Ku Klux Klan in North Texas

The First KKK

On Christmas Eve, 1865, a group of Confederate veterans joined together in Pulaski, Tennessee. Drunk off the Christmas celebration and reeling from their defeat in the Civil War, these men banded together and decided to preserve the memory of the Antebellum South. They decided this secret fraternity would be centered around maintaining the social, economic, and political status quo they knew before the war and Emancipation.

Faced with reconstructing the life they once knew and enraged by the shifting world in which they now lived, the members of this group formed the Ku Klux Klan in order to oppose federal government interference in the South and scare newly freed slaves into maintaining their “place” in Southern society.

The Ku Klux Klan philosophized white racial superiority and employed violence to as a way to fight the impending social and political changes the South faced as a region and society during Reconstruction. The KKK engaged in acts of terror and used intimidation tactics in order to achieve its aims and maintain white supremacy throughout the South by influencing elections and striking fear into the hearts of newly freed slaves. The first wave of the Ku Klux Klan focused on maintaining members’ secrecy and operated primarily at night and in full regalia, including masks.

Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act in 1871 and granted President Ulysses S. Grant the authority to use military action in order to subdue the Klan. The United States Supreme Court declared the Ku Klux Klan Act unconstitutional in 1882. By this time, Reconstruction ended and the Klan vanished.


The Second KKK

The second wave of the Ku Klux Klan emerged in response to a sharp increase in immigration in the 1910s and the 1920s after the release of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation in February of 1915. This film, based off Thomas Dixon Jr.’s The Clansman, helped support the revival and spread of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1910s and ‘20s.
The second wave of the Ku Klux Klan emerged as the brainchild of William J. Simmons on Thanksgiving night, 1915 at Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Echoing their Confederate forefathers, the second KKK emerged as a secret organization that hoped to maintain the traditional society of the Antebellum South.  

The second Klan had a unique ideology in that blended xenophobia, white supremacy, and religious prejudice together with far-reaching conservative beliefs. These Native-born white Protestants had growing anxieties about America’s expansionist foreign policy and the increase of immigrants during and after WWI. They also feared the changing social norms that threatened the power dynamic throughout the nation.

All of these fears and beliefs converged to form the radical Klan ideology that emerged in the years immediately after WWI. These cancerous beliefs metastasized and spread rapidly from its conception in Atlanta throughout the South and across the nation during the 1920s.

Despite the popularity of Klan ideals, the second KKK floundered until 1920 when William J. Simmons hired Mary Elizabeth Tyler and Edward Young Clarke to act as publicity agents and promoters. Tyler and Clarke were extremely successful and Klan membership swelled in months. Soon, the Klan was prevalent in every state and controlled many of the local, state, and federal governments.

Spurred by fierce white nationalism veiled with the moral justice of deeply conservative Protestant beliefs, the Klan gained widespread support and national attention. As a result,  there was a dramatic increase in the amount of vigilante action and extrajudicial mob violence across the United States. By 1921, newspapers heavily featured the Klan and their vigilante approach to justice. This press coverage prompted a Congressional investigation that increased Klan publicity as well as enrollment numbers.

After a series of internal power struggles in 1922, Simmons was ousted and replaced by Hiram Wesley Evans, a dentist from Dallas. Under Evans, Klan enrollment continued to increase rapidly, despite internal controversy and growing external opposition. The 1920s Klan was incredibly popular and had chapters in every state.

In contrast to the first wave of the KKK, which was primarily made up of wealthy men, the second Klan was primarily made up of middle-class Americans that feared the progressive social and political policies emerging after the war. However, these second-wave klansmen and women did not hide in the shadows or fear public condemnation. The second Klan welcomed newspaper coverage as a way of publicizing and promoting the organization.

Like the first Klan, the second KKK used terrorism and mob violence to assert their dominance and maintain their social supremacy by striking down any group or individual that challenged their staunch racist, xenophobic, and religious beliefs. Though 1920s Klan primarily targeted African Americans, they also systematically attacked any individual or group that challenged their core beliefs--whether that be Catholics, Jews, immigrants, or homosexuals. The second Klan also opposed the sale and consumption of alcohol and were ardent supporters of the temperance movement. Protecting the purity white womanhood was one of the main issues the Klan focused on as they would strike down any that perceivably threatened white women’s sanctity.

The Klan enforced their beliefs through mob violence and terrorism. The Klan used exorbitant lawlessness to oppose individual or group they believed posed a threat to their beliefs or the social status quo they desperately wanted to maintain. As a result, the Klan tar-and-feathered, flogged, and lynched individuals across the country. USing this exact and systematic terrorism, the Klan maintained their power and a repressive social order that mirrored the South during Reconstruction. In this way, the Ku Klux Klan acted as an extra-legal arm of the American judicial system.

