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The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a racist white supremacy group. The secretive organization was established after the Civil War in response to the end of slavery, where its members were generally found in the former Confederate States of America. The first version of the KKK was in opposition to Republican politicians running for office in the former Confederate states. In addition to violently targeting the Black communities, the first version of the KKK intimidated voters. In 1915, the KKK evolved away from predominantly targeting the Black community towards focusing on what it perceived to be the dangers posed to the white supremacy movement by immigrants coming to America. It is this version of the KKK, which largely ended in the late 1920’s, that used the imagery of burning crosses and white hooded members that most represents the KKK today. It is this version of the KKK that rose to prominence in El Paso. However, a third version of the KKK returned in the 1950’s, again focused on immigrants as a perceived danger to white supremacy in America today. Both the latest iteration, the third version, and the second version oppose civil rights movements through violence and intimidation. The second version of the KKK has its foundation within the Protestant religious communities, proclaiming themselves as upholders of Christian morality.

It is against this background of the second version of the KKK that El Paso’s leadership joined rank with the KKK. It was nativism along with the eugenics movement that drove the El Pasoans to join the Klan. The Klan began focusing more on ideology in the 1920’s. Ideologically, the KKK “labeled the newer immigrants as inferior and dangerous to the American Republic.” This ideology reflected the eugenics movement across America at the time. [1] It should be noted that not all members of the KKK, at this time, were focused on nativism. Many joined the KKK for business and political reasons. Instead of Black racism, the “Klan in El Paso was partly a response to divisions between Hispanic and Anglo populations.” [2] Although El Paso was and is Hispanic dominated, the Anglo minority wields the political power of the city. The El Paso KKK’s central issue was control of the public schools. [3] Although, in El Paso, immigration was part of the Klan’s agenda, its focus was driven by its anti-Catholicism underlined with white supremacy. El Paso had access to Mexican laborers thus the need for slavery was never a factor. Because El Paso’s Black population has been in the single digits, racism against Blacks did not dominate the city’s politics. That left the eugenics movement over control of the city’s political structure. It was religion that empowered the El Paso Klan.

The revised Klan of the 1920’s was supported by “Protestants in general and Methodists in particular.” Without the support of organized religion, the Klan “could not have enrolled the numbers of people nor gained the political power it wielded during the 1920s in Texas.” [4] Religion excused the moral dilemma of the Klan’s agenda. H.D. Knickerbocker preached from the pulpit that “justice may sometimes be rightfully administered outside of the law,” adding that Jesus Christ “was the first Ku Klux Klansman.” Knickerbocker was the bother of Percy Knickerbocker who was the pastor of the Trinity Methodist Church. While the church’s membership increased by 800 members, from 1,026 to 1,826, the El Paso Klan chapter regularly met in the church’s basement. [5] There were several prominent members of the Klan in El Paso, one of them a mayor who governed when the KKK’s footprint in El Paso grew.

According to historian David Romo, Tom Lea, Sr. was “one of the city’s most prominent members of the Ku Klux Klan at a time when the klan focused its recruitment on the most influential citizens of the white community.” [6] The Tom Lea Institute website that focuses on Tom Lea III, the artist, acknowledges that Tom Lea II, the father, was a member of the El Paso chapter of the KKK. The website states that the “KKK of the 1920s was not just a hate group but also a means of political and civic action.” [7] Another prominent member of the El Paso Klan was Samuel Isaacks, who was a member of the local Texas Centennial Committee. [8] The Texas Centennial Committee was commissioned to celebrate 100 years of Texas independence in 1926. The full membership of the El Paso branch of the KKK is unknown because of the secrecy of the organization. It is the secrecy that politically hampered the Klan’s reach across Texas.

In the Texas politics of 1922, membership in the KKK was part of the political rhetoric opponents used. Whether a candidate was a member of the KKK was frequently raised. In a Dallas race for the U.S. Senate seat, candidate Cullen F. Thomas said that he regrated that the “issue” of the KKK was “injected in the contest” for the Senate seat because the issue of membership in the Klan was “entirely dissociated from one’s duties” to the Senate. However, Thomas added that “no candidate should conceal his views or convictions on any question of public interest for the sake of public office.” [9]

Thomas argued that “In spite of many noble men who are members; in spite of professed ideal for human betterment; in spite of worthy deeds to deserving causes, the Ku Klux Klan is arraigned before the people of Texas because the state has been shamed with a succession of outrages begun coincident with the appearance of the klan in Texas.” Thomas argued that the KKK was “on trial for its life,” but that he was convinced that “it is contrary to public policy for this or any other organization to cloak the identity of its members in their operations in public behind any sort of disguise.” Thomas said that he was “unqualified opposed” to the Klan “operating under iron-clad secrecy as to the personnel of its membership.” [10] The membership of the El Paso Klan tended to consist of “relative newcomers, many of them from the South” who “lived in the Northeast suburbs, not in the older parts of town.” [11]

The secrecy of El Pasoans belonging to the KKK was such that letters addressed to the KKK were left unclaimed at the post office and ended up in the dead letter office in Washington DC. Stories appeared in the newspapers asking for money that was sent to the KKK but never received. Even charity money sent from the KKK to local charities ended up in the dead letter office.

In 1922, $50 intended for the Salvation Army was lost after the envelope containing the money was found empty in the dead letter office. The envelope reportedly containing $50 in cash was mailed to Frontier Klan No. 100 Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, El Paso. According to the post office, the letter with the money contained no return address and when it was unclaimed, it was sent to the dead letter office on December 5, 1921. E.A. Shelton, the postmaster said that he “questioned clerks closely,” about the money, adding that “no mail was delivered to the klan at that time” and that the post office “held several letters addressed to the klan.” The letters “were returned to the sender when they bore a return address,” and those that did not “were forwarded to the dead letter office,” because they were unclaimed by the KKK. [12]

It is the secretive nature of the KKK that both kept secret its complete El Paso roster but also exposed some of its membership as political candidates pressured it to name its members, either by political candidates alleging their opponents belonged, forcing them to confirm or deny, and using the legal system.

The El Paso KKK

We know that one founding member of the Knights of the Ku Klutz Klan, Frontier Klan No. 100, the El Paso chapter was Bob Oliver. Oliver ran for county commissioner in 1922. [13] That year, the Klan dispatched 1,100 King Kleagles across the nation to charter Klan chapters. [14] C.M. Kellogg is the individual credited with recruiting members for the El Paso chapter of the Klan. Kellogg, who recruited members at the Sheldon hotel, started his efforts around May 1921. [15]

Although a complete list of the membership of the Frontier Lodge of the Ku Klux Klan is unavailable, several members have been named. In a lawsuit challenging whether KKK membership disqualified candidates from office, the secretary of the Frontier Lodge was ordered by subpoena to provide the “rolls of membership” of the local chapter of the KKK. [16] It is estimated that “at least 3,500 El Pasoans” were members of the KKK at one point or another. Publicly the KKK was secretive about its nature and its operations. However, it did not remain hidden. It worked behind the scenes politically, but it could not contain its true agenda from the public. In addition to the Klan newspapers and the pulpit sermons chastising El Paso’s declining morality, there were also cross burnings on the Franklin Mountains. [17]

Nonetheless, the membership was kept secret. As previously noted, letters addressed to the Ku Klutz Klan remained undelivered at the post office because no one seemed to want to be identified as a member of the organization by claiming the letters. [18] On June 5, 1923, Hal F. Kelly, the city editor for the El Paso Times, filed a suit seeking $50,000 against six individuals “with many others whose names are unknown.” Named in the lawsuit were C.L. Sirmans, S. J. Isaacks, J.M. Crawford and W.J. Moran. According to the lawsuit, they were alleged to be the publishers of the Frontier Klansman. [19] The Frontier Klansman was one of El Paso KKK’s periodicals.

The Frontier Klansman

The Frontier Klansman was one of about four Klan newspapers in El Paso. Kelly sued for defamation after the Frontier Klansman alleged in an article that Kelly “was arrested last Sunday night for driving a car while intoxicated.” The Klan newspaper reportedly printed that “Kelly is very antiklan,” adding that it is “no wonder some men object to the all-seeing eye of the klan.” [20]

According to Kelly’s suit, Sirmans was the editor and owner of the Klan periodical and Moran was the owner of the printing house where the Klan newspaper was printed. The lawsuit alleged that the “organization meets in the dark and secret and refuses to disclose the names of its members, while at the same time it makes claim that its members are all 100 per cent [sic] Americans.” Because of its secretive nature, Kelly demanded that the El Paso branch of the Klan “produce the roll of said membership as of May 11, 1925.” Sirmans was the only member to have been publicly acknowledged. [21] The secrecy of the membership rolls of the Klan was what allowed it to wield political power. El Paso mayor Tom Lea is an example of how allowing secrecy in the organization protected influential El Pasoans from publicly acknowledging membership to a group focused on disfranchising most of the community – the Hispanics. As soon as the threat of exposure became a reality, many El Pasoans abandoned the group, including Lea.

The Klan newspaper was used to attack individuals and institutions for political purposes. One of the targets of the 1920’s version of the Klan, in addition to immigrants was the Catholic Church. One edition of the Frontier Klansman printed a missive alleging that the Catholic Church was intending on having a Catholic elected the president of the United States so that the new president would be in the position to bring the Pope to the United States and establish him as the “sovereign of the world.” [22] Another target of the Klan’s El Paso newspaper were the Jews. An article in the December 29, 1922, Frontier Klansman stated that “If you are a Jew, attend to your own business refreshing your mind now and then by recalling the fact that you had little to do with making this civilization, or any other, as to that matter, and that you enjoy today the labors of others.” The article concluded, “No mongrel America – just America.” [23]

The Source of the Klan’s Members

The source of the Klan can be traced to intolerant Protestants who used religion as the basis of their white supremacy doctrine. According to Lloyd P. Bloodworth, a “general evangelist of the Methodist Episcopal church” told a congregation on December 3, 1922 “that 85 percent of the preachers in Texas” were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Bloodworth added that although “the Klan did not bring him to El Paso, he was speaking about them because he believed in their “principles.” [24]

The pastor of the First Methodist Church, Henry Van Valkenburgh, responded to a Klan call for help from the local ministers by replying that he was “not on the warpath against the Ku Klux Klan” because “until the people of Texas are able to stand off mob violence at the hands of supposedly law abiding citizens,” individuals “should be careful how” they “condemn an organization that claims to have for its object the re-enforcement of the peace officers.” Valkenburgh said that he was not a member of the Klan but did not feel compelled to withhold on the organization because it claimed, “to favor law enforcement.” Other preachers argued that they paid little attention to the KKK. [25]

Because Protestant religious leaders either overtly provided pulpits and support to the local KKK chapter or ignored the underlining white supremacy doctrine of the group, it allowed the Klan to attract white voters into its ranks through the belief that the Klan stood for law and order – morality for the church goers. It is likely that without the support of the Protestant church leaders, the El Paso branch of the KKK would never have attained the power that it did. This is proven two years later when El Paso voters rejected the Klan slate of candidates and many of its members abandoned the group.

The Klan And El Paso Politics

The Klan’s foray into El Paso’s political scene became public around 1921. Then mayor of El Paso, Charles Davis, announced on September 28, 1922 that “city employees who are members of the Ku Klux Klan must resign.” To enforce the order, the city’s district attorney “may demand a list of the membership” of the Klan in El Paso from a grand jury. [26] C.L. Vowell was the district attorney and his call for a membership list seems to have forced a political showdown between Klan candidates and an anti-Klan ticket created to challenge the Klan incumbents in different offices. The city council had also enacted an ordinance on September 15, 1921 that targeted the Klan. The ordinance prohibited “public gatherings or demonstrations of masked persons.” Supporters of the ordinance acknowledged that it was targeted at the KKK. [27]

In late October 1922, four candidates rumored to be KKK members and running for office in the upcoming November 7 elections were forced to go to court to defend their candidacies for the offices they sought. W. H. Fryer had filed a lawsuit in the 65th district court arguing that membership in the KKK disqualified candidates from running for office. Fryer alleged in his lawsuit that candidates J.E. Quaid, Frank Scotten, Clarence Harper and A.R. Webb were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Fryer sought to force the four to answer under oath whether they belonged to the Klan. Attorneys for the four, W. M. Peticolas and Ed M. Whitaker agreed with Fryer’s assertion that if the men they represent refused to answer the question of their membership, then the court could “construe the refusal as an admission of membership in the Klan.” However, the two lawyers for the candidates said that their client’s membership in the KKK would not disqualify a candidate from office. [28] When the case reached the courtroom, Fryer dismissed his own lawsuit because his intention “was to get their names [defendants] before the public as being Klan members.” [29]

By the 1923 city elections, the fight between those opposed to the Klan and the Klan slate of candidates had become public. In a full-page advertisement in the February 24, 1923 issue of the El Paso Times, Dick Dudley implored voters to “vote the Dudley Ticket Straight!” The Dudley ticket included Dudley for mayor, H.P. Jackson, A.B. Poe, W.K. Ramsey and M.C. Tracy for alderman seats. It also included Charles H. Leavell for chairman of the city’s Democratic Executive Committee and four seats of the committee: H.P. Deady, Harvey Wilcox, Joseph A. Wright and Frank T. Strother. The political advertisement admonished voters that “El Paso’s future is hanging on the balance,” Dudley added that the “fate” of the “city is at stake.” [30]

The advertisement continued, “don’t crucify El Paso on a fiery cross,” Dudley implored voters as they went to the polls that day. According to Dudley’s advertisement, “El Paso’s future” was being threatened by “bitterness, enmity, strife, hatred” that are “the fruits of the Ku Klux Klan in El Paso.” The Gardner ticket led by P.E. Gardner, according to Dudley, was made up of the KKK “that sponsored their campaign.” Among the consequences “since the KLAN Came [sic] to EL PASO,” Dudley’s advertisement pointed out, included “business had suffered,” that “friendships of years’ standing have been disrupted,” and “families have been divided.” [31] The El Paso Herald Post was accused of being too close to the El Paso Klan. According to a 2002 El Paso Community College paper reprinted in the El Paso Times; the El Paso Herald Post’s editorial staff was “controlled” by the Klan. It is through the Post that members of the KKK were able to publish their “belief.” [32]

If the Community College paper is to be believed, the El Paso Klan members were able to reach potential members through the El Paso Herald Post in addition to its primary means, the Protestant church pulpits that helped to spread the word and allowed members to freely congregate without the fear of repercussions. Driving the KKK in El Paso was social morality. To attract housewives and influential El Pasoans, the border Klan wrapped its agenda around protecting family values and keeping the family safe. Its target was immigrants, especially those from México and Cd. Juárez’ attractiveness for vice. The El Paso Klan “claimed to be against crime of all types,” and among other things targeted “juveniles drinking across the border and returning late at night.” Klan members “would record names or take pictures to show the parents” of children returning from Cd. Juárez. However, the KKK faced opposition.

Although the Klan successfully took control of the school board in 1921 [33] it was not overly welcomed in El Paso. When the Klan tried to organize a parade in downtown El Paso in 1922, the police were mobilized and “a throng of 300 citizens” gathered at “Oregon and Fifth streets.” As the rumors of the Klan marching from Smelter town increased, the crowd swelled to around 500 men, some of them carrying “long clubs” and at least two men “carried a box of bricks.” The Ku Klutz Klan appears to have decided not to march that night after the police had mobilized to enforce the “law” and because of the hostile crowd that had gathered. [34] On the surface the Klan appeared to have the support of the city as demonstrated by its seats on the school elections. On the other hand, the crowd that gathered to keep them from marching suggests that El Pasoans were not solidly behind the KKK. This apparent dichotomy makes more sense when the overwhelming Hispanic population of El Paso is factored against the voters of El Paso who tended be White and Protestant church members.

School Board Elections

When the KKK took control of the school board, one of the first things they did was to name El Paso schools “to commemorate Texas heroes.” In addition to renaming existing schools like El Paso High becoming Sam Houston High School, which was later changed back to its original name, new schools were named Austin, Bowie and Burleson – all Confederate heroes. [35]

By 1923, several El Pasoans had had enough of the KKK. They organized an anti-Klan ticket to run in the upcoming elections. Then-District Attorney C. L. Vowell said that the KKK, was a “secret organization that invaded this country two years ago has degenerated into a political organization that means corruption, deterioration and destruction” for El Paso. [36]

The Ku Klutz Klan was not shy about its intentions of dominating El Paso’s elections. It became publicly involved in the city’s 1923 school board elections. On March 28, 1923, the Frontier Klansman sent five questions to Mrs. Milton Warner, Mrs. John A. Wright, Wyeth Warner and J.H. McBroom. The four candidates for the school board had formed an anti-Ku Klux Klan ticket. The first question posed by the Frontier Klansman asked the candidate, “The Klan stands for the principal of separation of church and state. Do you oppose this principal?” The second question asked if the candidate opposed the “tenets of the Christian religion.” The questionnaire then asked the candidate; “The Klan is pledged to and teaches unqualified allegiance to this government above all other and any kind of government in the whole world. Are you opposed to this teaching?” The fourth question stated that “the majority of the present school board is credited…as being pro-Klan.” It then asks the candidate to “state specifically what policies or acts of the present board” they “condemn.” The final question asks the candidates if they will support teachers who are “Klansman or the wife or daughter of a Klanmans?” [37]

The third question asking whether the candidate opposes “unqualified allegiance to this government,” alluded to one of the Klan’s principal conspiracies, that the Pope was going to be appointed the world’s supreme leader. As readers can see from the questionnaire, the KKK based its existence in El Paso on the morality of the community, especially supporting a religious morality doctrine based on Protestant teachings but labeling it simply as “Christian religion.”

