In a sense two Ku Klux Klans existed in Fort Worth during the organization’s heyday in 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 original 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, and such 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.”
Fast-forward to Fort Worth in 1908. Fort Worth businessman E. B. “Bud” Daggett (1838-1911) acknowledged having been a member of the Klan during its first incarnation. Daggett—named for his father, Ephraim Merrell, the “father of Fort Worth”—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 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 Klan in Fort Worth was organized in 1916 when Police Commissioner Hugh Jamieson directed Assistant Police Chief George Chollar “to organize a Ku Klux Klan to head the fall festival parade Halloween night.” Retired Fort Worth police sergeant and historian Kevin Foster writes, “George Chollar followed his instructions and in time for the parade, Chollar had a group of local men inducted into the Klan. Most, if not all of these men were Fort Worth police officers. On the night of the Halloween parade, Mayor Tyra took the lead along with Commissioner Jamieson and a small group of uniformed police officers. They were followed by a group of Klansmen, wearing their robes and hoods and riding on horseback.”
The Fort Worth Klan kept itself out of the headlines for the most part in the beginning. But there were rumors. For example, on December 22, 1920 a mob of twenty men, each of whom wore a mask and carried a pistol, forcibly removed prisoner Tom Vickery from his cell in the county jail. Vickery had been jailed for the shooting death of police officer Jeff C. Couch.
The mob took Vickery to the “hanging tree” on Northeast 12th Street and lynched him. The mob then riddled his body with bullets. The mob was rumored to be made up of Klansmen, including police officers seeking revenge on Vickery. Two grand juries failed to indict anyone for the lynching.
A year later African-American laborer Fred D. Rouse, who had been hospitalized after being beaten during a confrontation with striking packing plant workers, was forcibly taken from his hospital bed by a mob of at least twenty-five men (some wearing handkerchiefs over their faces) and hanged at the same tree. Again, the Klan and police officers (especially officers of Niles City) were rumored to be responsible. And again, no one was ever convicted.
That same year, 1921, Colonel William Joseph Simmons, leader of the national Klan, proclaimed the organization’s tenets, among them “the perpetual reign . . . of the native-born white men in America.”
By 1922 the Fort Worth Klan, which had evolved into Klavern (lodge) no. 101, was one of the strongest Klans in the country. The local Klan had members among civic leaders, city government, clergy, and teachers in addition to police officers, 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.” Many Klan members belonged to fraternal organizations such as Moslah Shrine and Knights of Pythias. (Fort Worth’s population in 1920 was 106,482.) Clip is from the April 23, 1922 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. Evans succeeded William Joseph Simmons.
The Ku Klux Klan called itself the “Invisible Empire,” but in Fort Worth it was quite visible, at least by day. 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.”
Nor was the Klan secretive about its address. The 1924 city directory listed the Klan’s address on North Main Street. The lodge hall was labeled on the 1926 Sanborn map.
In 1925 the Klan posted notices of its meetings just as did fraternal organizations such as Masons, Order of the Red Cross of Freemasonry, and De Molay.
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.
By 1923 Dr. Hiram Wesley Evans had moved from Dallas to Atlanta to head the national organization. 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!).
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.
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 Dallas Morning News.)
Fort Worth also 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, not surprisingly, was political, endorsing candidates for local office. Clip is from the July 23, 1922 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.
In Dallas the state fair and in Fort Worth the stock show designated “Klan Day.” The interurban offered special rates to Dallas for “all Klansmen and families.”
Now here’s a mental image: Klan members frolicking at Lake Worth.
By day the Fort Worth Klan 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.
And the Klan sponsored a summer camp for poor children at Lake Worth.
But when the sun went down the Fort Worth Klan traded hats for hoods and good deeds to dark deeds. 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? Because had they had been African American, they would have been identified as such by the newspaper (if, indeed, their victimization would have been reported at all). 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 in the 1920s created controversy. On August 28, 1921 the Star-Telegram printed a full-page feature.
An excerpt from the full-page feature.
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 burning a cross whose light was “visible for several miles.” The newspaper estimated that three thousand men attended the ceremony.
On May 19, 1924 Fort Worth’s Ku Klux Klan Lodge no. 101, its membership growing, laid the cornerstone of a new lodge hall at 1012 North Main Street. Two preachers, one state senator, and Mrs. Bloodworth participated. 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 two 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 new hall was destroyed by a fire. 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 site says “. . . violence hit the controversial group in 1924 when a home-made explosive was dropped from an airplane.” But Fort Worth historian Dr. Richard Selcer says the fire was caused by a fault in the building’s electrical system.
Here’s a history mystery. Some out-of-town newspapers printed an unattributed story saying “another fire of incendiary origin destroyed a branch Ku Klux auditorium about one mile outside [Fort Worth” “on the West Side.” “Both fires were preceded by terrific explosions.” “Firemen found Hall No. 11 a mass of flames when they arrived. The second hall was valued at $100,000. It, too, was destroyed.”
The main Klan lodge in Fort Worth was Klavern no. 101, but the Fort Worth Klan had several subdivisions around town. Subdivisions apparently were numbered by city ward. For example, subdivisions no. 2 and 4 met downtown, where the Second and Fourth wards were. Subdivision no. 7 met at Evans and Elmwood streets, which was in the Seventh Ward. And there was a subdivision no. 11, but it apparently was on the North Side (as was the Eleventh Ward). Regardless, I have found no local reporting about a second Klan hall fire that night.
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.” During a church service on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day in 1922, “2 men in Klan garb” had presented Norris with a bouquet of roses. Clip is from the February 13 Star-Telegram.
And 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.
Just six weeks after that fire on November 6, 1924, Fort Worth’s Klavern no. 101 held a double celebration: On December 26 the Klan celebrated the first eighteen months of the leadership of Julian C. Hyer and plans to rebuild its burned lodge hall. To mark the celebration, the Klan had a commemorative program printed. The program was dedicated to Hyer, who is pictured on the cover.
Hyer held the highest Klan office in Texas (great titan) and in the Fort Worth chapter (exalted cyclops). The dedication says the Fort Worth lodge had seven thousand members. Oh, and “I.T.S.U.B.” is “in the Sacred Unfailing Being,” a reference to God.
klaliff vice president
kladd conductor in charge of initiating new members
klexter outer guard
klarogo inner guard, sergeant-at-arms
knight hawk courier
klokan advisory board
A quick perusal of Klan members listed elsewhere in the program finds candymaker Hugh Pangburn and J. M. (Star) Williams, who would be county auditor for twenty-eight years.
The original hall before the fire.
One month after the fire.
The new hall was designed by the firm of architect Earl Glasgow, a member of Klavern no. 101.
Klavern no. 101 opened its new hall on June 5, 1925.
But by 1927 Klan membership was dwindling; the Fort Worth lodge sold its building to the Leonard brothers to use as a warehouse. But by 1929 the building was called “North Main Street Auditorium.” Dance marathons were held there.
In the 1930s couples were still clinching in the old Klan hall—but now the couples were wrestlers.
In 1946 the building was bought by Ellis Pecan Company. Today the building, at age ninety-four, has been vacant almost thirty years, 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 no. 101:
(Thanks to retired Fort Worth police sergeant and historian Kevin Foster for his help.)
The Dallas chapter of the women of the KKK at Flashback: Dallas.