by Dr Carole Lester
Since bigotry and bias in society have never been conquered, in honor of the designated “Black History Month”, I think that an essay about the influence of the Ku Klux Klan in politics would be as appropriate now as it would have been in the 1920s.
Texans like to pride themselves on their colorful past. Ask any native of Dallas, Lubbock or El Paso and he will tell you that it is somehow more dramatic and exciting to live in the Lone Star State. The history of just the state’s politics seems to prove the claim. Historically, Texas elections have usually been lively, sometimes less that “democratic,” and certainly entertaining. The United State Senate race of 1922 was no exception. A campaign bitterly waged in primary, run‑off, and general election, not on political platform issues, but on the strength of personalities, the bitterness of old political wounds and the power of the Ku Klux Klan. At the center of the controversial election sat anti‑Klan newspapers like The Dallas Morning News, was editorially committed to the destruction of the Klan and its political aspirations. Other newspapers were also anti‑Klan, but the News appeared to be its most active opponent, and seemed to become not only a reporter of the 1922 senatorial election, but also a participant.
In 1922 the primary source of news, for most people, was still the newspaper. Publishers and editors often used their presses to further their individual political, moral, and philosophical views. Sometimes the campaigns waged in the press was more exciting and entertaining than the boring two hour speeches delivered in church meeting halls. But in reality, just how influential was the support or opposition of the press to the outcome of any election? Did the newspaper coverage of The Dallas Morning News and other Texas newspapers determine the issues and the ultimate outcome of one of the most controversial Texas elections?
The newspaper war with the Ku Klux Klan started before the 1922 election. On the evening of May 21, 1921 the Klan held a rally at the Majestic theater in Dallas. At 9 o’clock the lights on Main and Elm streets were turned off and robed and masked figures began emerging from the theater and moving out into the street. The leader carried an American flag, behind him a second figure carried a burning cross. Some eight hundred hooded individuals marched single file down Main street and back up Elm. The marchers did not speak, but carried banners with slogans such as: “The Invisible Empire,” “White Supremacy,” “Right Will Prevail,” and “All Native Born.” The Saturday night hometown crowd did not speak as they watched the fiery parade go by.
Dallas Morning News editor, Alonzo Wasson remembered the spectacle when he went to work the next day:
“For a long time I had been viewing the lawlessness of the Ku Kluxclan with extreme disfavor. The News, however, had not up to the time of the incident I am about to recite, taken a notice of it in its editorial. Coming down to the office one Sunday morning to read the proofs of Monday’s editorial, which had been set the night before, I was confronted in Sunday’s morning’s paper by headlines proclaiming a parade of 2,000 of its hooded members. A long suppressed resentment and disgust which had been suppressed boiled over. Without more ado whatever I turned to my typewriter, and in no time whatever I turned out an editorial denouncing that organization and it days rather more vigorously than the News was wont to deliver itself.”2
That May 22 editorial was just the beginning. The News began to report every incident of Klan violence anywhere, and the stories were not buried on the inside pages. From May 1921 well into the summer of 1922 stories of Klan lynchings, intimidation, and other excesses were front page stories for the Dallas paper, and other Texas newspapers. The Houston Chronicle warned: “Boys, you’d better disband. . . you’d better take off you sheets. . . and make one fine bonfire;” the El Paso Times reported that: “Apparently the Ku Klux with his ghostly trappings has not considered El Paso a safe place for night riding with masked face, but the general opinion elsewhere seems to be that it essays to set up a sort of super‑government and that’s not Americanism.3 The Ku Klux Klan and the press drew their battle lines. The summer primaries and fall elections provided the battlefield.
Progressive legislation passed in 1905 to reform the candidate selection process introduced the primary system to Texas, but Texas politics in the 1920’s, were in reality, controlled by the Democratic party. The actual political battles were fought in the democratic primary and run‑offs, not in the fall general elections. Early in the spring of 1922 candidates for the office of United States Senator from Texas began to declare themselves. One of the first was Charles A. Culberson, the sitting Senator. After serving over twenty years in the Senate, he sought a fifth term. Culberson had been ill for a number of years, but he still represented Texas very well in Washington. During his fourth term the Congressional sessions covered 1217 days and Culberson had been present in his seat for each of those days. As political columnist Mark Sullivan noted,
” it is not the length of service that makes Senator Culberson and his present candidacy for reelection picturesquely unique. The striking thing that can be said about Senator Culberson is that he has made fewer speeches, . . . has probably actually sat in the Senate Chamber for a larger number of hours, has actually answered a larger number of roll calls and has cast his vote one way or the other on more measures than any other setting Senator.”4
Ill though he may have been, the old Wilson Progressive Democrats still backed him, and the Culberson campaign opened strongly. On April 2, 1922 the Dallas Morning News ran a front page story featuring a letter which Culberson had written to Major H.V. Fisher of Houston. The headline proclaimed: “Senator Culberson Denounces Ku Klux.” The letter made Culberson’s position very clear.
