The Invisible Empire Rides Into Town

Bonham Daily Favorite, August 21, 1994



Information For The public: About 6 p.m. all traffic will be barred on Main and Fifth Street for one block in each direction for the northwest corner of the square for the speaker's stand will be located there.

The line of march will be made from the Ball Park on North Main Street thence on Main passing the square to Third Street then east onto Center, then North on Center to Simpson Park and the Ball Park.

On account of the line of march being in the center of the street it will be necessary that all cars in the line of march be parked at the curb instead of the center of the street. The rear of the car must be to the curb. Do not head in.

Direction to Klansmen: Upon arrival in Bonham all Klansmen report to Klan headquarters at the Ball Park on North Main Street for instruction. Plenty of parking space at Klan headquarters



Readers of The Bonham Daily Favorite in the evening of June 5, 1923 saw this prominent advertisement at the top of page three in that edition of the paper. As in many other towns of varying size in Texas, the Ku Klux Klan determined to make its presence known among the citizens of this city.

The Bonham rally was outgrowth of a resurgence of KKK activity which sprang up throughout the country, especially in the South, shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Many attributed this renewed interest to the popularity of David W. Griffith's epic motion picture, "Birth of a Nation" which was the film treatment of popular novel "The Klansman."

The Klan revival was the work of an Alabama Methodist minister named William J. Simmons. The death of his physician father at an early age prevented Simmons from his planned study of medicine so he turned instead to the ministry where he felt his talents could be developed.

However, the Bishops of the church recognized that Simmons intended to use the church only as a stepping stone to greater things and because it was felt that Simmons did not have the true calling, the Bishops failed to advance him from the status of circuit rider in backwoods districts in Florida and Alabama.

After twelve years of his inepiitude the Alabama Conference refused to allow him to serve in any additional pulpits due to "inefficiency and moral impairment." For the next several months Simmons tried his hand at a variety of unsuccessful careers until he finally found his proper niche in the field of fraternal organizing.

Now calling himself a "fraternalist" Simmons associated himself with several national organizations recruiting new members to the groups. As he gained practical experience he became more and more determined to organize his own fraternal order based on the precepts of the post Civil War Ku Klux Klan. During a three month confinement to bed following an accident, he worked out all the detail of his proposed organization in the autumn of 1915.

Using his recruiting talents he soon had a nucleus of about forty men from several fraternal organizations in and around Atlanta. Simmons chose Thanksgiving Eve for formal installation ceremonies at the Piedmont Hotel. Among the recruits were two former members of the original Klan.

At the hotel Simmons announced to the assemblage that the rites were to be conducted at Stone Mountain outside the city. Only fifteen men accompanied the leader, the others declining because of the cold temperatures.

At the chosen site the men helped Simmons gather stones to be used for a crude altar and as a base for the towering cross he had taken to the site earlier that afternoon. The cross padded with inflammable materials and soaked with kerosene was set ablaze and the gathered recruits presided at the rebirth of the Invisible Empire.

The recruiting got off to a slow start and only a few thousand members had been enrolled by the start of World War I. The war, however, gave Simmons and his close associates the impetus for growth and a clearer picture of the Klan's purposes. Wrapping themselves in the cloak of patriotism the Klan proclaimed far and wide that the nation must be preserved against alien enemies, loafers, those who failed to support the patriotic ideals of the country, strike leaders, and women of immoral character all of whom presented a real threat to victory by the United States. By 1919 the Klan had grown to several thousand members.

As the movement spread, Texans embraced the organization with undiminishing zeal. The first chartered self-governing realm of the Klan was instituted in Texas primarily because of the unrest and uncertainty of the post war society in the state.

The Kleagles, or salesmen/recruiters for the Klan, were past masters at their trade and soon had shepherded many many thousand Texans into the folds. One major influence in the growth was said to have been the frequent and well attended reunion of several United Confederate Veteran's organizations. These early recruits were mainly men prominent in business, the professions, patriotism, and politics .

The membership peaked in 1922 when it was estimated that nearly a quarter of a million Texans belonged to one group or the other. The records were kept so secret that it was not uncommon for the leading men of a community to be members but their membership remained unknown to the public at large.

The Realm of Texas was organized by early 1922 and elected its first Grand Dragon, Dr. A.D. Ellis, a Protestant Episcopal Minister of Beaumont. The realm was divided into five provinces, San Antonio, Dallas, Waco, Houston, and Fort Worth. One estimate placed a local organization in practically every county in the state with individual organizations in most of the major municipalities within the county. Bonham's Klan number was 194.

Texas shot to the forefront in late autumn of 1922 when Dr. W.H. Evans, a Dallas dentist wrested control of the organization from Simmons and was installed as the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan by the Imperial Klonkation.

Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas