Stephen F. Austin State University

Klan parade drew curious Gregg County crowd (February 2017)

Klan parade drew curious Gregg County crowd

By Van Craddock

It was the night the Ku Klux Klan came to Gregg County.

The Longview Leader newspaper noted that 10,000 curious spectators showed up to see several hundred white-robed Klansmen march and ride through downtown streets on Oct. 1, 1921.

A revised version of the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan emerged in the 1920s.

Many viewed this "new" Klan as a fraternal lodge open only to white, Protestant men wanting to promote "Americanism," champion morality, enforce Prohibition and support law and order. However, numerous acts of violence continued to link the organization to the Klan's "night-rider" history of the 1860s and 1870s.

The very week of the 1921 Longview parade, the Marshall Morning News said: "More than 50 persons have been whipped or tarred and feathered in Texas in the last six months. There are presumably at least 30 cities in which these (KKK) organizations exist … If there is a newspaper in Texas that favors the organization, we have not heard of it."

Longview had an active Klan chapter in 1921. The chapter made news that year by proposing that the federal government forcibly "nationalize" every foreigner in the nation. The club also donated "large-print Bibles and big silk American flags" to all Gregg County schools.

The 9 p.m. Oct. 1 parade - it was a Saturday night - began with a bugle call and horsemen "bearing the fiery cross," said the Longview Leader. "Announcement of the forthcoming parade had brought thousands to the city and almost every man, woman and child of this city were among the spectators." (The crowd almost doubled Longview's population of 5,800 residents in 1921.)

The Dallas Morning News observed the Klan was "making their first appearance in the city … Three hundred and eighty-five Klansmen were counted in the parade, on horseback and afoot."

The Longview paper said, "The silence of the whole thing was the impressiveness of it, the Klansmen marching, looking straight ahead with their faces masked, their peaked hats covering their heads."

Klansmen held aloft signs with such messages as "One hundred percent American," "We believe in pure womanhood" and "Sober dances or none." One placard said "Five hundred strong in Longview," the Longview Leader taking it to mean "an indication of the strength of the order in this city."

After parading down Methvin, Fredonia, and Tyler streets, the Klansmen marched toward their "assembling grounds" a mile northeast of town and the spectacle was over.

Less than two weeks after the Longview Klan parade, the Dallas Morning News noted a black Longview hotel porter "was seized by three masked men while in the kitchen of the hotel … He was conveyed outside the city limits and given a thrashing. He was unable to report for work at the hotel today."

Such newspaper stories of Klan violence were all too common. Interest in the Klan began to die out. In 1921 the Klan had some 150,000 members in Texas. By 1928 membership had declined to only a few thousand.

By the way, initial efforts to organize a Longview Klan chapter apparently had failed.

In 1986, Sandra (Sandi) Galoob Sachnowitz published a history of Longview's Jewish temple, "The Roots of Temple Emanu-El." She graciously permitted me to relate the humorous story of Dan Gans, a prominent Longview resident who was Jewish.

"A meeting to organize a Klan chapter was held in Longview, and many of Dan's friends were in attendance. However, someone noticed that Dan wasn't with them and asked, 'Where's Dan?' Another friend explained that Dan wouldn't be invited to join this group. So they all decided that if it 'wasn't good enough for Dan' they would forget it, and at that time, they did not form a Ku Klux Klan chapter in Longview."

To be sure, history has its warts. But history ignored can become history repeated.