Dr. H. P. Deady, chairman of the anti-Klan school board ticket told the El Paso Herald Post on March 31, 1923 that he and the others refused to provide answers to the Frontier Klansman questionnaire “purporting to emanate from the Ku Klutz Klan and written upon stationery symbolic of the order, but without signature or seal.” Although Sirmans told the El Paso Herald that he had sent the questionnaire to “the anti-Klan candidates for the school trustees,” Deady and other anti-Klan candidates declined to answer the questions because the questionnaire was “anonymous” and “its source unknown.” [38]

The school board election became central to the Klan’s public foray into El Paso’s political scene. The KKK was hoping to keep the seats it had originally won to continue to grow its political power base in the city. It’s eventual losses was the end of the Klan in El Paso, at least publicly as a political vehicle.

The Klan Loses

On April 7, 1923, El Paso voters elected the four anti-Klan candidates to the school board. The four, Mrs. Milton A Warner, Mrs. John A. Wright, J.H. McBroom and Wyeth Doak, were slated to “take the board from” the control of the “alleged Ku Klux Klan.” McBroom was the only Republican in the group. For the county board of education, Paul Thomas, representing the anti-Klan ticket beat E.B. Elfers, who was “reputed to have Klan support.” Although officials expected a voter turnout of 7,000, there were 8,607 votes cast that day. According to the El Paso Herald, interest in the school board election was the Klan’s “effort to retain control of the school board.” Candidate for mayor, R.M. Dudley told the El Paso Herald that the election “revealed the true strength of the Klan.” The Klan candidates for the school board lost “by more than 1000” votes. [39] Although the Klan slate of candidates had lost in El Paso, by 1924, “Texas had more Klansman in public office than any other state.” [40]

The 1923 election loss by the Klan in El Paso was “declared to be the first defeat of a klan candidate” in Texas, according to the Vancouver newspaper, The Daily Province. Anti-Klan candidates ran on the slogan, “Down with the Ku Klux Klan in El Paso.” [41]

Although defeated at the polls, the Klan continued to exist, somewhat diminished after many of its members had been exposed. In August 1923, the El Paso Klan campaigned to close the international bridge into the “Juarez hell hole.” Nonetheless, the Klan’s political power was fatally diminished. [42]

Threatening Hispanics

As readers observed, the 1920’s version of the KKK opposed immigrants, the Catholic Church and other minorities. In El Paso it was predominantly the Church and the Mexicans that the local KKK targeted under the guise of morality. In 1922, the Mexican newspaper, El Universal reported that the “Ku Klux Klan of El Paso has threatened to dynamite the Sacred Heart church.” According to the report, about 2,000 Fort Bliss soldiers and 1,000 “Mexican members of the parish” were guarding the church. This news report was reported in the El Paso Herald as a snippet with the observation that El Pasoans “have to go away from home to get the news,” adding that the threat was of “much interest to the Fort Bliss troops and Mexican parishioners.” [43]

However, it should be noted that the news snippet in the El Paso Herald newspaper suggested that El Universal’s report may have been exaggerated and “may be subject to discount.” [44] Three thousand people guarding the church would have been significant enough to warrant more coverage than the snippet provided by the El Paso Herald. This is especially true had Ft. Bliss mobilized 2,000 soldiers to Segundo Barrio, as El Universal suggested.

That is not to say that Mexicans weren’t the target of the Klan in El Paso. In September of 1923, the El Paso chapter of the KKK was blamed by city council for “tearing down the Mexican flags at Liberty Hall.” The Mexican flags had been put on display in honor of Mexican Independence celebrations. An official with the El Paso Klan “said he did not know the flags were torn down.” [45]

The Klan’s activities in El Paso were about White/Protestant control of the public policy agenda. Although Hispanics were not overly targeted, the White religious minority intended to impose its version of morality by controlling the political seats of the city. To do so, the Protestant pulpits targeted Hispanics and Catholics as reasons for the decline of the morality of the city. One need not look further than Tom Lea’s notorious bathhouses and pleas for quarantines on the border to understand that the city’s common scapegoats were its Hispanics. Although the political losses ended the public posture of the KKK in El Paso, its morality vision remains part of the city’s politics today.

The Klan Resurfaces In El Paso

After losing the elections to the anti-Klan ticket there was a movement five years later trying to “revive” the KKK in 1928. A “secret committee of three” was approaching “several El Pasoans and once members of the old Ku Klux organization” and asking them to sign a petition to “revive the hooded organization, which had its headquarters in the First National Bank building several years ago.” However, “old members” of the El Paso Klan who did not want to “disclose their identity” was hampering the revival effort. February 22 had been set as the date to “unmask” members of the organization across the nation by the “order of Imperial Wizard” of the KKK. [46] It is the unmasking of its membership that seems to have been the reason that the revival efforts failed. Its membership was happy to ply its political power shrouded under secrecy but was unwillingly to do so unmasked.

The upcoming county and presidential elections were said to be the reason for reviving the Klan in El Paso. According to the 1928 newspaper account of the KKK’s revival plans, it appears that a women’s Klan organization had existed previously in El Paso. [47] The KKK failed to revive itself as an organization but its agenda remains part of the city’s political agenda today in the form of a White-minority oligarchy system operating in the shadows manipulating elections each year, according to the 2020 book Who Rules El Paso? by the El Paso Community First Coalition.

Rightwing Politics

An important element of the second version of the Klan was to counter the political influence of the Republicans after the Civil War. Today, the Klan is no longer the Klan of the 1920’s in name, but its politics remain the same xenophobic religious rightwing politics that have divided the nation since the election of Donald J. Trump in 2016. Although no longer called the KKK, extremist Republicans continue to demand a white supremacist America by attacking people of color and immigrants. Much of their politics are supported by White-Protestant religious groups.

Several news reports have occasionally appeared in the local newspapers about the history of the KKK in El Paso. At least four theses have been written about the period that the Ku Klutz Klan operated in El Paso’s politics. But generally, the history of the KKK is largely unknown by most El Pasoans. Its uncomfortable history is ignored by schools and many historians. The KKK’s absence in the El Paso historical record is because of its membership of “many important people” in El Paso makes many uncomfortable.

“There is a conspiracy of silence” in El Paso with many in the city having “shied away” from the Confederacy and the Klan, “because a lot of very, very important people” in El Paso “were members,” wrote Shawn Lay in 1984. Lay documented the history of the KKK in El Paso in his 1984 UTEP thesis for his master’s degree. Lay added, “The fact that the Klan episode has been so overlooked is almost an effrontry [sic] to a historian.” [48]

Although the Ku Klux Klan is no longer a public spectacle in El Paso, its anti-Latino, anti-immigrant and white supremacy rhetoric remains alive today. On November 13, 2019, the United States Commission on Civil Rights released a report on rising hate crimes in America against people of color. It cited the “mass shooting in El Paso, Texas” in 2019 to “demonstrate the ongoing urgency and the work that is needed to prevent bias-based attacks on individuals and communities.” [49] On August 3, 2019, Patrick Wood Cirrus killed 23 people and injured another 23 at a Walmart in El Paso, according to court records. Cirrus posted an online manifesto espousing white nationalistic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The history of the Klan in America is distorted by an American federal political system too overwhelmed at the time to deal with the issues created by the liberation of America’s slaves, an Anglo-Saxon justice system unwilling to impose justice and a news media generally interested in blaming the victims instead of the Klan. The 100 years of Klan activity in the country is many times folk legends documented by White southerners interested in ensuring that the South remained White. In El Paso, the KKK was more about access to political power than white supremacy but, nonetheless, white supremacy was the driving force as El Paso’s White minority wrestled to keep political control away from the city’s majority Hispanics.

As Shawn Lay has shown, the KKK in El Paso was empowered by debate over morality interposed with race and religion. Just as religion provided the pulpit in Methodist churches, it was the Catholics in El Paso which led to the KKK’s demise once its true agenda was exposed.

