hall lodge members laid the cornerstone for their Masonic Temple Building at 9th and Jones, in Fort Worth’s “African-American downtown,” where the Intermodal Transportation Center is today. The new hall also was the statewide fraternal organization’s grand lodge hall and hosted state conventions. Clip is from the March 18 Telegram.
(Top) Sketch is from History and Directory of Fort Worth. (Bottom) At the Intermodal Transportation Center a bas-relief mural by artist Paula Blincoe Collins depicts McDonald and the Masonic Temple Building.
In 1912 McDonald founded the city’s first African-American bank, the Fraternal Bank and Trust Company, in the Masonic Temple Building. Clip is from the November 1, 1911 Star-Telegram.
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. By then Bundy was principal of the African-American high school in the Third Ward.)
In 1918 McDonald’s son died while away at college.
McDonald’s bank became the main depository of assets of the state’s African-American Masonic lodges. This full-page ad in the Dallas Express is from 1919. (Photo from UNT Libraries.)
McDonald’s drugstore also was located in the Masonic Temple Building. This full-page ad also from the Dallas Express of 1919 features a photo of McDonald’s son. (Photo from UNT Libraries.)
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 “Gooseneck Bill” McDonald.
Fort Worth’s Prince Hall lodge hall, now located in Poly, 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.”
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).
Fort Worth’s first African-American YMCA branch was named after McDonald’s son in 1940 when “Gooseneck Bill” donated a building at 1600 Jones Street to house the branch. The McDonald YMCA is now on Miller Street.
William Madison McDonald, who was named for a founding father, died on Independence Day, 1950.
McDonald 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.