Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Consequences of Powerlessness: Whiteness as Class Politics, Part II

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published my first book, "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001." In honor of that work's fifth anniversary, I am serializing it on this blog. Here, I describe how the Ku Klux Klan came to dominate Dallas politics and public life in the entire state of Texas in the 1920s.

The Ku Klux Klan loudly announced its presence in North Central Texas on April 1, 1921. With a Dallas Times Herald reporter as a witness, a group of Klansmen drove to a desolate road six miles south of town and tormented Alex Johnson, an elevator operator from the Adolphus Hotel who allegedly had sex with a white woman. Klansmen abducted Johnson, threatened to hang him, and then burned "KKK" on his forehead with acid. The Klan dumped their bloody, shirtless victim in front of the Adolphus, scene of the alleged affair.

The original Ku Klux Klan largely faded from the scene by the early 1870s, partly as a result of federal pressure. Original Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest distanced himself from the group by 1869, perhaps to placate Republican investors for his railroad enterprises. William J. Simmons, a habitual joiner of fraternities, launched the revived Ku Klux Klan on Thanksgiving eve 1915 with ceremonial cross burning at Stone Mountain in Georgia. The new Klan added to the anti-black, anti-federal government message of its predecessor a new gospel preaching against the decadence of modern cities, warning of the dangers of immigration and of Jewish and Catholic plots to undermine Anglo-Saxon society.

Fortunately for Simmons, he got a significant publicity boost with the release the same year of the pro-Klan film epic "The Birth of a Nation." Simmons tapped into the Southern anti-Semitism stirred by the 1913 murder of Mary Phagan near Atlanta and the lynching two years later of a Jewish pencil factory superintendent, Leo Frank. Many of the disturbing undercurrents lurking beneath the Frank lynching arose in the later Klan harassment and violence against Jews in Dallas. The modern industrial order provided as much fuel to the Klan fire as did traditional Southern bigotry.

The Frank lynching marked not just suspicions about Jewish whiteness in the South, but also resentment over Northern economic invasion of the South. The Phagan family, squeezed off their farm by dropping cotton prices, perfectly symbolized the New South jointly created by Northern capitalists and Southern boosters like Henry Grady. Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old at the time of her murder, worked 10 hours a day for 12 cents an hour at the pencil factory to supplement her family's paltry wages.

Despite questionable evidence, Frank was convicted on the eyewitness testimony of a black man, James Conley, whose testimony would not have even been allowed had Frank's whiteness not been so widely questioned. Georgia demagogue and former Populist politician Tom Watson, in his newspaper, depicted Frank and his fellow Jews as an alien and depraved non-white race. Disturbed by a lack of substantial, convincing evidence against Frank, the outgoing governor of Georgia, John Slaton, commuted his sentence to a life-term, but a mob took the law into its own hands, seizing Frank from prison and hanging him August 16, 1915.

In the end, however, the trial and Frank's subsequent murder were as much about the disorder and fear bred by capitalism as about anti-Semitism or anti-black racism. ". . . Frank represented the penetration of the South by the industrial revolution in a new and frightening way," wrote historian Joel Williamson. "He was a rich Jew, managing a factory mostly owned by his New York uncle. Little Mary Phagan was Southern, white, and an innocent virgin. She was born in the country and killed in the city, in a Yankee-owned factory, fighting to preserve her purity against a bestial Jew. Such was the menace to the South at large, and the South turned its anger away from blacks and toward those alien forces that seemed most frightening to its essential virtue."

By late November of that year, a group of two dozen men who called themselves the Knights of Mary Phagan announced the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan with a cross burning at Stone Mountain. The ceremony was cleverly timed just before the Atlanta premiere of The Birth of a Nation. The new Klan skillfully blended xenophobia, anti-feminism, and distress at the disrupting effects of industrial capitalism with traditional negrophobia, a popular message that made the revived movement, unlike its Southern-based Reconstruction-era counterpart, a powerful national force. By the mid-1920s, the organization had a likely membership of 3 million. The Klan played a dominating role in northern states like Indiana. In Texas, the KKK elected one of its members, Earle B. Mayfield, as United States Senator.

