When telling local history, it is tempting to focus on the stories that flatter ourselves and those who came before us. We all love stories about great lives that accomplished great things, but are less comfortable with stories that shine light on the darker sides of our ancestors. However, both types of stories are history, and it is the full history of our area that shapes our lives and communities today. This online news clippings exhibit, about the Ku Klux Klan in Angelina County during the years 1922-1923, is one of the lesser-known stories in our history and is not one that many people like to remember. It is, however, part of the story of Angelina County. Remembering the county’s at best indifference to, and at worst embrace of, the KKK is a useful tool to teach us about who we no longer want to be. History is not just local boosterism – it is a dedication to learning from the good and the bad, remembering so that we never forget. Before we can “Love Lufkin,” as our county seat boosters want, we need to first know our community's past, learn from it in the present, and use it to benefit our future and our children's future.
First Ku Klux Klan Initiation in Angelina County
September 30, 1922 – Lufkin Daily News:
The KKK of the 1920’s was related to the original group started after the Civil War, but was a new organization led by national leadership from Georgia. Angelina County's local group was known as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Klavern No. 16, meaning it was the 16th group organized in Texas. It sometimes known as the Angelina Klan of Lufkin, Texas. The Klan’s tenets were fairly basic. They promoted White Supremacy, wanted an end to immigration, were anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish, and had a very specific idea about the enforcement of their interpretations of right and wrong. As their pamphlets proclaimed, “The eyes of the Ku Klux Klan are upon you.” Klan pamphlets also acknowledged that they worked outside of the law because the law could not go far enough, boldly stating: “We right the wrongs the law cannot touch.” They used vigilantism, public humiliation, intimidation, and violence to impose their tenets on society. One of the common ways they shamed those who stepped out of line was by tarring and feathering the rule-breaker and dropping them off on a busy street corner to be humiliated in front of their neighbors. The tarring and featherings in Lufkin during 1922 made headlines in the Lufkin News as well as in other newspapers across the state, big and small. Once, there were two "tarring parties" within 18 hours of one another, followed by a third one just two days later. The Klan also offered positive reinforcement, congratulating church pastors for their community work, donating to churches and schools, giving donations and Christmas gifts to widows and orphans, and supporting many local groups, effectively buying favor and loyalty from everyday citizens.
Here, the Lufkin Daily News reported that 1,000 "white-robed" Klansmen from across East Texas attended the city's first KKK public initiation in September 1922, watched from afar by 5,000 spectators – more than the official number of residents of the town. Some 150 new Klan members were initiated that night under an “imposing” fiery cross and electric light wires hung specifically for the purpose. The newspaper described the ceremony's location as “the northwestern suburbs of the city in the open field directly west of the home of E. W. Leach.” This home was located at what is now the intersection of Sayers and Leach streets in North Lufkin. W. A. Hamlett, a former member of the Southern Baptist missions organization and the pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin, spoke before the initiation, giving a speech for all attendees to hear. Though his words were not recorded, the newspaper did report that the assembled Klansmen heartily approved. Other issues of the Lufkin News as well as other town's newspapers said that a speech was also given after this particular ceremony from the band stand in Lufkin's Cotton Square.
Lufkin Ku Klux Klan Initiation Issues Special Invitation to Women
October 1, 1922 – Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Lufkin’s Klan initiation ceremony on September 30, 1922 was reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on October 1 of that year with a bold headline saying a special invitation was extended to the women of Lufkin to attend the ceremony. The outreach to women could have had several goals, including an emphasis on the Klan’s “protection” of white womanhood, and also a reminder of the unwritten rules Klansmen would enforce upon those who stepped out of line – and a picture of who would do the enforcement. When announcing news of the ceremony two days earlier, the Lufkin Daily News said it was honoring the Klan's request to extend "a cordial invitation" to the public, and "especially the ladies, with the assurance that the novelty, the scenery, the solemnity of the occasion is of such a nature as to make a deep and lasting impression." The Klan's outreach was not only to white women, but also to white children, as the clipping below demonstrates.
