Bud Kennedy

A Christmas with crosses, but no love: When the Klan marched in Fort Worth

Ku Klux Klan gathering of the Fort Worth Klan No. 101; Klan members in robes and hoods holding signs, no date [ca. early 1920s] Photographer: Jernigan
Ku Klux Klan gathering of the Fort Worth Klan No. 101; Klan members in robes and hoods holding signs, no date [ca. early 1920s] Photographer: Jernigan Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, UT Arlington Library Special Collections

The marchers paraded through downtown with signs: “God, Country and Home” and “White Supremacy.”

It was a December parade along Houston and Main streets with lots of Christian crosses, but no spirit of Christmas or Christ.

In December 1924, the masked and hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan weren’t marching to show God’s love. They were marching to show bigotry remained in power in Fort Worth.

That fall, the Klan candidate had lost the runoff in the Texas governor’s race. The local Klan meeting hall, 1006 N. Main St., was burned.

The parade report described “phantom throngs” of 5,000 marching through downtown with an airplane flying overhead lighted to look like a burning cross.

Later, the night after Christmas, the local Klan No. 101 honored its “Exalted Cyclops,” attorney Julian C. Hyer. The klavern claimed a membership of 7,000, “all of whom wish for you a Merry Christmas and a Most Prosperous and Happy New Year.”

At the time, Fort Worth developer Brown Harwood was the second highest-ranking national Klansman. Dallas and Fort Worth were two of the most Klan-riddled cities in America.

It was after the first World War, another time in America when lots of white Protestants resented foreign immigration and feared political conspiracy.

Instead of today’s calls to fight the “Islamization” or “Latinization” of America — and turn back Indian-born Shahid Shafi as a Republican Party officer, or reject asylum for all 8,000 Central American children and teenagers sleeping this Christmas in Texas detention camps — the Klan of Christmas 1924 had more targets: “the Jews, the Catholics, the negroes, the alien-born.”

Christmas and a twisted Christianity were woven into Klan history. On Christmas Eve night 1865, six former Confederate officers had founded the first Klan in Pulaski, Tenn.

In the 1920s, when a rejuvenated Klan seized control of Texas and the South — winning a U.S. Senate seat, taking over cities and county courts — Christmas also became the time for the Klan to buy friends.

Sadly, some Texas newspapers cheered it on.

Under the headline, “Ku Klux Santa Claus Gives $1,000 to Cheer Poor,” the Star-Telegram reported giddily on the local klavern.

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A routine lodge meeting announcement summoned Fort Worth Klan No. 101 to meet at 10:30 p.m. Christmas Eve near what is now Echo Park. Star-Telegram archives

“Is there a Santa Claus in that ‘Invisible Empire’ … where they have grand goblins, imperial wizards and all those other mysterious things? There must be,” the newspaper reported, listing the klansmen’s gifts to several charities.

The Beaumont Journal reported: “About 100 orphans are going to be among the happiest kids in Beaumont when the Beaumont Knights of the Ku Klux Klan play Santa Claus.”

In the Texas town of Whitesboro, the Klan gave a widow and her children a dressed hog.

After that 1924 parade through Fort Worth, Imperial WIzard Hiram Evans, a Dallas dentist, ended his address this way:

“The Klan will protest against the habit of many Europeans in looking down on womanhood and will protest against the code of loose living that is so prevalent in France. …

“It is our people that make this country the greatest on earth. Therefore, if our people become contaminated, our greatness dwindles.”

Texans had already begun to realize that white nationalism had nothing to do with Christmas or Christ.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill in March, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) rebuked Donald Trump's Ku Klux Klan controversy, demanding that Trump condemn racism after he declined to denounce David Duke, who endorsed him, and the KKK.

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