In books, speeches and public school curricula, elites had questioned the working class white man's capacity for "civilization." Klansmen "proved" their whiteness by presenting themselves as defenders of traditional values, even if such a defense required vigilante violence. Presbyterian minister C.H. Storey made clear in a May 1922 address in Corsicana, 55 miles southeast of Dallas, that reasserting male supremacy represented a major objective of the KKK. "The coming of the automobile, the licentious screen . . . have multiplied many times the evil snares for womanhood in the land. The so-called double standard of society has been a great protection to American womanhood. It has been loosened, and men now . . . make remarks about women as they pass that in the last generation would have been treated as the most reprehensible." Storey presented the Klan as a defender of women against sexist catcalls, but it is clear he was equally worried about women expressing the freedom allowed by the automobile and encouraged by sexually-oriented movies.

At first, Dallas elites rushed to be counted as defenders of traditional virtue and the Klan craved the respectability that came from an A-list membership. So eager was the Dallas Klan to sign up business elites that a KKK delegation paid a visit to Edward Titche, the owner of the Titche-Goettinger department store and asked him to join their organization. The merchant explained that, while he appreciated their time, he was unable to join because he was Jewish. "Too bad," one Klansman said, "you would have made a wonderful kleagle (recruiter)."

Generally, the Klan's recruitment proved more successful, with the organization completely dominating 1920s Dallas politics. With approximately 13,000 members, Dallas boasted the nation's largest Klan chapter. Hiram Wesley Evans, a downtown dentist and 32nd degree Mason, served as exalted cyclops for Dallas Klan No. 66. In 1922, Evans led a palace coup that overthrew Simmons as leader of the national Klan, headquartered in Atlanta. Along with Evans, attorneys, city bureaucrats, physicians and ministers formed the Dallas Klan's leadership corps. The group's membership roster resembled a list of the city's who's who.

By 1922, the Dallas Klan’s Executive Committee included the city police commissioner while the Klan's Steering Committee of One Hundred included a Dallas Times Herald reporter, four Dallas Power & Light Co. officials, the Ford Motor Company's local superintendent, the Democratic Party chairman, and the county tax assessor. Robert L. Thornton, president of the Dallas County State Bank (who served as Dallas mayor from 1953-1961) joined the Klan as did Police Chief Elmo Straight. Klan sympathizers included Mayor Louis Blaylock and Congressman Hatton Sumners. Future notables who joined the Dallas Klan in the 1920s included Jesse E. Curry, police chief when President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and Captain Will Fritz, head of the police homicide division when nightclub owner Jack Ruby murdered accused Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Boycott threats forced some small businessmen to join the Klan. Large businesses in Dallas avoided Klan embargoes by encouraging their employees to join. Even Jewish-owned businesses avoided Klan sanction through this means. The Klan made every effort to appear as just another benevolent civic organization, opening Hope Cottage, a home for foundling children and sponsoring a special Klan Day at the State Fair of Texas in 1923, attended by 151,192 people.

Far more commonly, the Klan revealed itself as a terrorist enforcer of race and gender norms. The Trinity River bottoms echoed with the crack of the lash as the Dallas Klan enthusiastically bullwhipped accused sex offenders, Prohibition violators and African Americans ignoring their assigned place in society. The Klan flogged 68 victims at its favorite whipping post near the river, a setting that provided the desired-for eerie effect. "The flitting of a myriad fireflies in the damp weeds of the humid bottom made the scene a weird one," the Dallas Times Herald reported after one Klan whipping "The hoot of owls and croaking of frogs on the river bank drowned the victim's groans."

Misogyny ranked a near equal with racism in the Dallas Klan's value system. Recalling the attack on Alex Johnson, an ex-Klansman noted in the 1940s that "They got mad when I wouldn't take part but I told them it was the woman who should be whipped. She was just a whore and he was getting business for her." The defense of whiteness required not just keeping African Americans in their place, but regulating the sexual behavior of unruly white women. "Whores" became a target as surely as any "non-white" group such as blacks or Jews, while defending "pure women"— always portrayed in Klan iconography as non-sexual, passive and dependent on men for protection — became a leading rationale for Klan violence.

The Klan's presumed Puritanism won support from many mainstream Protestants, such as Dr. C. C. Selecman of Dallas' First Methodist Church (who would soon be president of Southern Methodist University) and the pastors of Westminister Presbyterian and the First Presbyterian Church. However, with a series of well-publicized beatings and kidnappings, fissures formed in ruling circles. Elites outside the Klan worried that the KKK represented white working class resentment of the ruling business oligarchy.

English immigrant George Bannerman Dealey became president of the Dallas Morning News in 1919 and, like the leadership of the newspaper to this day, spoke for a white, prosperous and extremely conservative constituency of bankers and real estate oligarchs. For Dealey, the Klan represented trouble because violence and disorder discouraged outside business investment. More subtly, Dealey expressed concern over the class origins of many Klansmen. The Morning News consistently portrayed Klansmen as backward and unsophisticated and described the goals of the KKK as irrational and irrelevant. "White supremacy is not imperiled," a Morning News editorial of 1921 said. "Vice is not rampant . . . And if freedom is endangered, it is by the redivivus of mob spirit in the disguising garb of the Ku Klux Klan."

The reference to "mob spirit" hints at some elites' concern that Klan control might pass from the sheriffs, police chiefs and politicians to non-elites pursuing an unpredictable agenda. In cities like Dallas, the Klan usually launched their membership drives by recruiting first from the leading citizens of the community, lending the group instant prestige. Next, organizers enrolled middle class members. Then, to keep fees from new enlistments flowing up the organizational chart, the Klan made its pitch to the poorest strata of society. Each Klan chapter thus represented a cross-section of the community. The tensions within the Dallas Klan echoed those in Dallas society at large.

For its non-elite members, the Klan provided a working class cultural alternative to that offered by the earlier Populist and Socialist movements. Music like "Ku Klux Kismet," with its tonal suggestions of mysterious, supernatural power, gave Klan listeners a fantasy escape from political and economic impotence. The Klan, mindful of its constituency, staged dramatic initiations featuring cross burnings, barbecue picnics, lemonade socials, special screenings of The Birth of a Nation, and, on one occasion, a blackface minstrel show to raise funds for Hope Cottage. If elite whites considered themselves "Anglo Saxons" and inheritors of a lofty cultural tradition and saw white workers as inhabiting racial twilight, Klan leaders in Dallas tried to forge a new white brotherhood that transcended class boundaries.

Once a hobby of the rich and powerful, the Invisible Empire was portrayed by the Dallas Morning News as falling into the hands of grubby, middle class schemers and working class hoodlums. In spite of a national record of breaking strikes and disrupting labor unions, the Dallas Klan recruited labor support. Even as the Dallas Klan "declared war on Bolshevism, Socialism, Syndalcism and I.W.W. Ism," the Dallas Morning News saw the Klan as representing working class revolt. "According to the tale of the street, the Klan is made up, in the cities at least, mostly of men whose impulse in politics is radical," an August 1922 editorial declared.

Many readers saw the Morning News as opposed to both the Klan and unions, thus strengthening the association for Dallasites between the KKK and the working class. F.L. Sherrill, a travelling agent for the Dallas Morning News, wrote a February 1922 memo to the management complaining of a growing perception that the Morning News was "against the oil business, The Unions [and] The K.K.K." Sherrill thought the newspaper should make clear that it "is not against the unions. Only a small percent of people belong to unions and they are two sides to questions. News is not against the K.K.K. but against its methods that it goes about to accomplish a purpose that all are interested in." Even as the Klan harassed unions, the battle between the Morning News and the KKK embodied for some a struggle between rich and poor.

In Texas, the ranks of the labor unions and the Klan largely overlapped. In the 1922 Democratic Senate primary, the Klan-backed candidate Earle Mayfield presented himself in his campaign literature as a friend of organized labor. Like the Klan itself, Mayfield suggested he could bridge the class gap tearing at Texas society. "HE IS the candidate of the Farmer. He is the candidate of the Business Man. He is the candidate of the Manufacturer and Jobber. He is a Union Man," one campaign leaflet declared. Mayfield's opponent Jim Ferguson, an impeached former governor who tangled with the Klan on Prohibition, attributed his defeat in Dallas County and other cities to the Klan's ability to induce "a great majority of the labor union voters to quit me and vote for Mayfield."

Labor activists communicated with their constituents through the Klan. On March 30, 1923, the Dallas Klan newspaper, The Texas 100 Per Cent American, published a petition signed by "representative members of the various crafts of Organized Labor in the City of Dallas." The petition called for an end to the immigration of Mexican laborers into the city and their employment in the city's streets and bridge department. "Illiterate, inefficient, incompetent Mexicans and aliens have for the past two years been given employment, to the exclusion of white, American citizens of our community, many of whom have had to walk the streets of Dallas jobless while their wives and children suffered for food and clothing." Signers of the petition charged that "efficient, white, American laboring men" could not "exist on the wage scale set by the present Street and Bridge Commissioner" and urged workers to block the commissioner's re-election.

In the above appeal, gender and race mutually reinforced white supremacy. The ability of white men to earn enough money to allow their women to stay at home caring for children and managing the household supposedly marked the dividing line between superior Anglo-Saxons and inferior blacks, browns, and Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Furthermore, cases where poverty forced non-Anglo and non-middle class women to work supposedly proved not only how unfeminine non-white and off-white women were, but also the degree to which their husbands lacked masculinity. Hence, unions made earning "white men's wages" a priority for its membership, a cause the Klan claimed to support.

Hiram Evans, the energetic head of the Dallas Klan, certainly tried to present the group as a friend of the city's workers. An Alabama native and son of a judge, Evans settled in Dallas shortly after the turn of the century where he established a dental practice across the street from the downtown Neiman-Marcus department store. Aware his prestige in Dallas rested on his alliance with business elites, Evans tried to walk a tightrope, appealing directly to workers' grievances, but blaming workplace trouble on blacks and immigrants rather than the city's merchant oligarchs. Believing in capitalism, the Klan could only blame people of color for the low wages and the poor working conditions of its Anglo union members.

This message carried a particular resonance as the number of Dallas residents with foreign parentage expanded 51 percent between 1910-1920. The city’s growing immigrant population "darkened" in that period, deriving increasingly from the Eastern and Southern European and Latin American origins. In 1900, fewer than 16 percent of immigrants living in Dallas came from Eastern and Southern Europe, Latin America and Asia. By 1920, 54.4 percent of immigrants came from these regions, the largest group arriving from Mexico.

At a time when Dallas unions splintered along racial and ethnic lines and divided between skilled and unskilled workers, the Klan presented itself as the white, working class alternative to what it described as Jewish-inspired Bolshevism. Contrary to the evidence, a Klan newspaper in Dallas insisted that it was not "an open shop organization." A cartoon appearing in a Klan-published Dallas newspaper shows a sheeted and hooded Klansman as the conductor of an orchestra that included "Industry," "Agriculture," "Labor," "Capital," the "Legislature," and the "Judiciary." The Klansman leads all in a musical piece labeled "Patriotism." "Now, Perhaps, We'll Get Some Harmony," the caption reads. By uniting "producers" against Jews, blacks and Catholics, the Klan could succeed where the Populists, Socialists and labor unions failed.

In his appeals to the working class, Evans damned corporate greed. With their insistence on incessant toil, Hiram Evans said during his Klan Day speech at the State Fair in 1923, capitalists had even profaned the Christian Sabbath. "The command from on high was to work, work, work, work, work, work . . . " Wealthy elites, Evans claimed, had instituted slavery to fill their insatiable demands for labor, thus racially polluting the nation with Africans, but even that was not enough. "There followed logically, inevitably, the more modern and monstrous cheap labor idea," he said. " . . . Humanity has become a commodity. For mercenary motives, our importers of it want the most inferior grade . . . Do our overlords of industry realize what they are doing to America?" As in other communities, the Klan in Dallas often blurred the boundary between reactionary and progressive politics.