“If not curbed, it will usurp the functions of the state and be destructive of government itself. It will indeed overthrow our Anglo-Saxon civilization in its relation to government. Steps should be taken therefore at once to arrest its progress and finally destroy it.”5
On the same page the News ran a two column notice of a mass meeting being called by a “citizens group” which opposed the Klan. The text of the notice was a further denunciation of the Klan and its followers:
“There is no middle ground for a good citizen to take. He must either be for the law or against it. . . . We can not now therefore, afford to commit the protection of our people to officers sworn to obey the laws of this land who at the same time recognize their obligation to the superior officers of the Ku Klux Klan.”6
A second candidate for Culberson’s seat entered the race. He was Cullen F. Thomas a leading prohibitionist from Waco. Thomas had the backing of the Houston Chronicle and a February editorial proclaimed, “Cullen Thomas stands for the best, and only the best, ideals in our body politic.”7 Thomas, like Culberson, was very vocally anti‑Klan. In a speech quoted in the Dallas Morning News, Thomas maintained, “terrorism, organized or unorganized must be stamped out. Mobocracy, whether masked or unmasked must go.” But Thomas had reservations about basing his entire campaign on this one issue, fearing that it would split the prohibitionist vote.
Another candidate entered the race who agreed with Culberson and Thomas, at least on the issue of the Klan, former governor, James Ferguson. According to the terms of his impeachment Ferguson had been barred from seeking any state office, but the ruling apparently did not apply to a national office. In his own newspaper, the Ferguson Forum, “Farmer Jim” bitterly attacked the Klan, but like Thomas, he hesitated to make Klan power the major campaign issue: “For God’s sake let us not send a Senator to Washington branded either Ku Klux or anti‑Ku Klux. Texas is entitled to better treatment.”8 Ferguson might not have wished to base his campaign on the Klan issue, but the Dallas Morning News did. April 4, 1922 the headline read, “James Ferguson Raps Ku Klux Klan,” and the article which followed quoted freely from Ferguson’s Forum.
“Now I am opposed to the Ku Klux Klan from every angle that I have observed it, but if anybody thinks that it ought to control their vote for or against me, then in my opinion their conception of their duty as a citizen covers mighty little ground.9
Three more men entered the race, three Klansmen: Robert L. Henry of Waco, Sterling P. Strong of Dallas, and Earle B. Mayfield of Bosque County.
The Texas Klan leadership realizing that three Klan candidates would dilute the 100,000 or more Klan votes, met late in March 1922 at the Raleigh Hotel in Waco to decide which candidate to support. One of the leaders, Edwin P. Clark, the Great Klan “Titan” from Waco remembered meeting Mayfield in the hotel lobby just before he went up to the afternoon meeting. “I thought it was rather coincidental at least that he was there at that time.” Mayfield assured him that he was just passing through and had stopped to see some friends at the hotel.10 The friend Mayfield met in the lobby was Hiram Wesley Evans, “Titan” from Dallas. The other two “Titans” present were H.C. McCall from Houston, and Brown Harwood from Fort Worth, but the Great Titan from San Antonio, Ralph Cameron, was unable to attend. At one point in the meeting Evans tried to sway the others towards Mayfield. He slapped Clark on the knee and said,
“Erwin, I have a dead one in Dallas [Strong], and one here in Waco [Henry]. Mayfield is the man. Now, they are all three Klansmen and Strong and Henry are both good fellows, and we do not want to hurt their feelings, let them ride for a while and at the proper time we will ditch them and concentrate on Mayfield.”11
Clark protested this approach, arguing that Henry was the strongest candidate, but the majority overruled him and he finally agreed to what became known as the “Waco agreement.” In a letter circulated by the Texas Grand Dragon, A. D. Ellis, Earle Mayfield was acknowledged as the Klan candidate, “I know that the spirit of 100 per cent Americanism will be enhanced with Klansman Mayfield representing us in Washington.”12 Not all the Klansmen agreed, and Henry refused to dropped out of the race before the primary voting.
The Klan endorsement proved to be politically sound for Mayfield. He was identified as the Klan’s candidate, even though he maintained that he had left the organization, and would refuse to campaign openly on the Klan issue. On April 13, 1922 the Dallas Morning News published the text of a Dallas County Citizens League questionnaire being sent to all candidates. The first three questions got right to the heart of the matter:
1. Are you a member of the organization known as the Ku Klux Klan?
2. Is it your purpose or intention to affiliate hereafter in any way with the Ku Klux Klan?
3. Are you in sympathy with the purposes and objectives of the Ku Klux Klan?
Mayfield avoided answering the Citizen’s League questionnaire and refused to discuss Klan membership saying:
“the recent agitation about the Ku Klux Klan is confined largely to the city of Dallas and is nothing more or less than a political fracas raised by Dallas Politicians for the purpose of boosting the candidacy of a certain candidate for the United States Senate. I refuse to walk into their trap.”13
As the democratic primary approached the four strongest candidates tried to focus on what they considered to be the vial issues. Culberson’s campaign managers extolled his long and venerable record of service, and tried to downplay his ill health. “If I tell you that Senator Culberson is physically fit, you might say that my love for him causes my judgement to be biased, . . .[so] I will quote from other witnesses who are disinterested.14 Thomas stressed his prohibition stand, “I am in favor of a sober citizenship of America and the world.” Ferguson ran as the “underdog.” “Have you ever stopped to think about it? In this race it’s me against the field.” Mayfield tried to run on his accomplishments as railroad commissioner and his stand on rate fixing and prohibition, ” What are you going to do about Texas? Are you going to continue to pay freight rates 5 or 6 times the value of the product you ship, or are you going to elect some man who understands the tariff question?”15
Mayfield’s democratic opposition continued to press the Klan issue: ” Why does Mr. Mayfield stand mute in the presence of 5,000,000 Democrats who demand that he announce his membership in this organization? . . . Is not Earle Mayfield known as a `jiner’ of every order and organization in Texas from the Farmer’s Union to the Ku Klux Klan?”16
The newspaper coverage of the primary election on July 22 kept the Klan connection alive. “Klan Is Big Issue in Dallas Primary,” the News proclaimed in bold type, and it made sure that the voters were aware of “KKK Supervisors At Polls.” The News also attacked Klan influence on politics in a very strongly worded editorial which began: “Today is testing day. Tomorrow we shall know if a minority in disguise can dictate the invisible governing of the visible government of Texas.”17 The headline banner on July 23 told the story which the News had dreaded, “Mayfield is Leading.” When the count was completed, Mayfield still lead, followed by Ferguson, only some 30,000 votes behind. Mayfield and Ferguson would face each other in an August run‑off. The Dallas Morning News’s July 25th editorial acknowledged a Klan victory. “The Ku Klux Klan appealed to the electorate of Dallas County for an endorsement of its ideals, its principles and its purposes. What it asked for it obtained.” But was the election a Klan victory? Other newspapers did not believe that it was. The fact that the total number of votes cast for the four anti‑Klan candidates outnumbered those cast for Mayfield and Henry by almost 2 to 1 caused some editors to doubt Klan strength.18 The San Angelo Standard maintained that, “the Klan has won no victory in Texas, and the Corpus Christi Caller agreed, “the Klan influence cannot be counted as the one decisive factor in the Mayfield victory.”19
As Mayfield and Ferguson began to prepare for the second campaign, former foes now had to decide which man to endorse. Culberson’s campaign manager, Barry Miller, threw his support to Ferguson.20 Cullen Thomas favored Mayfield because of his stand on prohibition. Many of Ferguson’s old foes tried to keep his name off the ballot using the impeachment verdict as cause, but the state Democratic committee crushed that ploy.21
As the second campaign progressed, Ferguson deliberately kept the Ku Klux Klan issue in the forefront of his attacks on Mayfield. Equating Klan power with big railroads and big business, Ferguson alleged that Mayfield and the Klan would “bring on the greatest internal revolution this nation ever saw, and . . . plunge us into a condition far worse than Russia itself.22 He also attacked Mayfield’s character, charging that Mayfield might vote dry, but he drank wet, and was “guilty of conduct with the opposite sex that I cannot, in decency, mention when ladies are present in the audience.”23
Mayfield’s campaigning got personal in response to Ferguson’s attacks. Recalling the impeachment trial, Mayfield charged that Ferguson was an unrepentant perjurer who would lie about anything to suit his purpose. Mayfield countered with a claim that Ferguson had received some 3,500 black votes in Bexar county, a violation of democratic primary rules.24
Ferguson’s personal appeal to many voters still left him short at the ballot box. Even though most of the Klan candidates for statewide offices lost in the run‑off, the combination of the Klan votes and prohibition forces proved too strong for the former governor; Mayfield won 317,591 to 265,233. The newspaper reaction to the election results generally agreed that “had Earle B. Mayfield been opposed in the runoff by some Democrat without the stain of impeachment and the deep scares of an old party feud upon him, Mayfield would have gone the way of the three other favorites of the Ku Kluxers.”25 Mayfield won the run‑off, but it looked as though he would still have to fight for party control in the Democratic State Convention, as both Klan and anti‑Klan forces began testing their strength. When the convention ended Klan forces successfully averted placing an anti‑Klan statement in the party’s platform.26
Anti‑Klan Democrats left the convention determined to nominate an independent to challenge Mayfield. On September 9, 1922 they met in Dallas to discuss calling a statewide meeting for September 16th. On the 15th, Democratic lawyers Sam Hunter and A. V. Dalrymple of Fort Worth sent a telegram to Mayfield, urging him to declare publicly his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan or to deny it. As Dalrymple told a reporter for the Fort Worth Star Telegram,
“We gave Mayfield a fine chance to state his position and thus far he has refused to answer. During his campaign he said the Ku Klux Klan was not an issue. We say it is the only issue and are going to make it so.”
Rebuffed by Mayfield, Dalrymple lead a delegation of about 500 Fort Worth Democrats who joined the independent convention in Dallas.27 The convention nominated George E. B. Peddy, a young assistant district attorney from Harris County. The Republican nominee withdrew in favor of Peddy and the Republican party endorsed him as their candidate as well.28 Many anti‑Klan Democrats favored Peddy, and he had the editorial backing of several influential newspapers including the Houston Post. Even James Ferguson endorsed him, which was ironic considering that in 1917 Peddy had led a University of Texas student protest against the then, Governor Ferguson.30
The anti‑Klan press followed the independent campaign with great glee, but the euphoria was short lived. Attorney General, W.A. Keeling severely handicapped the independent cause when he ruled that Peddy’s name could not be certified or printed on the ballot as the “independent candidate” because he had voted in the Democratic primary. Furthermore, Keeling declared, Peddy could not be certified as the “Republican candidate” because he had not been nominated in a convention, or primary.30 With Peddy’s name kept off the ballot, the only way he could challenge Mayfield was through a massive write‑in campaign. The Attorney General’s ruling prompted the beginning of a series of protests, hearings, trials, appeals, and rulings which made a mockery of the election process. To counteract the damage done by Keeling’s ruling, the independents began legal proceedings to have Mayfield’s name barred as well, on the basis of campaign irregularities. They filed suit in the Thirteenth District Court alleging that Mayfield had exceeded the $10,000 limit on spending and not reporting additional funds provided by the Ku Klux Klan.
The case against Mayfield went to the Fifth Court of Civil Appeals, and the anti‑Klan papers reported Mayfield’s predicament with front page headlines, even printing large portions of the testimony, which revealed some financial irregularities.31 The Appeals court issued an injunction barring Mayfield’s certification, but further appeals moved the case onto the Texas Supreme Court, where the lower court’s rulings were overturned. Mayfield’s name was finally certified as the Democratic candidate, but not before November 6, the afternoon before election day. As a result of the court proceedings, and rulings Peddy’s name did not appear printed on any ballot as either the independent or Republican candidate, and Mayfield’s name only appeared on the ballots of thirty‑two counties. The Klan, fearing that Mayfield’s name would not be certified, donated $25,000 for “use in instructing Klansmen how to write in his [Mayfield] name.32
Peddy never really had much of a chance of victory because the old democratic coalitions held the real power. Mayfield got both the Klan vote and that of the democratic “drys” who feared Peddy’s stand on prohibition. Ferguson’s support of Peddy caused many voters to believe that the Houston lawyer had switched sides in the prohibition issue, and saw Peddy’s attack on the Klan as simply a political diversion.33 Mayfield won with 264,260 to Peddy’s 130,744. The press then characterized the win as a measure of strength for the Democratic party rather than the Ku Klux Klan.34
The election results, however, did not end the campaign. Peddy and his supporters took the fight to the United States Senate, filing an election contest brief against Mayfield on February 22, 1923, charging a Ku Klux Klan conspiracy and campaign expenditure irregularities. Peddy asked that the election be set aside and that Mayfield be barred from taking his seat.35 The petition was referred to a subcommittee on Privileges and Elections, which held hearings from May 8, 1923 to December 13, 1924. Once again, the anti‑Klan press had something to report.
