Marvin, Zebina Earl [Zeke] (1877–1957)


By: Peter Worger

Type: Biography

Published: March 23, 2022

Updated: April 5, 2022


Zebina Earl Marvin (better known as Zeke or Z. E. Marvin), Dallas druggist and Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader, was born in Adrian, Michigan, on January 11, 1877. His father was Andrew Jackson Marvin, and his mother was Annah A. “Ann” (Ward) Marvin. He had four siblings—Jennie, Helen Mae, Willard, and Arthur. He earned a graduate of pharmacy from the University of Illinois’s School of Pharmacy in 1899. In late 1901 he relocated to Dallas. Marvin became president of Owl Drug Company in Dallas around 1906. By 1909 he had established Marvin’s Drug Store in downtown Dallas. The drug store grew into a chain with eight locations in Dallas and University Park. It merged with Walgreens in 1940. Druggists such as Marvin benefited financially from prohibition, of which the Klan was strongly in favor, as drug stores monopolized the sale of legal alcohol for medicinal purposes to customers with a physician’s prescription. Marvin was also an oil and real estate investor. He was president of the Consolidated Oil Company and the president and chairman of the board of the Gulf States Life Insurance Company, which merged with the Southland Life Insurance Company of Dallas in 1938.

Marvin was referred to in Kenneth Jackson’s The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 as one of the “chief architects of the Klan’s early achievement in Dallas,” alongside Hiram Wesley Evans. The Dallas chapter, Dallas Ku Klux Klan No. 66, was founded around early 1921. In January 1922 the Imperial headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta established four “realms” in the Southwest, each of which was divided into provinces. The realms had “grand dragons” at their helms, while provinces were run by “great titans.” When Evans, the leader of the Dallas chapter, left Dallas to take a leadership position in the national organization in April 1922, Marvin briefly assumed the title of “exalted cyclops.” Marvin subsequently became the great titan of Province No. 2 of the Realm of Texas in May 1922 and a grand dragon of the realm in 1923. As grand dragon in 1923, Marvin proposed a plan for a national fraternal insurance company for Klan members. Chartered under the state of Texas, the company reportedly sold around a million dollars in insurance by the end of the year. In 1924 the company’s ownership was transferred to KKK headquarters in Atlanta and was re-chartered under Missouri laws and renamed the Empire Mutual Life Insurance Company—although it was dissolved about 1928.

As grand dragon, Marvin’s direction of the Klan in Texas extended far beyond the insurance venture. He, like Evans, sought to turn the Klan into a politically-active organization. Due to the nature of politics at the time, Klan-backed candidates generally ran in Democratic primaries in the South and Republican ones in the North. Ahead of the 1922 Democratic primary, the Texas Klan, under the direction of Evans, Marvin, and the other great titans, held a statewide Klan primary. Their immediate purpose was to unify the Klan vote behind one of three Klansmen running for the U.S. Senate, and Marvin's favored Klan candidate, Earle Mayfield, ultimately won the senate seat. Such primaries also benefited Klan-friendly candidates in down-ballot races. Of the nineteen candidates that the Dallas Klan chose for local offices through the Klan primary, eighteen won their contests in the Democratic primary, and the nineteenth won in a runoff. Following their initial primary victories, the members of Dallas Klan No. 66 celebrated with a plainclothes parade down the streets of Dallas. Marvin was one of the leaders of the parade.

Marvin, who was active in philanthropic ventures, also pushed the Dallas Klan to lead charitable campaigns to enhance its public image. In May 1923, soon after the Klan slate swept the Dallas municipal elections, Marvin and Dallas Klan No. 66 staged a blackface minstrel show to benefit the building of new facilities for Hope Cottage, an orphanage for White infants. Their patronage of Hope Cottage was the Dallas Klan’s most prominent charitable undertaking, and Marvin was the driving force behind it. At the dedication of the orphanage on October 24, 1923, “Klan Day,” Marvin gave the principal address. In his speech, he dismissed episodes of violence carried out by the Klan as the work of individuals and argued that the core of the Invisible Empire was good. Such efforts by Marvin, as a Dallas civic leader, brought respectability to the Klan. As a local, provincial, and state Klan leader, Marvin was likely directly involved in ordering and planning attacks, public threats, and surveillance. The Klan in Texas that he led was generally more violent than in other states in the 1920s. 

Marvin supported Judge Felix D. Robertson, a Dallas Klan member, as the Klan candidate in the 1924 Democratic primary for governor. Through his power as grand dragon, Marvin overrode challengers from within his own organization to move his candidate forward, which led to internal strife. Opposition to Marvin was led by Billie Mayfield, editor of the Houston Klan newspaper Colonel Mayfield's Weekly, and his preferred candidate, Vinson Allen Collins. Marvin agreed to hold a Klan primary, which Robertson won. Robertson was ultimately defeated, however, by his opponent, Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson. After Ferguson’s win, the Texas Klan threw its support behind the Republican candidate, George Butte, but he was defeated, and Ferguson won the election.

Marvin’s choice for Dallas County sheriff, Dan Harston, was also defeated in 1924, thanks in part to a bloc of Dallas Klan voters opposed to Marvin’s leadership. Following the disastrous election outcomes, Marvin resigned as grand dragon in December 1924. After Alexander Campbell Parker was elected exalted cyclops of Dallas Klan No. 66, a position Marvin apparently felt he deserved, Marvin ceased paying membership dues and attending meetings. He was then suspended from the organization altogether in 1925, after reportedly refusing to return records belonging to the Dallas Klan. Marvin became a critic of the Klan as it then existed and even supported Martin M. Crane in a libel suit brought against him by Evans. In 1926 Marvin told the New York Times that the Klan’s membership in Dallas and Texas had dwindled immensely.

Marvin was active in civic affairs in Dallas. During World War I, he was secretary of Dallas’s local exemption board. He was president of the Texas Pharmaceutical Association from 1916 to 1917, president and secretary of the Dallas County Druggists’ Association, member of the National Association of Retail Druggists, and member of the board of directors of the Dallas Retail Merchants Association of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce. He was a Mason and elected potentate of the Hella Temple Shrine in 1926. He was a member of the Dallas Athletic Club, Terpsichorean Club, president of the Dallas Lawn Tennis Club, president of the Dallas Automobile Club, and vice-president of the Dallas Country Club. He was a charter member of the International Association of Lions Clubs, director of the Texas Centennial Exposition, active worker for the Dallas Community Chest, and patron of the Little Theatre of Dallas. He was a Presbyterian. He married Emma Louise Van Dyke in Chicago, Illinois, on October 30, 1901. They had two children, Zebina Earl “Jack” Jr. and Virginia. By 1930 the couple had moved to Highland Park. Louise died in 1956, and Marvin married Ann Mertis Plaxco on January 9, 1957. Z. E. Marvin died after a brief illness on October 25, 1957, in Dallas. He was cremated and inurned at Sparkman–Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas in the Hillcrest Mausoleum.

Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995). Dallas Morning News, October 25, 1957. Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967). 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).

Categories:
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Health and Medicine
  • Pharmacists
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawless Activities and Outlawed Activity
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Texas Post World War II
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.

Peter Worger, “Marvin, Zebina Earl [Zeke],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/marvin-zebina-earl-zeke.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

March 23, 2022
April 5, 2022

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: