Our Oak Cliff parades today celebrate Cinco de Mayo and Mardi Gras, family fun for everyone.
But less than 100 years ago, the Ku Klux Klan paraded through the streets of our neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon.
About 1,000 men and women, wearing the KKK’s robes and hoods, paraded around the old Oak Cliff Downtown, ending at Beckley and Tilden, on June 14, 1924.
Leading the procession was Rev. A.C. Parker, then a 45-year-old insurance company director and oilman who lived in the 1300 block of Kings Highway.
Parker, a “Cyclops” in the Klan, founded two Oak Cliff churches, Rosemont Christian Church, whose building still stands at Tyler and Centre streets, and the Memorial Christian Church of Oak Cliff, which was on Jefferson and Oak Cliff boulevards.
The parade drew about 20,000 spectators, according to newspaper accounts of the day. This was at the height of the Klan’s popularity in Dallas.
The Dallas Klan No. 66 had about 13,000 members in the 1920s; it was the largest chapter in the United States, according to Michael Phillips’ 2004 book “White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001”. Hiram Wesley Evans, a dentist with a practice downtown, became national leader of the KKK in 1922.
Higher-ups in the Dallas Klan included the police commissioner, a Dallas Times-Herald reporter, four Dallas Power and Light officials, the Ford Motor Company’s local superintendent, the Democratic Party chairman and the county tax assessor, according to Phillips’ book. Local KKK members also included police chief Jesse E. Curry, police homicide division head Will Fritz and Robert L. Thornton, a banker who served as mayor from 1953-’61.
Business owners were coerced into joining or at least supporting the Klan under threat of boycott. Politicians loyal to the KKK often fared well, and the Klan held political rallies downtown on the eves of elections.
Klan members worked to portray the KKK as a benevolent organization. They started Hope Cottage for orphaned children and organized various relief efforts when disasters struck.
But its main purpose was to act as a literal whip to enforce its racist and Puritan ideals.
The best-documented incident happened April 1, 1921. A group of klansmen, joined by a Times-Herald reporter, drove to the home of Adolphus Hotel elevator operator Alex Johnson, who was black. They accused Johnson of having sex with a white woman in the hotel. They threatened to hang him and burned “KKK” into his forehead with acid, according to Phillips’ book. Then they dumped him, bloody and shirtless, in front of the Adolphus.
Not every attack was so public.
The Dallas KKK was known to abduct its victims and torture them at a whipping post in the Trinity River Bottoms.
Sometimes they were victims with stories similar to that of Alex Johnson, a black man perceived to step out of his place in society. But Dallasites could meet the KKK’s whipping post for any infraction against the Klan’s Puritan ideals. In particular, being perceived as a “whore.” The Dallas KKK particularly believed in “protecting” white women, and willingly stepping out of line could result in meeting their wrath.
The Oak Cliff KKK parade, that June day in 1924, ended with speeches and “refreshments provided by George W. Dealey of Oak Cliff.”
Dealey, the father of newspaper publisher George Bannerman Dealey, wasn’t a klansman. The younger Dealey disliked the KKK, not because of its white-supremacist beliefs, but because it attracted lower class people and posed a political threat to the white Dallas elites who’d always held power.
The KKK’s popularity declined around the time of World War II. Klan rallies occasionally pop up in Dallas, most notably in 1988 and 2016, when counter protesters far outnumbered the klansmen.