The KKK never had a national agenda, but its anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic Church stance dominated much of its existence. The Protestants empowered the nationalism driving the KKK towards trying to control the public policy agenda of the communities it operated in. El Paso demonstrates both its primary targets – immigrants and Catholics and how the Klan wanted to manage public policy through control of the school boards. It was law-and-order rhetoric that attracted many to join the Klan’s political machinery and it was its underlining anti-immigrant and white supremacy that drove many of them away. Although the Klan today is diminished it remains part of America’s scene, albeit in an almost nonpublic version. Criminal acts by KKK members are still prosecuted in federal courts today.

Political infighting within the El Paso Democrats and corruption provided a footprint for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in El Paso. In our next articles we will explore the so-called Kelly Ring as well as the Good Government League and how they expose El Paso’s long history of political corruption. The Good Government League is especially important to understand how it is that the Klan was able to get voters to vote for it in El Paso.

Footnotes:

  1. Mark N. Morris, “Saving Society Through Politics: The Ku Klux Klan In Dallas, Texas, In The 1920s” (PhD diss, University of North Texas, 1997), 6.
  2. Morris, “Saving Society Through Politics,” 7.
  3. Morris, “Saving Society Through Politics,” 225.
  4. Eric S. Jacobson, “Silent Observer or Silent Partner: Methodism and the Texas Ku Klux Klan, 1921- 1925,” Archives of the United Methodist Church, Methodist History, 31:2, January 1993, 104.
  5. Jacobson, “Silent Observer or Silent Partner,” 107.
  6. David Dorado Romo, “The Racist History Behind El Paso’s XII Travelers Memorial,” Texas Observer, September 28, 2020, https://www.trentu.ca/academicskills/documentation-guide/chicago-style/bibliography/chicago-style-citing-periodicals
  7. “On Mayor Tom Lea II, Artist Tom Lea III’s Father,” Tom Lea Institute Website, accessed on April 18, 2022, https://www.tomlea.com/mayor-tom-lea-artist-tom-lea-s-fath
  8. Romo, “The Racist History Behind El Paso’s XII Travelers Memorial.”
  9. “Thomas Takes Stand On The Ku Klux Klan,” El Paso Herald, April 13, 1922, 3.
  10. “Thomas Take Stand On The Ku Klux Klan,” 3.
  11. Pat Henry, “Student chronicles El Paso Klansmen in master’s thesis,” El Paso Times, March 18, 1984, 1-E.
  12. “Where Is The Ku Klux Klan Money Sent To Associated Charities? Nobody Is Able To Locate It,” El Paso Herald, April 13, 1922, 5.
  13. “Oliver Quit Then Rejoined Klan, He Says,” El Paso Herald, October 30, 1922, 2.
  14. Pat Henry, “Student chronicles El Paso Klansmen,” 11-E.
  15. Vanessa Mendoza, Melissa A Case, Yvonne Garcia, Yazmine Contreras, Alejandra Garcia and Cristal N. Spradling, “Ku Klux Klan Had Short Life in El Paso,” El Paso Times, EPCC Borderlands 2002-2003, June 9, 2002, 6.
  16. “Candidates To Admit Membership In Klan,” El Paso Herald, October 30, 1922, 2.
  17. Pat Henry, “Prominent El Pasoans joined, voters turned back Ku Klux ticket,” El Paso Times, March 1, 1984, 1-E.
  18. “’Kluck Klucks Klan’ Has Mail Awaiting Courageous Member,” El Paso Times, November 9, 1921, 5.
  19. “Texas Editor Sues Klan On Libel Charge,” El Paso Times, June 5, 1923, 1.
  20. “Texas Editor Sues Klan On Libel Charge,” 1.
  21. “Texas Editor Sues Klan On Libel Charge,” 1.
  22. Juan O. Sánchez, The Ku Klux Klan’s Campaign Against Hispanics, 1921-1925: Rhetoric, Violence and Response in the American Southwest (McFarland, 2018), 75.
  23. “Jews Part In History of U.S. Told By Rabbi; Says ‘Needs no Advice’,” El Paso Herald Post, January 6-7, 1923, 8.
  24. “Ku Klux Evangelist Says Most Preachers Belong,” El Paso Herald, December 4, 1922, 4.
  25. “Pastor Has No fight To Wage Against Ku Klux; Another ‘More Interested In Gospel’,” El Paso Herald, November 17, 1921, 16.
  26. “Mayor of El Paso Demands Members Ku Klux Klan Resign,” Ducant Daily Democrat (Oklahoma), September 28, 1922, 1.
  27. “El Paso Order To Hit Ku Klux Klan,” Lansing Stat Journal, September 16, 1921, 17.
  28. “Candidates To Admit Membership In Klan,” 1-2.
  29. Mary Margaret Davis, “Historical society honors doctor, lawyer,” El Paso Times, April 8, 1990, 2F.
  30. “Dick Dudley,” Full-page political advertisement, El Paso Times, February 24, 1923, 4.
  31. “Dick Dudley,” 5.
  32. Vanessa Mendoza, “Ku Klux Klan Hard Short Life,”6.
  33. Vanessa Mendoza, “Ku Klux Klan Hard Short Life,”6.
  34. “Armed Men Wait K.K.K. Parade; Chief Edwards Has All Cops on Duty,” El Paso Times, March 14, 1922, 5.
  35. Vanessa Mendoza, “Ku Klux Klan Hard Short Life,”6.
  36. “Dudley Declares War On Dope Evil; Gardner Assailed,” The El Paso Times, February 17, 1923, 2.
  37. “Ku Klutz Puts Questionnaire To Candidates,” El Paso Herald, March 29, 1923, 8.
  38. “Not To Answer Klan Queries, Says Dr. Deady,” El Paso Herald, March 31, 1923, 4.
  39. “McBroom, Republican, To Head Trustees; School Board and City Are Harmonious; As Anti-Klan Wins In El Paso Contest,” El Paso Herald, April 9, 1923, 14.
  40. Vanessa Mendoza, “Ku Klux Klan Hard Short Life,”6.
  41. “Ku Klux Klan Loses Election in El Paso,” The Daily Province, Vancouver, February 26, 1923, 4.
  42. Pat Henry, “Prominent El Pasoans joined,” 11-E.
  43. “Exciting News Overlooked Here.,” El Paso Herald, March 27, 1922, 13.
  44. “Exciting News Overlooked Here.,” 13.
  45. “Ku Klux Klan Blamed,” St. Albans Daily Messenger,” September 7, 1923, 7.
  46. “Klan Revival In El Paso Sought,” El Paso Herald, February 3, 1928, 1.
  47. “Klan Revival In El Paso,” 1.
  48. Pat Henry, “Student chronicles El Paso Klansmen,” 11-E.
  49. U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, In The Name of Hate: Examining the Federal Government’s Role in Responding to Hate Crimes, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government, November 2019), Letter of Transmittal, 1.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.

