No One Had the Desire To Leave
Bonham Daily Favorite, August 28, 1994
The Ku Klux Klan parade and rally held in Bonham on June 7, 1923 came at a time when the Klan influence was beginning to wane throughout the nation and particularly in Texas. After a resurgence of the organization shortly before the outbreak of World War I which reached its peak in Texas in 1922 and 1923, the tide of public sentiment began to turn against the group.
In Texas particularly, the seemingly wanton lawlessness which appeared to pervade the organization was a major facto in precipitating its downfall. The leaders of the organization attempted to stem the criticism by veering from the original tenets and placing Klan influence on politics. In 1922 and 1923 many clearly identified Klansmen won local elections, but the election of Earl B. Mayfield, as as the first Klan member of the United States Senate strengthened the Klan's hand in its statewide influence.
However, despite the attempts to control night riding activities by local Klans, both of these years of growth saw a corresponding growth in the violence. Contrary to popular belief not all of these occurrences were directed against members of the black race. Many assaults, of varying degrees, were committed against persons deemed to be morally unfit. White men suspected of family assault were taken out, flogged, tarred and feathered. One south Texas man overheard to speak German in public fell victim to local Klansmen who were still following the World War I diatribes pronounced by Klan leaders against foreign born individuals.
Women did not escape the wrath of some of the nightriders. Any behavior which aroused the suspicions of the self-ordained protectors could easily result in a female being taken out, beaten, tarred and feathered as were the men who ran afoul of the group.
The spring and summer of 1922 seemed to have been a particularly bloody and violent period. One notorious area in the Trinity River bottoms in Dallas became known as the Klan Whipping Meadow. The Dallas Klan was suspected of nearly seventy floggings that spring in this river bottom.
Other sources accused the Klan of between five hundred and two thousand actual assaults ranging from whippings to tar and feathering, to physical assaults, threats, and even murders. The southeastern section of the state, near Beaumont, along with the Dallas area seemed to have produced more of the events than elsewhere although not any one section of the state would escape without some similar activity.
In the towns where these activities occured often the victims had no recourse. Law enforcement officials were too often active members of the local Klan. But this was not the dominent factor in Texas Klan activities. In many communities, courageous officials, judges, sheriffs, and police chiefs ordered investigations and attempts were even made to prevent Klan rallies and parades.
North Texas had its share of Ku Klux Klan activities during these first years of the decade of the '20's. Nothing of the very violent nature seems to have occurred and in some instances the night visits by the robed perpetrators take on an almost comical aspect.
The Sherman Daily Democrat reported in its issue of October 13, 1921, that sometime during the previous night the schools at Dorchester seemingly had a visit from members of a local Klan. Nothing was damaged or disturbed.
The next morning as the faculty and staff arrived for duty, each teacher found, placed very carefully on their desks, a handsome edition of the Holy Bible. In addition a very large American flag was draped across the wall of the auditorium.
A letter, addressed to the principal was in an envelope on his desk with the salutation "From The Klan." Inside was a brief note stating that the members of the school should carefully consider frequent use of both the Bibles and the flag in their educational activities. The teachers reported to the newspaper that they were much pleased with the gifts that had been left for them.
A week later activity took a more violent turn in the area. On October 21st, two black boys who had been jailed at Pilot Point for burglary were taken forcibly from the jail and flogged on the outskirts of town. The next morning the editor of the Pilot Point newspaper found a note tacked to his front door.
Short and to the point the letter read, "Yes, we did it, applied the lash. This should be a warning to all loafers and lawbreakers." The message was written on the back of an envelope and signed, Ku Klux Klan.
In July 1922 a church service at Bailey was distracted by the arrival of a number of automobiles outside the building. The Bonham Daily Favorite reported that one Bailey citizen reported that the autos arrived in the dark "from somewhere."
One by one the hooded and robed figures alighted from cars and marched into the church service and requested that no one leave while the leader was making a few remarks.
The Favorite reported "that no one seemed to have a desire to leave just at that moment and for once no one failed to give strict attention to what was being said in that house. The leader made a number of remarks and later it was said that certain individuals in the community probably understood better than anyone else, and which some bootleggers did not fail to catch the drift of."
At the conclusion of the talk, the group again silently filed out of the building marched to their cars, got in and drove off in the direction of Leonard. (Note: neither that edition of the paper or later editions reported any visits to Leonard or other towns in the area of the county.)
Occasionally the newspapers reported positive actions by various Klans. In December, 1921, The Daily Favorite reported that the Ku Klux Klan of Greenville left a package containing fifty $20 bills at the office of the Greenville Evening Banner for the welfare of Wesley College in that ci ty.
The money was turned over to Dr. G.F. Winfield who gladly accepted the welcome gift. Dr. Winfield stated that the gift could not have come at a more appropriate time since "the college needs their aid."
Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas