The rise and fall of the KKK

Michael McGee | 12/24/2013, 10:06 a.m. | Updated on 12/26/2013, 4:09 p.m.
When history buffs think about the term “Progressive Era reform” they may imagine some of the early 20th century’s biggest ...
Ku Klux Klan members parade through downtown Dallas, Nov. 3, 1979. Thousands of persons lined the parade route to see the parade, the first the Klan had held in 60 years Dave Taylor

Ring asserted that 10 months after the editorial ran, a group of men at Stone Mountain, Ga., unveiled the new KKK.

This version of the Klan was not averse to the use of violence, Ring pointed out. Much like the original version of the Klan after the Civil War and the third re-emergence of the group during the Civil Rights Movement, the KKK of Big D during that time was adept at using force under the cover of darkness and robes.

Ring explained that the Trinity River bottoms west of the city was a common spot for the Klan’s style of brutality. She talked about how the KKK made its presence widely known at The Adolphus Hotel on April 1, 1921, when a group of Klansmen kidnapped Alexander Johnson, an African American bellhop.

“They accused him of having an affair with a White woman. Again, a kind of very common trope, not surprising,” she said. “But they whipped him. They whipped Alexander Johnson, and they branded the KKK letters onto his forehead.”

Two weeks later another African American bellhop was assaulted. Not long after these incidents – Blacks and Whites, men and women, whoever was determined to fall outside of the Klan’s view of civilization’s mores – all would endure intimidation and violence at the hands of the Klan, said Ring.

Despite the prevalence of the KKK in the region at that time, there were critics who raised their voices against the group. Those most prominent were George Dealey, the publisher of The Dallas Morning News, and “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, Ring imparted, stating that it was under Ferguson that the state legislature passed a law against wearing masks at gatherings as a way to weaken the influence of the hooded KKK.

The conflict between the ugly, ruthless image of the Klan and their sometimes incongruously benevolent character could be highlighted in some rather surprising ways. Ring said that there was a time when KKK members would bring meals to African American families at Christmas. The orphanage Hope Cottage, currently located at 4209 McKinney Ave., was saved in the early 1920s in part due to efforts by businessmen Alex Sanger, a Jew, and Zeke Marvin, leader of Klavern 66.

“That’s not specific to the Dallas Klan. That’s a universal pattern,” Ring said about the contradictions the KKK embodied. “It doesn’t matter if you go to Indiana in the 1920s, or Colorado, you go to Pennsylvania. It’s the same weird paradox of reform and reactionary nativistic sentiment that often borders on the violent.

“It’s odd because, when you look at all the Klan writing, it’s full of paradox.”

Ring mentioned that a lot of what the Klan had to say can still be heard today in the socio-political arena.

“I think the history of the Ku Klux Klan is important because there are current, contemporary right-wing organizations that, in some ways, are building on the legacy of the Klan,” she said. “Or there’s a kind of right-wing political ideology today that I think you can find the roots of as far back as the 1920s.”

Issues that the KKK promoted, or rallied against, decades ago mirror many present-day issues, Ring concluded.

“You can see the ripples today in some of the discussion about immigration, the discussion about … getting government out of education. Good schools, clean government, liberty, all of that sort of stuff. There are certainly ripples.”