3 replies on “Frontier Klansmen: The KKK In El Paso”

  1. Glad know that El Paso resisted the KKK. Growing up Yankee, I always assumed that everything south of the Mason-Dixon line was Klan country, Texas especially. My experience in Texas since 1994 (Dallas and El Paso) is that it is the most diverse state in the country (much more than my Wisconsin home), people are mostly welcoming and friendly and I understand why people and companies are moving here from other states, California notably.

    Bear in mind that culture evolves and my Yankee impression of Texas is not accurate anymore, though it may have been in the 1950s. The country – especially young people – seem gripped by Grievance Derangement Syndrome lately and Martin likes to dwell on it, too. The cure is to ask yourself, “Compared to what and compared to when?” Things are mostly better now compared to the past. As far as I’m concerned, if your people had it bad in the past, it’s not my fault so make a better future for yourself. My family fled the Bolsheviks in Ukraine post-WWI and migrated here. They had it bad, too. Yawn. The Bolsheviks are returning now and call themselves BLM, cancel culture and the alphabet mafia demanding ideological purity, conformity and enforced virtue signaling. Live and let live isn’t good enough. But it’s good enough for me along with civility and love of neighbor, whatever their color and gender.

    I’m going to San Francisco in May to attend an environmental conference, my first time back there in 10 years. If they focus on solutions it will be good but if it’s a bunch of Marin County white kids whining about how unjust life is, well maybe I’ll mosey over to City Lights Bookstore and browse the Kerouac and Brautigan shelves. You know, the 50s and 60s when it was really, really bad 🙂

  2. The article failed to mention that the Ku Klux Klan is a Democrat organization. The Democrats also authored the Jim Crow laws that kept blacks from voting. But you won’t print that will you?
    By the way, David Romo is no historian

  3. @Steven Jones you may be missing the fact that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are the party they once were. Times have changed. They have pretty much swapped ideology.

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