Dallas Ku Klux Klan No. 66

By: Amber Jolly and Ted Banks

Type: Overview Entry

Published: November 11, 2020

Updated: November 18, 2020


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Ku Klux Klan (KKK) No. 66 was organized by Bertram G. Christie as the Dallas chapter, probably in early 1921. The formation of Dallas Klan No. 66 came on the heels of the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan, which William Joseph Simmons established in 1915 in Atlanta, Georgia. Like the Klan of the Reconstruction era, the 1920s Klan was a secretive, terroristic White-supremacist organization, whose purpose was to use violence and intimidation to curtail the civil liberties of African Americans. The second Ku Klux Klan added to this ideology strains of deep anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and nativism, as well as assuming many of the trappings of fraternal organizations, such as their ritual and charitable activities. The 1920s Klan, especially in Texas and most specifically in Dallas, transitioned into a political movement, for a time usurping the local establishment and dramatically impacting the Texas Democratic party on the local, state, and, with the election of a United States senator, national level. Dallas Klan No. 66 was extremely successful in growing its membership quickly, amassing roughly 13,000 recruits within a few years of its founding, an estimated one out of every three eligible men in Dallas—that is, White, native-born, Protestant—at the height of its strength. Business leaders, politicians, pastors, and law enforcement officers were frequently among the first to join, often as charter members, as their social standing made them prized targets for Klan recruiters. The Dallas Klavern engaged in a variety of fraternal and vigilante activities. Dallas Klan No. 66, through a confluence of events, personalities, and its own success, wielded an outsized influence on the organization at the state and national levels.  

Largely due to the success of the group and its leadership, the Dallas Klan No. 66 cycled through a number of like-minded officers in fairly short order. After organizing the Dallas Klan No. 66, Bertram G. Christie quickly accepted a potentially lucrative position organizing for the Klan in Illinois, only to follow that with a move to the imperial headquarters in Atlanta. Hiram Wesley Evans, a Dallas dentist and one of Christie’s first recruits, assumed the position of exalted cyclops, or chief officer, of the Dallas Klavern from its founding. Evans moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1922, when he was offered the position of national secretary, and later, imperial wizard of the national organization. With Evans summoned to Atlanta, local businessman Zebina E. “Zeke” Marvin, briefly filled in as exalted cyclops of No. 66 before he became the great titan of Texas Province No. 2, which included Dallas, in May 1922. Marvin, who owned and operated a successful drugstore chain, continued to influence the Dallas Klavern from the position of great titan and then as grand dragon of Texas until the Klan’s power and popularity began to decline in 1924. Marvin is credited with directing the Dallas Klan No. 66 towards charitable activities and continuing with Evans’s campaign to push the Klavern into the realm of organized political action. Evans, as imperial wizard in Atlanta, intended to make Dallas Klan No. 66’s political program the model of the national organization. When Marvin became great titan, a charismatic Baptist minister, A. C. Parker, was elected as exalted cyclops of No. 66, with D. C. McCord chosen as klaliff, second in command in the local Klan chapter structure. Parker was more steeped in the ideology of the Klan than his predecessor, particularly its anti-Catholic plank, but otherwise represented continuity as he maintained the charitable activities and the Klan’s push into politics that Marvin and Evans had initiated.

Historians generally agree that the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was more violent in Texas than it was in other states, and Dallas Klan No. 66 was representative of this pattern. On April 1, 1921, a few weeks before the Dallas Klan’s formal debut, Hiram Wesley Evans led a group of Klansmen who abducted Alex Johnson, an African American bellhop who worked at the Adolphus Hotel, put a rope around his neck, and drove him to a remote location. There, in the presence of journalists, who other Klansmen had blindfolded and brought to the secret location, they lashed Johnson across his bare back with a whip upwards of twenty times before branding the initials KKK on his forehead with acid; the group suffered no legal consequences. In spring 1922 Dallas Klan No. 66 stepped up the violence with a series of beatings that received significant media attention. First, a tailor named W. J. Gilbert was beaten and instructed to leave town, which he did. Only a few days later, Philip Rothblum, a Jewish picture frame maker, was beaten by masked Klan members in a case for which a Dallas police officer, J. J. Crawford, was later tried and acquitted. Two weeks later Frank Ethridge, the owner of a Dallas lumberyard, was abducted by a group of unmasked men who took him to a wooded area in the Trinity River bottoms, tied him to a “torture tree,” and flogged him. At one point during the episode, one of the assailants mentioned to Ethridge that they had done the same to sixty-three other men in the preceding few months, a claim that was generally supported by the testimony of African Americans who lived in the surrounding area. (Historians now put that number at sixty-eight, although it is unclear if Ethridge represented the last in that number.) These events and their coverage in the local press unnerved the public. District Attorney Maury Hughes, himself a charter member of Klan 66 who had renounced his membership in disgust over the violence, vowed to prosecute those responsible, but he and his investigators were met with silence on the part of the police force. The police commissioner, Louis Turley, was a prominent Klansman, and many of the rank and file were undoubtedly also members. Ultimately, only Crawford was arrested, and Hughes and his team could produce no convictions, but the beatings themselves and the likely involvement of police officers increased public pressure on the Klan in Dallas.

