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Dallas History

When Dallas Was the Most Racist City in America

In the early 1920s, the city’s chapter of the Ku Klux Klan once included one out of every three eligible men. Here’s how the Dallas Morning News led the fight against them.
By Darwin Payne |

By the 1920s the Dallas Morning News had become a formidable and progressive force in Dallas and in Texas, far overshadowing its parent, the Galveston Daily News, which had founded the paper in 1885 to serve the growing North Texas area. Adolph S. Ochs, the Tennessean who rescued the New York Times from virtual bankruptcy in 1896 and converted it into the nation’s most distinguished newspaper, declared in 1924 that he had received his “ideas and ideals” from the Galveston Daily News and the Dallas Morning News. Two years later, a leading national magazine recorded that the News “was, and is, an institution with a reputation for employing only the most competent of men.” Yet at the same time it was receiving national praise, the News was struggling to survive, for it was locked in a courageous battle against the powerful Ku Klux Klan.

The city on which the News and three other dailies in Dallas focused their attention was something like a gawky adolescent—reaching awkwardly toward maturity. Towering above the skyline was the new Magnolia Petroleum Building, the tallest building in the South. The prolific East Texas oil field, destined to have a profound impact on the city and nation, lay undiscovered, but oil had been found in other directions around Dallas, and as the Magnolia Building testified, Dallas already bragged with justification about being the Southwestern center for the petroleum industry. Cotton, however, still reigned supreme, and Dallas ranked as the world’s largest inland cotton market. Many if not most of the city’s residents were not far removed from agricultural endeavors, and Dallas’ economy revolved significantly around providing services, equipment, saddlery, and harnesses for the region’s farmers.

CRUSHING IT: Dallas Morning News president George Bannerman Dealey chose to hit the Klan hard in defiance of local leaders.

As to the mood of this city, many residents shared with much of the nation a sense of nervousness about social changes unleashed at the end of World War I. In Atlanta, an ex-preacher and fraternal organizer named William Joseph Simmons capitalized upon this mood by founding a new version of the organization that had arisen in the South after the Civil War: the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. It attracted a large number of Americans, especially in the South and Midwest, by aggressively espousing fundamentalist Protestant religious values, strong anti-crime measures, intense patriotism, and superiority of native-born Americans. The Klan seemed to have a kinship with fraternal orders, and an understanding of mutual help among its secret membership gave the organization a cachet that appealed to many others. As affiliate chapters began spreading, in few if any states was a more welcome reception given than in Texas.

And in no other city did the Klan find a readier reception than in Dallas. First organized in late 1920, Dallas Klan No. 66 grew within four years into what its members called the largest chapter in the world. The Klan found receptive recruiting grounds among fraternal organizations, law-enforcement personnel, small businessmen, and Protestant churchmen, especially those with a more fundamentalist outlook. Led at first by a Dallas dentist with remarkable organizing skills named Hiram Wesley Evans, the organization reportedly reached a membership of 13,000 in a city of 160,000 population, the highest per capita of any city in the nation. After discounting ineligible groups such as women, children, and minorities, the membership presumably represented about one out of three eligible men in Dallas.

Years afterward, George Bannerman Dealey, president of the News, said the campaign was “perhaps the most courageous thing the News ever did.”

The power of the Klan in Dallas extended far beyond mere popular acceptance. Dallas County voters placed Klan or Klan-supported candidates in control of the courthouse in 1922 and of City Hall in the following year. When the State Fair of Texas officially designated October 23, 1923, as Ku Klux Klan Day, a huge crowd from across the nation showed up. Two successive district attorneys were Klansmen (although one of them, Maury Hughes, resigned in disgust from the Klan during his term), as were the sheriff, the police commissioner, the police chief,  judges, and others. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, public utility executives, ministers, businessmen, and journalists were also Klansmen. Four of the Klan’s Executive Committee of Ten and at least 20 of its Steering Committee of One Hundred were members of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

Despite such obvious approval in high places, in its own assessment of the Ku Klux Klan, the Dallas Morning News arrived at an entirely opposite conclusion: instead of being a positive force, the secret organization represented a “menace to representative government and constituted authority” and a “threat to personal and religious freedom.” From 1921 to 1924, the News fought the Klan with news coverage and editorials; the Klan fought back with a damaging economic boycott that targeted not only the News but those who advertised in it. The boycott included a widespread whispering campaign alleging falsely that the newspaper was controlled by Catholics. (In the Klan mind, Catholics represented a special menace because they owed primary allegiance to the Pope rather than to the U.S. government.) Years afterward, George Bannerman Dealey, president of the News, said the campaign was “perhaps the most courageous thing the News ever did.” Many of his own employees, he acknowledged, had been swept off their feet by the “tidal wave of Klan favor.”

Attendance at the 1923 Ku Klux Klan Day at the State Fair of Texas reached a near-record 160,000.

The News was not alone among Dallas’ four daily newspapers in opposing the Klan, but as the city’s leading newspaper and by most accounts the leading newspaper in the state, its actions were the most meaningful. The News’ own afternoon newspaper, the Journal, founded in 1914, naturally followed its parent’s lead in criticizing the Klan. The lively Dallas Dispatch, founded in 1906 as part of the E.W. Scripps chain, fought the Klan, sometimes with great imagination. However, it lacked the wide circulation and editorial power enjoyed by the News. On one occasion, Dispatch managing editor Glenn Pricer took several of his reporters to Fair Park, where a Klan meeting was being held, and wrote down the license plate numbers of all the cars. Pricer and his staff then went through official records, identified the owners, and published about a hundred of those names in the newspaper, creating great uproar. One observer credited Price and the Dispatch as having “probably struck the most telling blows delivered against the Ku Klux Klan anywhere in this country.”

Of the four dailies, only the afternoon Dallas Times Herald gave sympathetic treatment to the Klan. Publisher Edwin J. Kiest, according to the Times Herald’s own account in later years, “ordered his paper to ‘go down the middle’ on its coverage of Klan activities ‘because many solid citizens are members.’ ” One reporter, Emmett Hambrick, was a member of the Klan’s Steering Committee of One Hundred. The managing editor, Philip E. Fox, also was a Klansman and a confidant of Hiram Wesley Evans.

The Ku Klux Klan’s presence in Dallas was dramatically revealed in the Times Herald on April 2, 1921. A page-one story detailed a shocking incident. A party of Klansmen kidnapped an Adolphus Hotel elevator operator from his home off Ross Avenue, drove him to an isolated area 6 miles south of town, whipped him unmercifully at gunpoint, and used acid to etch the initials “KKK” on his forehead. The victim, an African-American, was driven back to town and ordered to walk shirtless and bleeding into the Adolphus lobby as a sign that his alleged misdeed—a liaison with a white woman—was not to be tolerated. The Times Herald’s exclusive and graphic description was written by a reporter who was an eyewitness to the event.

Law enforcement officials, contacted the next day about the incident, expressed no concern. “As I understand the case, the Negro was guilty of doing something which he had no right to do,” said Sheriff Dan Harston. “No, there will be no investigation by my department. … He no doubt deserved it.” (Harston, it later would be learned, was a Klansman himself and a member of the Klan’s Steering Committee of One Hundred.) An unnamed police official said his department would take no action. Two district court judges expressed their approval of the whipping.

Not until six weeks later did an event occur that prompted the News to begin its editorial crusade against the secret organization. The occasion was a theatrical display of Klan pageantry occurring on a Saturday night on the city’s crowded downtown streets. As the street lights dimmed on apparent signal, there emerged from the old Majestic Theatre a lengthy single file of shrouded, masked Klansmen. The first man carried the American flag; the second, a flaming cross. A News reporter counted 789 masked marchers who silently strode 10 feet apart down Main and up Elm streets. A police officer held up traffic at intersections. Signs, carried by every 20th man, bore such slogans as “We Stand for White Supremacy,” “All Pure White,” “Degenerates Go,” “The Invisible Empire,” “100 Percent Americanism,” “All Native Born,” and “The Guilty Must Pay.” In notices pasted on poles and trees around town and sent to the newspapers earlier that day, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan described themselves as “native-born Americans and none others.” They spoke of their high-minded moral objectives with specific mention of intolerable situations, including “co-habitation” of blacks and whites, and “the gambler, the trickster, the moral degenerate and the man who lives by his wits and without visible means of support.” The announcement pointed out ominously that “situations frequently arise where no existing law offers a remedy.” It was a declaration of the Klan’s self-imposed responsibility to police morals.