Lufkin Boys Encouraged to Join Ku Klux Klan for Children
December 20, 1922 Lufkin Daily News:
Kids Keep Klean was Lufkin's "Junior KKK" specifically organized for local white boys from the ages of 10-14 that met in the Bonner family’s backyard. As this Lufkin News article proudly explained, about a dozen boys, "not a dirty dozen," would keep watch on each other and their friends. Any member caught "going slouchy" or using "profane or unbecoming language" would be “landed upon” by his peers. The town’s young boys would enforce their own ideas of morals among their peers, thus imitating the vigilantism learned from their parents. While the organization was focused on Lufkin, organizers believed it would have value across the state and nation and hoped to obtain a charter that would allow it to spread. "It might grow, who knows?" asked the Lufkin News editor.
Lufkin Ku Klux Klan Visits Churches to Praise Ministers and Receive Support
September 15, 1922 – Lufkin Daily News:
One of the ways the Angelina Klan No. 16 of Lufkin would remind the public of their presence and give their approval to those who agreed with them was to visit local Protestant churches. Members of the Angelina Klan regularly visited church and revival services throughout the county during 1922. All the incidents described by the paper – in Lufkin, Diboll, and other parts of the county, were similar to the description given here of an “invasion” of the Methodist Church in Diboll. “Sixteen white-robed figures” silently made their way up the aisle in the middle of the revival service, handed the minister an envelope containing $60 (worth around $1000 today) and a letter that thanked the reverend for his work and explained that the Klan had similar goals for the “betterment of mankind in general and the people of that vicinity in particular.” Reverend J. W. Treadwell accepted the gift and the words of affirmation, encouraged that the group recognized his efforts to “lead men in the path of the lowly Jesus.”
He was not the only local minister to accept a cash gift or to support the Klan’s activities, in spite of the violence they were known for. An article in the December 20, 1922 Houston Post notes that a Baptist revival held in Lufkin, organized by First Baptist’s long-serving pastor J.R. Nutt, was capped off by the arrival of a Western Union messenger “with gifts from the Klan,” namely $25 for preacher Dr. E. D. Solomon and $25 for song leaders Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong. First Christian Church’s S. O. Landis organized a revival and speech by travelling evangelist Dr. C. R. L. Vawter in August 1923, and his presentation was also interrupted by the local Klan. The Klan members prayed for him, presented him with a letter and a donation of unknown amount, received high praise from Dr. Vawter, and then marched out after another prayer, this time a blessing from the evangelist.
First Baptist Lufkin Receives Kudos from Klan
March 21, 1922 – Dallas Morning News
The first visit by local Klansmen to a church in Lufkin occurred earlier in 1922 at the close of a revival at First Baptist Church in March of 1922. Pastor J. R. Nutt and Evangelist/Singer Blankenship received an undisclosed amount of money and letters “endorsing their work,” from the Klansmen, according to this article in the Dallas Morning News. Nutt was a much-revered and long-serving pastor of First Baptist Church in Lufkin.
Lufkin Prepares for Large Ku Klux Klan Parade Through Downtown
August 23, 1923 – Lufkin Daily News:
“The Klansmen are coming tonight and all reports are that they are coming in strong.” The first sentence of this Lufkin Daily News article sums up the expected parade of Klansmen in Lufkin with no sense of foreboding or fear. The Klansmen were coming and the paper wanted everyone to come watch what was expected to be the “largest event of its kind ever held in East Texas.” Two “special trains” from Groveton (Trinity County) and Cleveland (Liberty County) would arrive at 8:30 p.m., full of white-robed Klansmen ready to begin a parade through the heart of Lufkin at 9:00 p.m., in a similar route to all other parades held in the city before and since. After parading through downtown Lufkin in front of thousands of residents – or the paper expected there to be thousands of onlookers – the Klansmen were set to gather for a barbeque at the J. S. Moore & Sons pasture, located northwest of the city. There would be no initiation, claimed the paper, because the midnight barbeque was to be a “jubilee and get-together for Klansmen.” No mention was made of a counter-protest or concerns from city officials or law enforcement.