Whatever place the Klan occupied in Dallas' political spectrum, however, its rhetoric sounded red to Dallas elites.
Like its Reconstruction-era ancestor, the 1920s Klan proved to be murderous and ruthless. The purported class origins of the original Klan covered all its sins, however, while the working class origins of some modern Klansmen made their crimes symptoms of public disorder.

Associated with Confederate officers like Nathan Forrest, the old Klan appeared in the elite Anglo mind as an association of gentlemen defending refined ladies from underclass depredations. To elites, the new, more vulgar Klan lacked such elán. " It [the first Klan] had been organized to protect the women and children because this proclamation of freedom for the slaves had come out [and] . . . they wanted to . . . protect the home front," Carrie Kearney recalled in a 1974 interview. Kearney lived in East Dallas during the 1920s with her sister and her father, Martin McNulty Crane, who had served as the lieutenant governor of Texas from 1892-1894 and state attorney general from 1894-1898. Kearney's father led the Dallas County Citizens League, the chief anti-Klan organization in 1920s Dallas. "They said that [Klan] had nothing to do with religious prejudice or racial fears," Kearney continued.

By contrast, Klan opponents saw the modern Klan as a bigoted fraud whose existence defamed the legendary Klan of Reconstruction. White men were expected to uphold gender norms by protecting passive white women. In this role, the old mythical Klan had allegedly proven themselves the defenders of Anglo-Saxon tradition. According to the Dallas County Citizens League, the record of the new Klan's "treatment of women in Texas and elsewhere constitutes one of the blackest pages of its black history."

The Citizens League, in its pamphlet "The Case Against the Ku Klux Klan," cited a June 16, 1922 incident in Shelby County, 173 miles southeast of Dallas near the Louisiana border, as an example of the new Klan's unmanliness. Klansmen there seized a woman from the hotel where she worked, stripped her naked, tarred and feathered her and then abandoned her. Multiple incidents like this made the new Klan "a travesty upon the name of the original organization . . . of the Reconstruction period," the pamphlet declared.

The Dallas Klan also generated backlash from some elites as it defined immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe and Mexico, as well as Jews and Catholics, as non-white. In this, they merely echoed views widely held by some of Dallas' powerful. J.C. McNealus, Dallas' state senator from 1911 to 1921, developed a pro-labor reputation. Even this relatively progressive elite, however, called for the deportation of the "filthy" Greek, "Dago and Slav" who crowded "Americans" from jobs, even "dethroning the American negro from his shoe-shining stand." This view drew opposition from some elites who profited particularly from exploitation of Mexican labor in agriculture and industry. Klan leaders also faced some resistance from rank-and-file members for whom anti-Semitism held little attraction.

Hiram Evans shared the fears of many wealthy, powerful Dallasites that the immigrants pouring into the city represented racial degenerates. "In the beginning of the national life . . . our policy was rightly that of the open door," Evans said in his 1923 Klan Day speech at the State Fair. " . . . Those who would might come. Millions did come — the best the earth had to offer — Huguenot and Cavalier and Puritan . . . Then, suddenly, the character of our immigration changed . . . There was a fundamental inferiority of racial and national strains. The Anglo-Saxon, the Scandinavian, and the Teuton began to recede, with an overwhelming preponderance of peoples like the Slav, the Latin, and the Greek . . . " Only Anglo-Saxons could truly respect the rule of law, Evans declared. "From the British Isles and Scandinavia and Germany and Holland and Switzerland have come people born to that divinely essential attitude," Evans said in his Fair Park speech. "Let more of them come. They are our kinsmen in tradition and ideals. But generations, or centuries, cannot school the Latin, the Greek, the Balkan and the Slav to that fundamental conception."

Evans believed that Americanism meant a "Nordic" heritage and that Southern and Eastern Europeans lacked the heavenly-inspired gift of republicanism. Such immigrants were as "utterly and eternally hopeless from the American point of view" as any black person. Elites in the early twentieth century hit upon a largely class-based definition of whiteness. To Evans, regardless of wealth or poverty, one could be white if one descended from Northern Europe, believed in Protestant Christianity and opposed Marxism. Evans also makes clear the connection many Dallasites made between white racial identity and support for American-style democracy.