The editorial crusade became a full-fledged war between the News and the Klan, a battle destined to stand as one of the most significant crusades in Texas journalism history.

On Sunday morning, photographs and stories of the march received prominent display in the newspapers. That same morning, Alonzo Wasson, a veteran journalist who had served as Washington correspondent for the News before becoming chief of the editorial page, in 1920, came to the office on Commerce Street to read proofs for Monday’s editorial page. Seeing the Sunday news story about the Klan’s march, Wasson (without consulting anyone) furiously wrote an editorial denouncing the organization and sent it to the composing room.

“Dallas Slandered” was the title of Wasson’s unsigned piece. Those who had marched in disguise through the streets of Dallas, he wrote, were “the exemplars of lawlessness,” their actions a proper subject for grand jury consideration. “White supremacy is not imperiled. Vice is not rampant. The constituted agencies of government are still regnant. And if freedom is endangered,” the editorial continued, “it is by the redivivus of the mob spirit in the disguised garb of the Ku Klux Klan.”

George Bannerman Dealey, president as well as general manager of the News since 1919, did not read the editorial until it appeared in print. Wasson recalled that at “about 10 o’clock that morning he [Dealey] sauntered into my office, smiling in the way which was habitual with him. ‘That was a good editorial you had in this morning’s paper on the Ku Klux Klan.’ And then before I had time to get the full savor of that morsel he added still smiling and in the same gentle way: ‘But I believe it would be better to hold a conference when breaking new ground of editorial policy is contemplated.’ ” Wasson recalled that this gentle admonition put him in his place “in a manner which left no hurt but which was unmistakable.”

In this off-handed way began the editorial crusade that became a full-fledged war between the News and the Klan, a battle destined to stand as one of the most significant crusades in Texas journalism history. If Dealey and the News had been catapulted into the fray by Wasson’s spontaneous editorial rather than by deliberate consideration, it did not lessen the zeal which would be displayed in the coming months. Wasson’s piece set the tone for many editorials that would follow, and if Dealey might have preferred that a conference had preceded that first editorial, he unflinchingly held firm in opposing the Klan even as the boycott jeopardized his newspaper’s economic health.

A 1923 tobacco label for Dallas’ Klansman All-American Cigar Company

With Klan membership a secret, the newspaper could not have realized at first the extent of the organization’s acceptance in the area. However, comments made just after the Saturday night parade by notable Dallas churchmen strongly suggested influential support behind the Klan. Dr. William M. Anderson Sr., pastor of the downtown First Presbyterian Church, said the Klan’s march had shown that “someone is in earnest so things in Dallas can be straightened up.” Anderson added that the Klan seemed to have the general approval of the Dallas ministry. Dr. C.C. Selecman, pastor of the First Methodist Church (and soon to become the third president of SMU) took a similar approach: “If the situation is such that a Ku Klux Klan is justified in Dallas, then it is a good thing.” And as law enforcement officials had indicated after the whipping of the Adolphus Hotel elevator operator, they again approved of the Saturday night demonstration of power. District Attorney Maury Hughes called the Klan “a great help to law enforcement in Dallas County.” Police Chief Elmo Straight and Police Commissioner Louis Turley said that an organization with such beliefs as expressed by the signs was a splendid one.

On the night before “Dallas Slandered” appeared, a group of 15 to 20 Klansmen wearing masks and bearing arms were waiting outside the Dallas County Criminal Courts building when Sheriff Harston released John T. Moore into the hands of a mob after Moore had posted bond on a charge of molesting a 12-year-old girl. Klansmen took Moore to the Trinity River bottoms and whipped him. Once more, a Times Herald reporter was taken along, and once again public officials had no words of condemnation.

Three weeks after the Moore whipping, an ex-soldier, accused of annoying his former wife, was stripped, whipped, and ordered to leave town. The News labeled the action as “cowardly, brutal, and lawless.” In the weeks to come, the newspaper sought out and reported on every Klan violence occurring anywhere in the nation, incurring the wrath of Klansmen and pro-Klansmen who complained in letters that the News never printed any of the positive things the organization did.

