Glancing at the old printed program for the christening of a new Fort Worth building in 1924, one might think that it was for the dedication of a church.
After all, it had all the makings of a ceremony for a new spiritual sanctuary: local dignitaries on hand, the “laying” of the cornerstone, and some of the most moving patriotic and religious hymns of the day.
The agenda for the service resembled something that could have been taken from the archives of the little Baptist church where I grew up. I had sung many of those songs on the program from my Sunday School days: “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “In the Sweet By and By,” “America,” “Wonderful Peace,” and (somewhat eerily ironic) “The Old Rugged Cross.”
Yes, I grew up in the church at the same time I was growing up under “Jim Crow.” So, while I was surprised when I received the aged program from a person I didn’t know, I was not shocked to learn that this was the program for the official dedication and cornerstone laying for the new Ku Klux Klan hall at 1012 N. Main St.
This is the building (actually, a rebuilt structure after a fire destroyed the original hall) that many people in Fort Worth are trying to save from demolition. Others find it offensive, and the property’s owners want to demolish it and move on with redevelopment.
Before I weigh in on that, let me explain that I received a copy of the program from a person who explained that he, too, is a native of Fort Worth who loves our history and who used to listen to me on the radio.
“I’ll be honest,” he wrote, “you used to drive me crazy and we are political opposites, but I always felt you respected people regardless of their views. We are absolutely on the same side in preserving this history.”
He was prompted to send along the document after seeing me on a news program supporting efforts to preserve the building, only if it could be saved.
The man said his wife’s family “has Klan members in its past. Obviously, we are not proud of it, but as you said, the history should absolutely be preserved. When her father died last year, we cleaned out the house and found a PRISTINE copy of the program from the grand opening of the Klan building.
“The news story said it was the site of secret meetings ... there was nothing secret about it. In this program you’ll find prominent Fort Worth citizens, clergy, and politicians with pictures.”
The front of the program declares boldly that it was the “corner stone laying” and “dedication services” for the “Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Klavern.”
A picture of the new building clearly has the name Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” at the top.
Below the photo are the words, “Dedicated to the services of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, May Eighteenth, Nineteen Twenty Four (sic).”
It’s true that the Klan in Fort Worth was no secret, just as it wasn’t in most places where it operated with impunity. And it’s not surprising that its program was religious in nature — after all, it had adopted the cross as its symbol and many of its members were churchgoing folks. It was nothing for Klansmen to attend a cross-burning on a Saturday night and be in church on Sunday morning.
I don’t need to go on about the disgusting, evil actions of this repulsive organization. That’s not my purpose. The question is what should happen to the building, which may be the only “purpose-built” Klan facility left in the country.
Long before I knew of its Klan history, I had a relationship with the building. When I was growing up in Fort Worth, it was the Ellis Pecan Company. My father owned 40 acres of land along the Trinity which included a large grove of pecan trees. I earned my Christmas money by picking up nuts and selling them at the Ellis Pecan Company each fall.
There are many buildings in downtown Fort Worth that have a racist past — department stores, businesses, the courthouse and even the old Star-Telegram building– but we found a reason to save them.
The old Klan building should also be saved.