The hearings in Washington were big news in Texas, and the press meticulously gave detailed accounts of the charges and counter‑charges. Mayfield denied all wrongdoing both in interviews with the press and in a brief presented to the Senate subcommittee. He steadfastly maintained that he had fulfilled all the rules of the Texas primary system and that he had run a good clean campaign, and was confident that the ballot counting had been fair and accurate.
The Texas newspapers avidly reported the progress of the hearings, as the committee heard witness after witness, each one seeming to prove Peddy’s allegations. What began to unfold in their accounts was a picture of unfair and sometimes illegal voting practices in many precincts.
The newspapers constantly pushed the Klan issue and Mayfield continued to try to avoid the subject. The Fort Worth Star Telegram described Mayfield’s denial of Klan help as an “indignant protestation,” “avoiding any responsibility for what the Klan may have spent, the Mayfield answer holds responsibility for him only on what his self‑organized and self‑directed campaign headquarters spent.”40 But the testimony of both Robert Henry and Edwin Clark confirmed Klan involvement in the campaign. Henry testified that Mayfield had tried to force him out of the race to consolidate the Klan vote.
“He [Mayfield] says, “we are both Klansmen now, and we ought not to allow this opportunity to go by.” He said, “I have assisted in building up this militant political organization, have done a great deal of work, and I would like to reap the fruits.”41
Clark described to the committee how the Klan decided to back Mayfield against his advice. Clark felt that the Klan candidate should be a man proud to be called a Klansman: “I said Earle Mayfield is a Klansman and no one knows it. Its kept under cover.”42
While the testimony regarding the Klan was regularly reported, it was the testimony concerning the ballot boxes and local election practices which seemed to be more damaging to Mayfield’s claim that the voting had been fair and honest. The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported the gathering of the ballot boxes and listed the twenty Mayfield supporters who collected the boxes and turned them over to the federal authorities; the article also named W. V. Howerton of Austin as leader of the pro‑Peddy group who gathered boxes for their count. “Ten tons of mail will be needed to transport the boxes. There were approximately 4,000 boxes used in the near 250 counties in which the election was held in November. . . . When the boxes arrive in Washington, clerks and workers will begin the count of the ballots.”43 “Errors Found In Tarrant Voting Are Compiled,” declared the January 9, 1924 Star Telegram headline. The article went on to detail an extremely long list of errors from numerous precincts. The Dallas Morning News and other anti‑Klan papers ran similar stories.44 Poll watchers and poll workers were called before the committee and many told stories of intimidation, and voting fraud. A Mr. Parke of Rural Shade, Texas, a very small town near Kerens, testified that the ballot boxes were delivered to him by Klansmen. “Some Ku‑Kluxers at Rural Shade would look after the matter. . . . a party of men came there, including W.B. Parker and had the ballots for my holding the election.”45
The press reporting tended to reflect a pro‑Peddy bias, especially in the anti‑Klan papers. In an article headlined, “Sheppard Sent Protest On Mayfield,” the Star Telegram reported that a telegram sent to Senator Sheppard urged that Mayfield be denied his seat, as the Senate had refused another Senator‑elect on charges of campaign irregularities. ” You voted to unseat Truman H. Newberry of Michigan from the United States Senate because of the unlawful expenditure of money in his campaign for that position. Your action in doing so meets with our approval. Having voted to unseat Newberry can you consistently vote to seat Earle B. Mayfield of Texas?”47
Joseph Hart, writing in The New Republic, generally condemned both sides and Texas politics, as well: “The gods are laughing again ‑‑ in Texas. It used to be said that Texas raised two great crops, superlatively, namely steers and hell. Conditions have changed somewhat in recent years, and the production of steers has fallen off; but the totally productivity of the state has increased appreciably.48
As the hearings progressed, the general opinion seemed to be that Mayfield would not be seated. “Senate Forecasts Defeat of Mayfield,” the Star Telegram reported on March 29, 1924, and pointed to the Klan issue as the deciding factor:
“The paper then undertakes the review of the cast, as outlined in the charges filed by George E.B. Peddy, in which the Ku lux Klan issue is stressed. In a survey of the situation the Post says: “Republican leaders are going to bat good and hard t the Mayfield petition. Many Democrats are in close quarters in the controversy. . . . the tentative program, as already outlined in dispatches to Texas papers is to permit Senator Mayfield to take his seat and then have a resolution introduced to oust him.”49
But when the vote was finally taken on February 2, 1925, the committee voted unanimously to seat Mayfield and on February 3rd, the entire Senate unanimously adopted the committee’s report. The report was not read in open session and there was no debate. After all of the uproar, Mayfield quietly took his seat on February 4, 1925, finally becoming an active member of the body.50 The invisible power of the Klan appeared to have reached into the United States Senate.
The major Texas newspapers were mindful of this and continued the fight. From the first anti‑Klan editorial in 1921, to well into 1925 papers, like the Dallas Morning News continued to publish anti‑Klan stories and to support anti‑Klan candidates. In an effort to discredit the paper, the Klan spread an “anonymous” rumor that the News was owned and controlled by Catholics. As the rumor spread advertising and subscriptions began to drop and News agents began writing to Dallas asking for help in halting the decline. The experiences of agent A.D. Patterson were being repeated in every corner of the News’ market:
“Dear Sir: ‑‑I will thank you to cut down my daily supplies 15 copies and Sunday 25 copies. We were indeed lucky to get by on the first of February with losing only 12 regular subscribers, considering the fight made against The News by a certain organization.”51
At first the News tried to ignore the whole affair. George Dealey, president, and general manager of the paper reassured his agents that all was essentially sound.
A March 3, 1922 memo written to agent F.L. Sherrill in Greenville concisely stated his position:
“Suppose a cotton buyer who happened to be a Republican should refuse to buy a bale of cotton from a farmer who had it for sale because he (the farmer) happened to be a Democrat. . . . It is utterly ridiculous to think that we can’t do business with each other because we do no agree with each other on disputed questions. . . . Isn’t it likely that there are many people who say that they have quit buying The News who, in fact never did buy it. . . . I ask your careful attention to the page announcement which will appear in The News on Sunday, next, regarding The News and it’s editorial policy. We have no apologies to make to anyone. . . we feel. . . that the people who think and know are with us, and that we will gain more than we lose.”52
The announcement Dealey printed in The News read in part, “The News is neither owned nor controlled by members of the Catholic Church, . . . but The News does believe in religious tolerance for all sects.” The notice went on to list the religious affiliations of each editor and principal stockholder.53 Besides the printed announcement, Dealey , one of his sons, or a ranking editor, personally answered each of the several hundreds of inquiring letters sent to the paper repeating the same disclaimer.
By the end of 1922 it appeared that the Klan had the News on the ropes, advertising was down and the paper had lost 3000 subscriptions.54 The paper also experienced an unrelated cash flow problem which eventually led to the sale of the News’ parent paper, The Galveston News, on March 22, 1923. The Klan proudly announced that the sale signaled the end of the Dallas Morning News, but the celebration was premature. The sale of the Galveston News allowed the Dallas paper to recover financially and emerge as an even stronger opponent of the Klan. The final political and editorial battle between the Dallas Morning News and the Ku Klux Klan would be the gubernatorial race of 1924 and the News would emerge the winner. “The tide now seems to swinging against the Klan . . . Now is the time for us to Reap the Fruits of the seeds we planted two or three years ago.”55 So, by the time the Senate voted to seat Earle Mayfield the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Texas was already on the wane.
The national stresses which affected the whole United States after World War I seemed to be more worrisome in the southern states. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which grew in response to the post war conditions seemed to find particularly fertile soil in Texas. Klan historian Charles Alexander believes that the success of the Klan in Texas was a unique phenomenon. He believes that Texans were afraid that their existing law enforcement systems were not adequate to cope with what they saw as a “postwar crime wave sweeping the southwest, especially violation of the prohibition laws,” and that they felt and “anxiety over the purported breakdown of . . . morality, chastity, and propriety in Texas and the rest of the nation.” According to Alexander the Texas Klan began operating as a vigilante force out to punish moral wrong‑doers.56 The extra‑legal whippings, tarring, and lynchings got the attention of the press who recorded the activity as abuses against the rights of the people, not as “just” punishments. In a way the politicization of the Klan rose out of media criticism. One way to justify brutality is to claim a kinship to moral indignation and to characterize it as necessary to combat chaos. The Klan proclaimed itself, the champion of the people, and papers like the Dallas Morning News who reported Klan violence disputed that claim.