Evans ranked two groups, Jews and Catholics, as particular threats. Klan anti-Catholicism tapped into a deep well of Dallas culture. Like Jews, Catholics represented a religious group from multiple national origins that had integrated into the city's power structure but nevertheless faced racial demotion in the early twentieth century. Also like Jews, Catholics faced accusations of participating in a vast conspiracy to control the world. Dallas served as a hotbed of anti-Catholicism, giving wide support to the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant Know Nothing Party during the 1850s.

Nineteenth century Texas anti-Catholic rhetoric echoed anti-Semitic accusations. "Imagine our Senate and cabinet composed of a majority of Catholics . . . and our glorious republic would be metamorphosed into a Catholic hierarchy . . . " the Texas State Times, a Know-Nothing newspaper, declared. "The inquisition, the crucifix, the torture, the faggot and torch would be reared in the forum of Justice . . . our rivers blush with the blood of protestants. The Catholics . . openly call themselves anti-democratic, anti-republican, . . . and they hold fast their allegiance to a foreign potentate."

The allegedly anti-democratic, anti-republican nature of Catholicism contrasted in the minds of Dallas elites with the innate republicanism of Anglo-Saxons. Nevertheless, light-skinned Catholics could still win positions of authority in Dallas after the Civil War. Anti-Catholicism, however, was commonplace among Southern Baptists, a growing Protestant sect within Dallas. In 1874, the town of Jefferson, Texas hosted the Southern Baptist Convention. Railroad companies provided members of the convention free passes. When the entourage reached Dallas, the mayor and other leading citizens arranged a reception for the Baptist delegates at the city's opera house. One Georgian, Dr. J.H. DeVotie, spoke for many delegates when he contrasted the "soul-liberty" Baptists supposedly represented as opposed to "the propagation of the religion of Romanism by the sword and faggot." DeVotie and his fellow delegates discovered to their embarrassment that Dallas' mayor was Catholic.

In spite of DeVotie's apologies, his statement reflected a strong current in Dallas Protestantism that was only reinforced by Cyrus Scofield's dispensationalism. Perhaps embittered by his divorce from his Catholic first wife, Scofield, in his reference Bible, identifies Catholicism with paganism and the corrupt, one-world religion he predicted the anti-Christ would create in the final days. " . . . Romanism weds Christian doctrine to pagan ceremonies," Scofield wrote in one footnote. The future world dominance of "apostate" Catholicism's false doctrines, Scofield wrote, were prophetically symbolized by the "Whore of Babylon" mentioned in the 17th chapter of Revelation. Thus, in the Scofieldian view, Catholicism was both alien and demonic.

Like Scofield, the Klan also identified the Vatican with the "Great Scarlet Woman" of Revelation. In this interpretation of the Apocalypse, Scofield and the Klan alike argued that the Vatican would be the vehicle through which the Anti-Christ would impose false Christianity on the world in the final days. Furthermore, by insistently referring to Catholic doctrine as "Romanism," mainstream Protestants like Scofield and DeVotie as well as the Klan characterized the Catholic Church as innately foreign, linking the institution with Southern European racial decadence.

Catholics inherently represented the antithesis of Anglo Saxon democracy, Hiram Evans declared in one pamphlet. "Catholicism is built . . . upon the monarchial idea of the individual as subject instead of citizen. The doctrine of democracy in its every relation to humanity is exactly the reverse." Because they were opposed to democracy, Klan leader Col. Joe Camp of Georgia implied to those assembled at a Klan rally in nearby Corsicana that Catholics could not by definition be Anglo-Saxon, and therefore represented something less than white. "The germ of the principles of the Ku Klux Klan is as old as the Magna Charta of England," he told the assembled Klansmen:

"This government is an Anglo-Saxon achievement . . . This Anglo-Saxon influence, statesmanship and leadership is being undermined by alien blood. The Catholics are organized and have been for centuries, and we cannot join them if we wanted to, and thank God we do not want to. The Jews are organized and we could not join them, if we wanted to, and thank God we do not want to. The Negroes are organized and we could not join them if we wanted to, and thank God we don’t want to . . . [W]e have permitted the Trojan horse to enter our gates. The slum of the Old World, illiterate treacherous and envious have flooded into this country to be the tools and weapons of designing men, unscrupulous demagogues, and crooked politicians . . .