In Dallas, a trio of newspapers spear-headed the public opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Journal (the Morning News’s late edition), and the Dallas Dispatch monitored and reported on Klan activities with a critical eye, with the Morning News, representing a civic booster point of view, doing much of the heavy lifting (conversely, the Dallas Daily Times Herald took a more ambivalent approach in reporting on the Klan, and the Black-owned Dallas Express, while positioned squarely against the Klan, was, according to one historian, “very circumspect” in their coverage of the Invisible Empire). Shortly after the Klan made its public debut in Dallas with an eerie Saturday night parade down a darkened Main Street in May 1921, the Morning News published a scathing editorial against the Klan. From that point on the paper diligently published thousands of anti-Klan editorials, exposés, and critical stories, informing its readership of Klan activities in their community as well as from around the state and the nation. 

The Dallas County Citizens League (DCCL), formed after the rash of Klan violence in March 1922, was another source of Klan opposition in the city. Prominent citizens such as former Texas governor Oscar Colquitt, former Texas attorney general Martin Crane, businessman Alex Sanger, and former judge C. M. Smithdeal were among the politicians, businessmen, and church leaders who came together to oppose the Klan. They particularly focused on purging from public office all persons who had an affiliation with the Invisible Empire, which at the time included the sheriff of Dallas County, his chief deputies, the police commissioner, the chief of police, and the district attorney. The DCCL held mass meetings, delivered public speeches, and produced pamphlets denouncing the Klan. The group developed a questionnaire designed to gauge whether a political candidate was a member of the Klan, sympathetic, or opposed to the Klan—the results of which were dutifully reported in the pages of the Dallas Dispatch. Although many Klan-aligned candidates simply disregarded the questionnaire, their silence on the subject combined with the responses of Klan-opposed candidates reported in the Dispatch proved fairly effective in exposing the candidates’ sympathies.   

The Dallas Jewish community’s responses ranged from opposition to accommodation. Rabbi David Lefkowitz of Temple Emanu-El led the public opposition to the Klan. Many of the city’s leading Jewish merchants, including Alex and Charles Sanger, Herbert Marcus, Leon Harris, and Arthur Kramer joined or supported the Dallas County Citizens League and their anti-Klan efforts. However, Julius Schepps, owner of the Schepps Bakery, covered the KKK membership dues for fifty of his employees. His stated rationale for this policy was that it allowed him to monitor the organization’s activities, but it could have helped his business appear Klan friendly as well. In a similar vein, one Jewish-owned business purchased $400 of advertising in the Klan-published Texas 100 Per Cent American, probably in hopes of avoiding a boycott. The Young Men’s Hebrew Association raised funds for Hope Cottage, a Klan-founded charitable institution, and Alex Sanger appeared alongside Zeke Marvin at its ground-breaking ceremonies. Despite these individual attempts at accommodation, the public stance of Rabbi Lefkowitz and the membership in the DCCL of prominent members of Dallas’s Jewish community represented something close to a united front against the Invisible Empire. Although similar evidence of the responses of Dallas’s African American, Mexican American, and Catholic communities has yet to be presented, as suggested by the “circumspect” coverage of the Klan by the Dallas Express, it can be assumed that each managed their own combinations of opposition and accommodation as well.

The Dallas Klan attempted to counter these attacks in a number of ways, including the publication of a weekly newspaper, The Texas 100 Per Cent American, from February 1922 to the end of 1924. The local Klavern used the paper to present its own view of the Dallas social and political scene in its pages. The Dallas Klan boasted a circulation of 18,000 for the paper, which they sold both by subscription for fifty cents a year and directly to the public for five cents per copy at newsstands. The paper’s often sarcastic contributors aggressively attacked their perceived enemies—Catholicism, the DCCL, and Klan coverage in the mainstream press, specifically the Morning News and the Dispatch. When the DCCL produced their anti-Klan questionnaire for political candidates, the Texas American countered with its own questionnaire designed to purge public officials whose sympathies supposedly lay with the Catholic Church. While the readership of the Texas American was almost certainly exaggerated and its influence difficult to gauge, the mere fact of its publication as an organ of the Klavern speaks to the strength and relative sophistication of Dallas No. 66.