Once the lines were drawn, the fight became a political, moral and economic, as well as, physical battle. The national press noted that the politicization of the Klan in Texas was almost unique to the state:
“It is, in a way, a sign of the size and self‑sufficiency of Texas, a sign of the fact that it is an empire in itself, that a senatorial election in that state should take it leading color from and issue which, in other parts of the country, is only heard occasionally and casually, and practically never as an important political issue. This issue in Texas is the Ku Klux Klan.”57
This issue came to dominate the political process of the state for almost four years, often overshadowing more vital problems such as state control of intra‑state railroad rates, the federal reserve banking system, and prohibition. Mayfield, Ferguson and Peddy may have preferred to base their campaigns on these bread and butter issues but the media kept the Ku Klux Klan issue more in the spotlight. Did the media’s anti‑Klan campaign affect the campaigns of 1922? Probably not the way it had expected. Texans generally do not like to be told what is “good for them.” The more the newspapers hammered at the Klan, the more the people seemed to rise to defense of the “underdog” champions of morality, and Klan membership in Texas soared.58 In the end the voters decided that the party which supported “law and order” and prohibition was the one for them; if the Klan was part of the deal, well, they could live with it. For most of Texan voters in 1922, Mayfield was a Democrat first and a Klansman second. At first, even for the Dallas Morning News, the Klan issue was not so much political, as it was philosophical. In a speech delivered before the 1922 graduating class of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, News president George Dealey very succinctly outlined why the News had to oppose the Klan and its friends:
“There is a popular idea abroad that a newspaper should give the people what they want, that is to say, that a newspaper should be made by its readers. This I do not believe to be true in its entirety. Generally readers should be given what they want, so long as what they want is good for them. But a newspaper always has a moral responsibility, whether it appreciates it or not, to help its readers to higher standards. It is all right to be popular . . . but a newspaper should not cater to the baser mind. . . . Its aim always should be to uplift.”59
Dealey was fond of quoting a hero of the Texas Revolution, Davy Crockett: “Be sure you’re right and then go ahead.” Crockett’s motto proved to be the motto for all the participants in the elections of 1922. The candidates each thought themselves right, the Ku Klux Klan thought its cause was right, and the Dallas Morning News and other anti‑Klan papers thought their opposition to the Klan was right. Ultimately, as in all popular elections, the voter decided what was right.
1Ernest Sharpe, G.B. Dealey of the Dallas News, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1965, p. 198.
2Draft of a 1952 interview with Alonzo Wasson, Dealey Papers, Dallas Historical Society, Dallas, Texas.
3Norman D. Brown, Hood, Bonnet and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics 1921-1936, College Station: Texas A.& M. University Press, 1984, p.62.
4Mark Sullivan, “Midsummer Politics and Primaries,” World’s Work 44(July 1922), p. 299.
5Dallas Morning News, April 2, 1922.
7Brown, p. 94.
10″Titan” is a Klan rank title. U.S. Congress, Senate, Senator From Texas: Hearings Before a Subcommittee on Privileges and Elections, Unites States Senate, Sixty-eighth Congress, First and Second Sessions, Pursuant to S. Res 97 Authorizing the Investigation of Alleged Unlawful Practices in the Election of a Senator From Texas, Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1925, p. 64. Hereafter referred to as Senator From Texas.
11Ibid., p. 65. “Grand Dragon” is a Klan rank title.
12Ibid., p. 67.
13Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1922, also see Senator From Texas Mayfield Brief, p. 3B.
14Miller interview in Dallas Morning News, July 5, 1922.
15Cullen Thomas and James Ferguson as quoted in the Dallas Morning News, July 4, 1922; Earle Mayfield quoted in the Dallas Morning News, July 20, 1922.
16Cullen Thomas quoted in the Dallas Morning News, July 20, 1922.
17Editorial, Dallas Morning News, July 22, 1922.
18Brown, p. 111.
19″The Ku Klux Klan Victory in Texas,” Literary Digest, 74(August 5,1924),p.14.
20Barry Miller quoted in the Dallas Morning News, July 26, 1922.
21Dallas Morning News, August 5-8, 1922.
22Ferguson quoted in the Dallas Morning News, August 2, 1922.
23Ferguson quoted in the Dallas Morning News, August 10, 13, 1922.
24Dallas Morning News, August 12, 17, 23, 1922. Earl R. Sikes, State and Federal Corrupt-Practices Legislation, Durham: Duke University Press, 1928, p. 213. Sikes discusses the effect that the Newberry decision had on future corruption charges. He also discusses the Texas democratic “all white” primary rules.
25Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 28, 1922, as quoted in Brown, p. 118.