The Klan influenced every aspect of many local and state governments. With the widespread support of white men, women, and children, Klan ideology was pervasive and the KKK  infiltrated law enforcement and politics. Not only did the Klan impact social beliefs, but because of the organization’s ties to influential figures who wielded power, the Klan was able to gain control the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and therefore, the nation itself.

The second wave of the Ku Klux Klan reached its height of power in 1925 when tens of thousands of unmasked klansmen marched through Washington, D.C., down Pennsylvania Avenue,  and past the White House. At this time, the Klan had roughly four million members across the nation. Despite its widespread support, the second wave of the KKK lost its significant influence shortly after the 1925 march in the capital. A number of scandals and internal disputes brought an end to the second Ku Klux Klan and their reign of terror. After World War II, the Klan grew increasingly fragmented and the organization was essentially expunged from the record until the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s.


The Klan in Texas

Texans were receptive to Klan ideology and the organization had tens of thousands of members in Texas alone. The Klan promised to reform Texas politics, enforce prohibition, and promote general morality and acted as a refuge and fraternal organization for white, Protestant men across the state. The Klan spread through Texas by establishing a hold in small towns and creating a formidable base of support and then expanding into larger cities; the organization had well-established concentrations of power in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Waco, San Antonio, and other large cities across the state.

As was the case in other states, Texas klansmen and women were drawn to the organization from all sectors of society. Members were doctors, politicians, law-enforcement officers, business owners. The focus on grassroots recruitment and everyday people made the Klan accessible and incredibly popular throughout the state. By 1922, a growing number of anti-klan organizations emerged in opposition to the KKK’s increasingly violent tactics.

Opposition to the Klan did not go unnoticed by the organization’s national leadership. In 1922, Hiram Wesley Evans replaced William J. Simmons as Imperial Wizard, enacting new legislation in order to reform the organization and change its image. Evans encouraged Klan members to run for political posts. This method was advantageous in Texas as the Klan infiltrated state legislators, law enforcement, the judicial system, and other state and local offices. This tactic proved especially successful when Earle B. Mayfield was elected to the United State Senate in 1922.

Following Mayfield’s election to the Senate, the Klan established firm control of city governments across Texas, including Dallas and Fort Worth. By 1923, Klan membership in Texas surged to over 150,000. Despite the high numbers of Klan sympathizers, opposition to the organization and membership declined rapidly in the following years.


The Klan in Denton County

Denton was a microcosm of Klan activity happening across the United States, simply mirroring the sentiments and actions of their fellow klansmen in other regions. Like cities across the nation, Denton was infiltrated, and eventually controlled, by the bigoted Klan ideology that spread across America after the release of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in 1915. This film received both cheers and jeers after its first showing in Denton in January of 1917. Six months later, My Fighting Gentleman, another film by D. W. Griffith that glamorized the Klan’s racist, xenophobic beliefs, was shown and was generally well received by the public.

By 1920, William Joseph Simmons, the Imperial Wizard of the second Ku Klux Klan, claimed that the Klan had a holding in almost every state in the Union. At this time, the Klan had a presence in both Dallas and Fort Worth, and was spreading to other cities and towns throughout the metroplex. As Klan ideology spread across North Texas, so did large waves of lawlessness perpetrated by men in white robes that viewed themselves as vigilant crusaders upholding their deeply conservative religious beliefs with the goal of maintaining the social order of the Antebellum South.

In early 1921, Klan recruiters spread to smaller towns across North Texas. In January, the Klan emerged in Gainesville and was followed by a wave of lawless violence. Similarly, this also occurred in Sherman, Roanoak, Sanger, and McKinney, among others. The presence of the Klan in Denton was first mentioned in a newspaper article published by the Denton Record-Chronicle on June 29, 1921. Though it is unclear if there was an established klavern in the city at that time, the KKK had an obvious presence in Denton County. By July 9, 1921, Denton newspapers claim there was no established Klan den, but it is clear that recruiters made their way to the county, spreading klan ideology, and likely gaining support.

Over the next few months, the Klan became more and more pervasive in Denton. Newspapers such as the Denton Record-Chronicle, dramatically increased coverage of Klan activity in the region, the state, and the country as a whole.

The first evidence of the Klan’s presence in Denton was when the Campus Chat featured an article on October 15, 1921 about the Klan holding a march through the campus of North Texas State Normal College the previous night. This, combined with the increased press coverage of Klan activity in the second half of 1921, makes it clear that this was the primary time of Klan recruitment in Denton County.

Nearly two months before the Denton Klan showed their strength by parading through the streets, they claimed responsibility for springing two African American youths from jail in Pilot Point and whipping them. As the Denton Record-Chronicle describes in their article from October 21, 1921, two young black men were held in a jail in Pilot Point on suspicion of robbery of a white man’s home. 

After nearly six months of increasing Klan support throughout the County, Denton Klavern No. 136 made its first official appearance on December 20, 1921 as the organization marched through the city streets, starting at the courthouse on the square. With no advance announcement of this parade, Denton’s Klan appeared abruptly and made their presence known in a very public fashion.