In a few short sentences, a national Klan leader characterized Catholics and Jews as having "alien blood." Like other racial inferiors, Catholics and Jews were totalitarian by nature, he argued. Camp grouped Catholics and Jews with African Americans, casting them outside the community of white folks. The Klan movement, with its substantial working class support, threatened to racialize Catholics and to loosen the Jewish community's tentative grips on the levers of commercial power that whiteness bestowed.

The relationship of the Catholic Church to African Americans raised further Protestant suspicions. The Dallas Roman Catholic diocese, established in 1890, opened a black parish, St. Peter the Apostle, in Dallas' Freedman's Town near the modern State-Thomas historic district in 1905 with a dozen African Americans as members. A school for African American children, the Sister's Academy, opened three years later at the request of Mary and Valentine Jordan. The Jordans, Baptist former slaves impressed by the Dallas Ursaline Sisters' teaching methods, grew frustrated with poorly-funded black public schools and saw greater educational opportunity at the Catholic school, later named St. Peter's Academy.

Immersed, however, in non-hierarchical, highly expressive Protestant faiths, African American children attending the academy and their parents rarely responded to Catholicism's more austere theology. Only three of St. Peter's original 40 students were Catholic and, for decades, white priests expressed frustration at their inability to win converts. In a November 1924 Canonical Report, Father John T. Neifert noted that St. Peter's had not much difficulty in maintaining religious orthodoxy where "one or both parents are Catholics, but most of our converts have been children with (non)Catholic parents and it is difficult to make their family continue to make them attend church."

Over the decades, tensions built between those African Americans who did convert and a church some blacks saw as one more white-dominated institution. In spite of future conflict, in the 1920s the Catholic Church seemed one of the most open establishments to African Americans, prompting the Klan to charge that the church promoted miscegenation. The Klan accused the church of forcing "white women to confess their sins and even the thoughts of their hearts to bachelor Negro Buck Priests . . ." The church's purpose in installing black priests, the Klan claimed, was for "the purpose of marshalling the Negroes to help kill out white Americanism." To accomplish this, the "negroes are being Catholicized all over the South, and are being made to believe they are on a social plane, equal and, no doubt, superior to the WHITE PROTESTANT peoples of the earth." Evans and other Dallas Klan leaders sought to make Protestantism and whiteness synonymous.

The large migration of mostly Catholic Mexican refugees fleeing revolutionary violence south of the border after 1910 only underscored the alien image of the Dallas church. The Roman Catholic diocese founded Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, the first in the city for Mexicans, in 1913. By the late 1920s, the city had two more Mexican parishes. As previously noted, Mexicans in the Anglo mind were born of the sexual union of Southern Europeans with Indians and blacks. Many Anglos believed Mexicans represented the worst traits of all three groups. Some Klan members saw the stance of the Catholic Church towards Mexican immigrants as race treason.

In the decade following the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the Daughters of Charity order of nuns brought food, medicine and clothing to Mexican refugees huddled on the city's outskirts. In the 1920s another wave of immigrants found themselves stranded in the city by unscrupulous labor contractors who failed to secure promised jobs in Northern states. Nuns operating in a warehouse across the street from Our Lady of Guadalupe ran a school featuring religion and English classes, operated a free medical clinic and, in 1925, opened a kindergarten providing children free breakfasts. A high school for Mexican girls soon followed.

Large Mexican American communities formed along Eagle Ford Road, now known as Singelton Boulevard, and in "El Cemento Chico." The "Cement City" community in West Dallas housed impoverished whites and immigrant workers employed at the Lone Star Cement Plant. Carmelite priests acted as intermediaries for Mexican workers employed at Texas Power and Light and a brick factory in nearby Malakoff, seeking to alleviate poor working conditions. The Catholic diocese's attempts to make life for immigrants more bearable further heightened Klan suspicions.