Conversely, the Dallas Klan cultivated an image of civic leadership and philanthropy to offset the group’s negative publicity and the critiques of its detractors. To this end, the Klan organized carnivals, barbecues, dances, ice cream socials, and, most prominently, “Ku Klux Klan Day” at the State Fair of Texas, which attracted more than 150,000 people on October 24, 1923. No. 66’s charitable efforts were likely the result of Zeke Marvin’s leadership, as the businessman was active in philanthropic activities throughout his adult life. The Klavern’s charitable campaigns, often executed in coordination with the Dallas Welfare Council, included distributing food baskets and cash donations to needy (and often Klan-affiliated) individuals, sponsoring fundraising athletic events, and donating to friendly churches. The Klan’s most significant charitable effort was the founding of Hope Cottage, an institution for homeless children, which they broke ground on and dedicated as part of their State Fair Klan Day program.

In 1922 the Dallas Klan, under the direction of great titan Zeke Marvin, shifted into politics, a move that many Texas Klaverns mimicked and Hiram Wesley Evans, as imperial wizard, intended to replicate on a national level. July 1922 marked the beginning of the Klan’s political dominance in Dallas. Victories went to Klan-endorsed candidates such as incumbent Dan Harston for sheriff, Felix D. Robertson for criminal court judge, and Shelby Cox for district attorney. At the state level, George Purl won election to the legislature for Dallas District 50-5. The Dallas Klan’s move into politics was so successful that between 1922 and 1924 hardly an elected position on the city and county level did not carry the Invisible Empire’s imprimatur. It was Marvin who instituted the Klan “primary,” with the backing of Dallas Klan No. 66 and Fort Worth Klan No. 101, to coalesce support behind a candidate leading into the Democratic primary, which resulted in Earle B. Mayfield’s victory in the 1922 race for the U.S. Senate. By 1923 the Klan dominated Dallas politics, having completely overthrown the old political hierarchy. In 1924 Marvin, by then grand dragon of the state, convinced Felix D. Robertson to run as the Klan candidate for governor of Texas againt Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in the Democratic primary.

In 1924 the Klan in Dallas and across Texas suffered several political defeats due to internal factionalism which marked the beginning of the end of the Texas KKK and its Dallas leadership. Dissension within the Dallas Klan intensified when grand dragon Marvin and most of the Texas Klan supported Judge Felix D. Robertson over attorney and fellow Klan member V. A. Collins for Texas governor in the Klan primary. Robertson advanced to the Democratic primary, garnering more votes than Ferguson, but was forced into a runoff, which he lost to Ferguson by almost 100,000 votes. In retaliation the Klan supported the Republican nominee, George Butte, who then lost to Ferguson in the general election for Texas governor. This, coupled with Zeke Marvin’s resignation and later expulsion from the Klan over a leadership conflict, contributed to the decline of the Texas Klan. Upon Zeke Marvin’s resignation in December 1924, Marvin Childers became grand dragon of Texas, and he moved the state headquarters to San Antonio. It was revealed in 1925 that Dallas Klan No. 66 had mishandled Klan funds, which resulted in their being unable to continue to fund Hope Cottage. The state organization of the Klan assumed control over the orphanage and renamed it Klanhaven; however, it was declared bankrupt a few years later, and the city took over its custodianship, restoring its name as Hope Cottage. By the beginning of 1926 Dallas Klan No. 66’s dues-paying membership was about 1,200, down from a high-water mark of 13,000 in the spring of 1924, representing a loss of more than 90 percent of its membership in the span of a year and a half. At the time of the 1928 election the Texas Klan was greatly diminished and no longer a significant political force. An attenuated Dallas chapter remained extant into the 1930s and drew attention in March 1931 for the kidnapping and flogging of two Communist organizers, allegedly with the tacit complicity of members of the Dallas police force, but the short era of Klan prominence in Dallas society had passed.

Charles C. Alexander, Crusade for Conformity: The Ku Klux Klan in Texas, 1920–1930 (Houston: Texas Gulf Coast Historical Association, 1962). Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965). Norman Brown, Hood, Bonnet, and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics, 1921–1928 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press). Dallas Morning News, April 3, 1921; October 24, 25, 1923; March 15, 1931; March 15, 2010. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 2, 1921. Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967). “K. K. K.” application form,” W. E. B. Du Bois Papers, Series 1: Correspondence, Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts at Amherst (https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/pageturn/mums312-b157-i167/#page/1/mode/1up), accessed September 27, 2019. Mark N. Morris, Saving Society Through Politics: The Ku Klux Klan in Dallas, Texas, in the 1920s (Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Texas, 1997). “Organization and Principles of the Ku Klux Klan, 1868,” (https://www.albany.edu/faculty/gz580/his101/kkk.html), accessed September 27, 2019.  Michael Phillips, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). W. C. Wright, The Ku Klux Klan Unmasked (Waco: The Dallas Press, Inc., 1924).

Categories:

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawless Activities and Outlawed Activity
  • Organizations
  • Societies

Time Periods:

  • Texas in the 1920s

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Amber Jolly and Ted Banks, “Dallas Ku Klux Klan No. 66,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-ku-klux-klan-no-66.

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November 11, 2020
November 18, 2020

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