26Dallas Morning News, September 7,8,10,16,17, 1922.
27Fort Worth Star Telegram, September 15, 1922, Fort Worth Star Telegram Clippings 1922-25, University of Texas at Arlington Central Library Special Collections, Arlington, Texas. Hereafter referred to as UTA Collection.
28Dallas Morning News, September 16, 17, 1922.
29Brown, p. 123.
30Dallas Morning News, September 21, 24, 1922, October 7, 24, 1922.
31Fort Worth Star Telegram, October 21, 1922, UTA Collection.
32Brown, p. 125.
33Ibid., p. 126.
34″The Ku Klux Klan Victory in Texas,” Literary Digest, 75, November 25, 1922, p. 12.
35Fort Worth Star Telegram, February 22, 23, UTA Collection.
36Senator From Texas, pp. 2-5.
37Ibid., pp. 12A-15A.
38Ibid., pp. 21B-23B.
39Ibid., p. 9.
40Fort Worth Star Telegram, January 9, 1924, UTA Collection.
41Senator From Texas, p. 49.
42Ibid., p. 67.
43Fort Worth Star Telegram, January 9, 1924, UTA Collection.
44Dallas Morning News, January 9, 10, 1924, Fort Worth Star Telegram, January 1924 clippings, UTA Collection.
45Senator From Texas, p. 284.
46Ibid., pp. 868-69.
47Fort Worth Star Telegram, December 2, 1922, UTA Collection.
48Joseph Hart, “Out in the Great Empty Spaces,” The New Republic, August 27, 1924, p. 384.
49Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 29, 1924, UTA Collection.
50Fort Worth Star Telegram, February 3, 1925, UTA Collection.
51Letter to A.D. Patterson, February 19, 1922, Dealey Papers, Dallas Historical Society, Dallas, Texas. Hereafter referred to as DHS.
52Memo written to F.L. Sherrill, March 3, 1922, Dealey Papers, DHS.
53Dealey Memo March 3, 1922, Dealey Papers, DHS.
54Sharpe, p. 200.
55Ibid., p. 202.
56Charles C. Alexander, “Secrecy Bids for Power: The Ku Klux Klan in Texas Politics in the 1920’s,” Mid-America, 46 January 1964, p. 6.
57Sullivan, p. 301.
58Alexander, “Secrecy”, p. 19.
59Dealey graduation address to the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, May 24, 1922, Dealey Papers, DHS.
Dallas, Texas. Dallas Historical Society, George Bannerman Dealey Papers. Arlington, Texas. University of Texas at Arlington Central Library Special Collections,
The Fort Worth Star Telegram clippings 1922‑1925.
Hays, Frank E. and Edwin Halsey. Senate Election Cases from 1913 to 1940. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1940. U.S. Congress, Senate. Senator from Texas: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Privileges and Elections United States Senate, Sixty‑eighth Congress, First and Second Sessions, Pursuant to S. Res 97 Authorizing the Investigation of Alleged Unlawful Practices in the Election of a Senator From Texas. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1925.
Adams, Frank Carter, ed. Texas Democracy: A Centennial History of Politics and Personalities of the Democratic Party 1836‑1936. Austin: Democratic Historical Association, 1937.
Alexander, Charles C. The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.
Brown, Norman D. Hood, Bonnet and Little Brown Jug: Texas Politics 1921‑1928. College Station: Texas A.& M. University Press, 1984.
Hine, Darlene Clark. Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas. Millwood: KTO Press, 1979.
Sharpe, Ernest. G.B. Dealey of the Dallas News. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1955.
Sikes, Earl R. State and Federal Corrupt‑Practices Legislation. Durham: Duke University Press, 1928.
Alexander, Charles C. “Secrecy Bids for Power: The Ku Klux Klan in Texas Politics in the 1920’s.” Mid‑America 46(January 1964) 3‑28.
Hart, Joseph. “Out in the Great Empty Spaces.” The New Republic (August 27, 1924) 384‑85.
“The Ku Klux Klan Victory in Texas.” Literary Digest 74(August 5, 1922) 14+.
Sullivan, Mark. “Midsummer Politics and Primaries.” World’s Work 44(July 1922) 296‑302.
“Texas Howlers.” World’s Work 5 (December 1925) 129‑30.
Newspapers and Almanacs
Dallas Morning News 1921‑1925
Ferguson Forum 1922
Fort Worth Star Telegram 1922‑1925
Handbook of Texas, Supplement
Texas Almanac 1989‑90