Lukin Ku Klux Klan Parade and Barbeque Successful
August 25, 1923 – Shreveport Times:
Since there are no surviving copies of the Lufkin Daily News from August 24, 1923 to provide a local report on the parade and barbeque the night before (although subsequent issues included letters of thanks from the Klan for favorable coverage of the events of the night of August 23), this short summary from the Shreveport Times must suffice. From the article, it seems like the plans outlined the day before went off without a hitch – 500 robed Klansmen marched through downtown Lufkin observed by 5,000 people. Considering that the population of all races in Lufkin was less than 5,000 in 1920, citizens of the surrounding area must have joined Lufkinites to observe the spectacle.
Lufkin Does Things in A Big Way – Praise for Lufkin Ku Klux Klan Parade from Lufkin Daily News
August 25, 1923 – Lufkin Daily News:
Two days after the Klan parade through downtown Lufkin, the city’s paper featured praise for the event. On page 2, the newspaper declared “Lufkin does things in a big way. The Klan demonstration was perhaps the biggest thing of its kind ever held in East Texas. If a proposition is sponsored in Lufkin it usually goes over, no matter what it is.” Our community's boosters have long claimed everything is better here than in other places (and still do), but this is a classic example of misguided boosterism.
The Lufkin Daily News never officially endorsed the Klan’s vigilante activities, but was always quick to publish Klan letters and rebuttals to any accusations of extra-legal activities. It supported the initiations and parades through town by publishing schedules of the events days in advance and following up with glowing reports and congratulations all around. This is not surprising after reading Lufkin Daily News publisher and editor G. E. Watford’s article in the Dallas Morning News in November 1923 that extolled the virtues of Lufkin and its people. He said Lufkinites of the 1920s were “as loyal to their home town as our forefathers were to their beloved Southland back in the memorable days of the ‘60’s.” In other words, he and his fellow Lufkin citizens looked back to the 1860’s and the days of slavery and the Civil War for their civic inspiration.
Angelina Ku Klux Klan Thanks Lufkin Citizens, Public Officers, and Lufkin News for Their Support
August 27, 1923 – Lufkin Daily News:
The Lufkin News featured two letters from Angelina Klan No. 16 Knights of the Ku Klux Klan four days after the parade and barbecue. The first letter thanked the “orderly crowd” for behaving itself during the parade. Klansmen were gratified to see that “everyone appeared to have a sympathetic interest in the demonstration…” and the crowd’s demeanor pleased the visiting Klan members. They also thanked the government officers who “handled the arrangements” and commended them for their services. The second letter thanked the management of the Lufkin Daily News for its coverage of the parade and barbeque and the “nice article” that followed in the August 24 issue, which is not extant. The Klan’s gratitude continued, “We further desire to thank you for fair and impartial articles at different times in your paper, and trust that at some future time we may in part repay your paper for these favors, trusting that you will notify us at any time that we may assist you in any way possible.” The “Lufkin Spirit” lauded by newspaperman G. E. Watford was alive and in support of the Klan.
Klan Helps Civil War Veterans, Praised by Lufkin Daily News
October 14, 1921 – Lufkin Daily News
In October 1921, as the Ku Klux Klan began to make its presence known in Angelina County, the editors of the Lufkin Daily News published a note from the local Klan along with effusive praise for the organization’s good deeds. Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Angelina Klan No. 16 submitted a donation of $25.00 to help with the efforts to send local members of the United Confederate Veterans, who they refer to as “noble gentlemen," to the upcoming reunion. The newspaper praised the local Klan as a group “embued with the spirit of benevolence” for helping “some old honored hero” from “that heroic struggle between the blue and the gray.” In that same year, the local Klan donated funds to orphans, a widow who lost her home in a fire, families experiencing hard times due to job losses and illness, and a “nice, commodious heater” for the Diboll High School auditorium with another donation to the Diboll Mother’s Club. At the same time that these organizations and individuals accepted donations from the Klan, other towns around the state were rejecting these gifts due to the Klan’s tenets and activities. On the exact same day that the Lufkin News applauded the Klan for a $25 gift to the local Confederate Veterans group, a Beaumont day nursery rejected a $1,200 donation from the Klan via a prominent attorney.