To Dallas Klan leaders, the fear caused by the alien Catholic menace eclipsed even anti-Semitic paranoia. The Vatican schemed for world dominion, Klan leaders insisted, and Jews served as unwitting pawns. "The Catholic has all to gain, and nothing to lose, by tying the Jew on to his kite's tail for a short while until he gets tired of using him and ditches him," a Klan editorial entitled "Can It Be Possible the Sharp Jew Is Being Hoodwinked?" warned. " . . . [The Catholic Church] is determined to exterpate all (Jews and Gentiles alike) who fail or refuse to bow to the will of the Pope."

By the 1920s, Jews were a small but highly visible part of the Dallas community, numbering approximately 8,000 of the city's 135,000 residents. Some elites had embraced successful Jews like the Sangers as part of the commercial elite, but Jews had little direct political power in the city. Some elites like Lewis Dabney condemned Jews as dangerous aliens. Perhaps tapping into public fears generated by the Frank case, the Dallas Klan publicly warned Jewish men to not date Gentile women. The Dallas Klan targeted a Jewish picture framer, Austrian immigrant Phillip J. Rothblum, for a whipping in February 1922 and warned him to leave town by 6 p.m. the next day. A nine-year resident of Dallas, Rothblum sold his home and business at a loss.

If some Gentile Dallasites saw Jews as Christ killers, many still saw modern Jews as the heirs of the Old Testament Hebrews. Gentiles influenced by Scofield believed Jews would play a key role in provoking the Second Coming of Christ. The Klan answered such reluctant anti-Semites by embracing British Israelism, an eccentric theology developed in England in the nineteenth century. British Israelism taught that white "Aryans" descended from the so-called 10 "lost tribes of Israel" who disappeared from the Old Testament after their dispersal by the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C.E.

Adherents of British Israelism believed that Jews, while descending from the Israelite tribe of Judah, became racially tainted by mixing with inferior Middle Eastern pagans. The ten lost tribes of Israel, meanwhile, had migrated to northern and central Europe and founded the most powerful empires in the modern world, including Great Britain and the United States. The white western world's wealth and power in the twentieth century served as fulfillment of God's promise to the Old Testament patriarchs. "Aryans," including whites of Northern European descent in Dallas, and not Jews, were the chosen people of Bible, divinely granted racial superiority to subdue the planet. A Klansman could now maintain his anti-Semitism and at the same time revere a Bible cleansed of its Jewish taint. "[T]he Anglo Saxons are the ten tribes of Israel," The Texas 100 Per Cent American told its readers. The Klan would lead the God-chosen Anglo-Saxons in a battle of Armageddon against dark-skinned undermen.

Unfortunately for the KKK, by the 1920s Catholics and Jews represented religious, not racial, groups to many if not most Dallasites. Gentiles largely refused to abandon traditional Christian theology and embrace British Israelism. Even Dallas whites agreeing with the Klan on male supremacy and the suppression of vice rejected what was seen as the Klan's hostility to religious freedom. When the Klan responded to the Dallas Morning News' editorial campaign against the organization by spreading rumors that the paper was run by Catholics, the newspaper circulation lost 3,000 subscribers.

Some readers, however, took offense at the Klan's efforts. ". . . [A]lthough, my sympathies are with the Ku Klux Klan, in their efforts to do good, at-the-same-time, I will never join them in a fight on the Catholics and the Jews," one reader, S. Webb, wrote the Morning News in 1922. Even some rank-and-file Klansmen rejected the leadership's anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. "A Colonel Simmons had a dream of reorganizing the Ku Klux Klan along the lines of the old Klan," a former Klansman recalled in the late 1940s. "But promoters got ahold of the organization and decided the old ideas were not good enough. They started the anti-Jew and anti-Catholic ideas even though the Klansmen swore to the memory of General [Nathan Bedford] Forrest who had been head of the Knights of Columbus . . . I could see no reason for opposing the Jews as I have never been anti-religionist and I became disgusted when the Klan started jumping on Catholics. I can't see telling anyone what religion they must believe in."


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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