In late 1921, the News reprinted a highly critical series of 21 articles on the Ku Klux Klan by the New York World, which represented the first national treatment of the organization and which emphasized its more violent aspects, listing four murders, 41 floggings, and 27 tar-and-feather parties. Reprinting this series in a section of the country where Klan popularity ranked among the nation’s highest was an act of courage. As the journalist Stanley Walker later observed, “With full knowledge of the nature of the fight it was entering, the News threw down the gage of battle. … The World ran no danger in printing these stories; the News, in the heart of the Klan country, was gambling with its life.”

A News editorial appearing on March 2, 1922, titled “Bed Sheets in the Meeting-House,” strongly criticized preachers who so frequently defended the Klan from their pulpits. The News wrote: “The grave consequences of a sincere error, made in the pulpit, upon a great moral question can not be overestimated. It behooves pastors and preachers of all faith to give the most careful consideration to these consequences.” The condoning of tar-and-feather parties was labeled cowardly. “No minister ought to deliver such a message unless he himself is willing to lead such a band.” The editorial generated heated reactions, both pro and con, and certainly earned for the newspaper animosity from many Protestant ministers.

NIGHT RIDERS: In 1921, a party of Klansmen kidnapped a black man, whipped him at gunpoint, and used acid to burn “KKK” on his forehead. The sheriff said he deserved it.

The cowardice of hiding behind masks was a common theme in the News’ editorials, but the most telling indictment was the newspaper’s well-founded belief that law enforcement officials in Dallas were either Klansmen or Klan sympathizers. It seemed strange to the News that in prosecuting other crimes the police had a fine record, but in case after case of outrageous kidnappings and beatings none of the violators was arrested or charged. “The News is but stating an indisputable fact in saying that the community has lost faith in the integrity of its police department,” the paper editorialized in April 1922, “… due to the feeling that many members of the department are under a secret constraint which deprives them of their freedom in developing clews which may lead to the exposure of members of the Ku Klux Klan.” Concerning the kidnapping/beating of Dallas lumberman Frank Etheredge in March 1922, the News observed: “Against these crimes our police and detectives can give the community no reasonable hope of protection. … [There is] a widespread feeling that some, and perhaps many, of those whose duty it is to hunt out the criminals are leagued with them by the bond of sympathy or oath.” After the beating of a picture framer named Phillip Rothblum, the News wrote that “if the men who invaded Rothblum’s home had stolen his slippers they would probably now be in jail. … Let Captain Moffett and his associates catch but one of the men who have lately committed this crime and they … will relieve themselves of a suspicion that discredits them, whether true or false.”

Such fears seemed especially confirmed with the kidnapping/beating of Rothblum, who fled town with his wife as ordered by 6 pm the day after his beating. Rothblum, however, had recognized one of his kidnappers as a police officer whom he knew. District Attorney Hughes, until now a Klansman himself, was so disgusted by this incident that he resigned from the Klan and decided to prosecute the officer. Rothblum was persuaded to return to testify before a grand jury and at the officer’s criminal trial only with Hughes’ promise of an armed guard.

When a jury, despite the certain identification, on its first ballot declared the policeman not guilty, a large number of prominent Dallas residents decided that the time had come for them to take a public stand against the Klan. A page-one banner headline in the News announced that “Citizens Who Are Not Klansmen Called For Mass Meeting Next Tuesday Night.” Among those who signed a statement denouncing the Klan were Dealey of the News, Pricer of the Dispatch, and leading Jewish merchants Alex Sanger, Charles Sanger, Arthur Kramer, Herbert Marcus, and Leon Harris. Mayor Sawnie P. Aldredge called on all city of Dallas employees, including police officers, to resign from the Klan. Texas Gov. Pat Neff offered to send Texas Rangers to Dallas to bring law and order to the city, an offer the mayor declined. The result of all this activity was the creation of the Dallas County Citizens League, which denounced the Klan as an un-American organization, repeated the demand that all public officials who belonged to it resign, and elected as their chairman the former lieutenant governor and former attorney general of Texas, Martin M. Crane. Anti-Klan speakers were organized, a 30-page miniature booklet titled “The Case Against the Ku Klux Klan” was printed and distributed, and a public drive to oppose the secret organization ensued. The futility of even this well-organized effort, soon to be apparent, was suggested by the fact that four days after the League organized amid widespread publicity, 2,342 new Klansmen enrolled in a mass meeting. A few months later, some 3,500 additional new Klansmen were sworn in at Fair Park.

The Klan by now had targeted the News as a newspaper controlled by Catholics and, because of its editorial policies, a hindrance in the overall fight against crime. Klan sympathizers canceled their subscriptions, withdrew their advertising, and began boycotting those who continued to place advertisements in the newspaper. Irate and accusatory letters poured into Dealey’s office from throughout the state, many from preachers. “I have become convinced,” wrote the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Tyler, “that much of the crime wave that is sweeping over the State of Texas is due to the editorial policy of your paper.” “Only four classes of people are against the Klan,” wrote the pastor of the First Christian Church in Antlers, Oklahoma. “The Catholic, Jew, law violators and the uninformed.” The pastor of the First Baptist Church in Paducah canceled his subscription, saying, “Your position for Romanism and against the Kuklux, does not suit me.” A teacher of vocational education in Bryan, Texas, wrote: “Mr. Editor, so many of us can’t get rid of the notion that the News is a cat’s paw in the hands of Jewish and Catholic influence. So long as the man of the street feels that way your tirades against the Klan will fall on deaf ears.” He demanded a full list of stockholders. “Please stop your Rotton [sic] Old Catholic Sheet Coming to my address. Don’t send me another copy,” wrote another reader.

Agents of the News in small towns reported threats of violence if they didn’t stop handling the News and Journal. Some reported sharp drops in sales, and the agent in Frisco advised that all 28 subscriptions to the Journal had been canceled. Rumors were rampant. An advertiser in Whitesboro wrote to say that he had heard that 700 subscribers in Sherman alone had quit the News. A man in New York wrote to Dealey asking if the rumor were true that “all towns between Fort Worth and Amarillo had quit selling the News.”

789 masked Klansmen marched through crowded downtown streets.

Z.E. Marvin, a prominent businessman-druggist and a leading Klansman who became grand dragon of Texas, complained in a letter to Dealey that the News was downplaying good news about the Klan and playing up every negative story. “It seems there are individuals and forces within the Dallas News organization which are, no doubt without your suggestion or approval, using the medium for purposes other than that of neutrally publishing neutral news and unwarped facts.” Dealey asked News executive Tom Finty to examine Marvin’s complaints, and Finty forcefully refuted them. Marvin, former president of the Retail Druggists Association of Texas and three-time president of the Dallas County Pharmaceutical Association, likely was responsible for the situation described by an unidentified News executive in a memo to Dealey: “Practically every druggist in Dallas employs ‘boycott’ against us & have done so past two years. We do not know this absolutely but their conduct shows it plainly.”

The Klan’s unofficial organ, a weekly titled Texas 100 Per Cent American (with the phrase, “For God, Home and Country” displayed prominently on its front-page nameplate), constantly criticized the News as well as the Journal and the Dispatch for their propagandistic attacks against the Klan. It derided the Dispatch as a “little nigger daily” and claimed that the News and Journal were controlled by Catholics.

Letter-writer after letter-writer demanded to know how many of the shareholders, editors, and officials of the News were Catholic. Dealey painstakingly responded to each reader, sometimes listing the religious affiliations of editors as well as those who owned more than 1 percent of the stock, and explaining “it has never been our practice in considering anyone for employment with us to subject him to a religious test.” He listed six stockholders who owned more than 1 percent of the outstanding shares, all of them Episcopalian, Presbyterian (represented by Dealey), or Methodist. Of the seven-member board of directors, four were Episcopalian, one Presbyterian (Dealey again), one Lutheran, and one nonaffiliated.

Dealey was so concerned, however, that an internal survey was made of employees’ religious affiliations. The result showed that 89.5 percent were Protestant, and that more than 70 percent of these were either Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians. The highest officers who were Catholic were the circulation manager, M.W. Florer, and the editorial writer who launched the anti-Klan campaign, Alonzo Wasson. Just how far the News should go in responding publicly to the charges that it was Catholic-controlled was a matter of internal debate. Consideration was given to publishing biographies of the key staff members, stressing their families and their Protestant church affiliations, but finally the decision was made that it would be wrong to respond in this manner. Instead, a series of full-page “house” advertisements opposite the editorial page sought to explain the News and its responsibilities in journalism, the first appearing on February 19, 1922, under the title “A Representative Newspaper.” It told of the newspaper’s prominence throughout the state and nation, its role in promoting the economic growth of the area, and its part in dispelling the popular notion held in the North and East that Texas was a land of cowboys. One house ad described the News’ editorial policy and the purpose of an editorial page. “The News is never awed into silence by fear of its adverse judgment,” it stated. Another ad declared: “The men and women who work on the News are persons of substantial character and ability. Their character explains the character of the News. Eighty-five percent of them are married with an average of three in the family. Many of them have been with the News for years.”

An opportunity to assess the Klan’s political power arose with the countywide 1922 Democratic primary election. The Klan’s endorsed slate of candidates was widely known. The test ahead, the News wrote, was “to combat the political menace which results from the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.” Klan members and supporters, the newspaper declared with some bravado, were “a pitiful minority in Dallas” and “politically impotent.” The News endorsed all candidates who publicly opposed the Klan, as did the Journal and the Dispatch. Perhaps of particular interest was the race for district attorney. Incumbent Hughes, who had quit the Klan, was targeted for defeat by the organization. A previously unknown lawyer from Oak Cliff, Shelby Cox, widely acknowledged as the Klan candidate and soon to be an admitted Klansman, opposed Hughes. The News castigated Cox as a “river bottom advocate.” The editors described Harston, seeking reelection as sheriff, as a “bedsheet sheriff.” In its final editorial on the day before the election, the News criticized those who “work in darkness rather than in light because their deeds are evil.” It urged all voters to cast their ballots only for men who did not hold “a masked loyalty to a secret aim.”

The result was not at all what the News had hoped. In the general primary, which was tantamount to victory in the one-party state, Klan-endorsed candidates won every countywide race except the district attorney’s office, where an August runoff between Cox and Hughes was required. Celebrating after the election, the winning candidates marched triumphantly through downtown Dallas, pausing at the News to refer to it as that “dirty, slimy, Catholic-owned sheet,” then stopping outside the Times Herald for speech-making. There Cox bragged on his Klan membership and claimed he had marched “with the ranks of the Klan in Dallas and other North Texas cities.”

The News had to acknowledge that the election gave “striking evidence of the political strength of the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas County.” In fact, the Klan’s statewide strength was also impressive, for its candidate in the U.S. Senate race, Earle B. Mayfield, also won, beating former Gov. James Ferguson. Then, in the August runoff for district attorney, admitted Klansman Cox defeated Hughes, 14,000 to 10,000. The results signaled the demise of the Citizens League’s efforts against the Klan, for its task now seemed hopeless, and while the News did not reverse its previous editorial stands, it quietly pulled in its horns as well.

The Klan left this note on Sam McDonnell’s White Rock area home.

The Klan campaign against the News had been very damaging. By the end of 1922, circulation had declined by 3,000, and a cash surplus of $200,000 had to be used to pay the usual 8 percent dividends to the major shareholders, Mrs. Jeannette Belo Peabody (daughter of the company’s founder, Alfred H. Belo Sr.) and her sister-in-law Mrs. A.H. Belo Jr., both of whom lived in Massachusetts. It appeared possible that the Klan’s threat “to bankrupt the News” might actually succeed.

Dealey not only had to contend with Klan troubles, but behind the scenes he had to deal with the concerns of Mrs. Peabody, who was cordial in her letters but who was clearly worried and somewhat perturbed over recent losses. She complained in November 1922 that the loss of more than $200,000 had not been made clear to her. She insisted upon the appointment of her cousin, Ennis Cargill of Houston, to the board of directors so that he could apprise her more fully of the situation in a way she could understand. This surely represented a disappointment to Dealey, who had pushed his older son, Walter, for the board. “It seems to us that Walter is too young to be a director at present,” Mrs. Peabody wrote. Another Belo family member, Cornelius Lombardi, had resigned recently from the News staff, and Mrs. Peabody blamed Dealey for not having found an executive position for him. Moreover, she believed that since family member Cesar Lombardi had died in 1919, “the paper has not had the stand in the community that it had under his editorship.” “You must realize,” she wrote to Dealey, “as I do, the shor[t]comings of your present staff.”

This was a theme Mrs. Peabody repeated time after time. “Mrs. Belo and I both feel very strongly that you need a strong man of ripe judgment and broad point of view to take the place Mr. Lombardi, Senior, so nobly occupied. This is the third time I have written you regarding this matter and I hope you will give it your deep thought and try and find the right man. You have let go several promising men in the immediate past and, as I have written you, we do not feel your staff is adequate.” A month later, having heard from Dealey that the News’ competition was “stronger than ever,” she asked: “Can’t you get some of the people who are making the Star-Telegram forge ahead? I hear a good deal about its management in New York.”

It appeared that other newspapers in Texas were taking advantage of the News’ losses in its battle against the Klan. The Star-Telegram, for example, was offering a year’s subscription to all ministers for just $4.75 a year. Other newspapers, too, such as the El Paso Herald, the Amarillo News, and Capper’s Weekly, were making special offers to entice those disenchanted with the News.

During this period of financial difficulty came a fortuitous offer from W.L. Moody Jr. of Galveston to purchase the Galveston Daily News. With the prospect of being able to pay no dividends in the first quarter of 1923 and “little likelihood of dividends for some time,” corporate officers accepted the offer. The sale was concluded on March 22, 1923. Belo headquarters were transferred from Galveston to Dallas. The Invisible Empire smelled blood, boasting that the News itself would soon be bankrupt. In fact, the sale enhanced the News’ financial stability and thus strengthened it as an institution.

In the fall of 1923, former Dallasite Hiram Wesley Evans, now the Imperial Wizard of Klan activities across the nation, arrived triumphantly in Dallas to attend Ku Klux Klan Day at the State Fair of Texas. Interviewed by a News reporter, Evans surprisingly offered praise instead of condemnation for the News’ crusade against the Klan. The “co-operative expose” of the Klan by the New York World and the News, he said, had helped “considerably to cleanse it of the impure element.” Beyond that, he continued, the criticism “did us $1,000,000 worth of good and gave advertising that we could not have bought.”

The 1923 KKK Day at the State Fair marked an apogee for Dallas Klan No. 66. Attendance, approximately 160,000, was among the highest weekday totals in the Fair’s history. A crowd of some 25,000 gathered that evening at the football field to see the largest Klan initiation ever. A total of 5,631 men took the membership oath, while 800 women joined the auxiliary. In its coverage of the spectacular ceremony, the News uncritically described it as “the most colorful and unique event ever seen in the city of Dallas.”

The opportunity for the News once again to combat the Klan came in the summer of 1924 when it appeared that the Invisible Empire might take over the Texas governor’s mansion. The occasion was the Democratic primary runoff between Felix Robertson, a Dallas judge who was the acknowledged Klan candidate, and Mrs. Miriam Ferguson, running in lieu of her husband, former Gov. James Ferguson. Dealey’s son, Ted, a roving correspondent for the newspaper, suggested in a memo to his father that the News once again aggressively attack the Klan. “Now is the time for us to REAP THE BENEFITS of the seeds we planted two or three years ago,” he wrote.

We [should] make a vigorous attack on the Klan and all Klan candidates, editorially and in any other legitimate way. For several years we got out against the Klan and fought it. … The persons who were alienated will always continue to hate us as long as they feel the way they do about the Klan. We will not hurt ourselves now by taking up the fight against the Klan once more. All the hurt that could come to us has already been felt. … Felix Robertson is an avowed Klansman. … Now is the time to wop him where it will do the most good.

Once more the News began an editorial campaign; once more many of the city’s leading elected officials took an opposite position. Endorsing Robertson were the mayor and all four city commissioners, former Mayor Francis Wozencraft, and a host of county officials. Dallas voters preferred the Klansman, Robertson, by a two-to-one margin, but Ma Ferguson won the statewide race and went on to serve as governor.

Robertson’s failure, combined with the accumulation of Klan transgressions that were more and more recognized, signaled the beginning of a decline of the organization in Texas and in Dallas. Membership rolls began dropping precipitously. By 1926, Klan No. 66, once boasting 13,000 members, had declined to 1,200. The New York Times reported that same year that some said “a Klan endorsement of any candidate now anywhere in Texas … would mean certain defeat.” As late as 1929, the Klan in Dallas was able to maintain a full-time office near Fair Park, but its heyday was over. The Dallas Morning News could boast of having fought the Klan—as it would continue to do for many years—without fear of further reprisal. 

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