saw a revival of the old evil...the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan!
oil field boom had caused an undesirable effect on the moral fiber of the early
Old, Middle, and New Town area, in the eyes of those that wanted
'Victorian principles' to be the standard. Goose Creek, with it's upper echelon aspirations
was especially susceptible to recruitment by the Klan Kleagles (recruiters).
25 years of living in Baytown, I had never heard of the Klan being strong in
Baytown. My Mother-in-law, Verna Mae Petty Reneau, who has lived in this
area since 1926 hadn't either....but it's quite true. It was a literal reign of
terror from 1921 to 1923 as Goose Creek Klan #4 held weekly parades down Texas
in 1921 had 10 houses of prostitution outside the refinery. Rumors of street
fights and wild night life abounded amongst the civil minded folks in Goose
Creek, less than a mile away. The Klan took root there and announced their
presence on May 28, 1921at Pelly Park and marched up Main street, to Texas
numbers grew and they became bolder and bolder. Minorities, Catholics, and
anyone who spoke out against them soon fell silent. As time progressed, the
Goose Creek Klan began to pass judgment on any supposed moral infraction, mainly
on local whites. Beatings, tar and feathers, and death threats were exacted in
excess of 20 separate occasions during their existence, some including women and
Read all about this hate
group here (but please come back!)
waged reign of terror in Goose Creek
For years I’ve been writing about local history but have avoided a
painful subject, the Ku Klux Klan. I guess I thought that chapter in
the book of Baytown would just go away if I ignored it. Tear
out the pages. Don’t want to think about it, read about it and
certainly don’t want to write about it.
Well, history won’t go away, and it’s time now for this “old Baytown
girl” to acknowledge that the KKK existed here in the early 1920s,
flaunting the slogan “white and Protestant.” Olga Miller
Haenel did a chapter on the KKK in her master’s thesis, “A Social
History of Baytown, 1912-1956,” when she was a graduate student at
the University of Texas in the late 1950s.
Her research paper, based largely on newspaper stories and
interviews with longtime residents, is the source of my information.
Some people who defended the Klan as a necessary evil to maintain
law and order in a wild and wooly oil boomtown.
Enter the Klan.
Said purpose of the group was to serve a mild warning to those who
misbehaved and broke the law. As it turned out, warnings were not so
mild and innocent people suffered. A number of men of
questionable character – thugs, in other words – joined the group,
thinking the Klan would not bother them as long as they were
members. And there were those who were forced to join the
Klan. “It was either join the organization or leave town,” one such
individual told the Houston Chronicle.
Employees found warning notes in their billfolds advising them to
join. Robed Klansmen even entered churches during worship
services to recruit members. People in the oil field would
awaken in the morning to see a poster with the letters KKK attached
to a tree or a tent. (Hint, hint.) A large all-day barbecue,
held on the banks of Goose Creek stream, illustrated the acceptance
of the Klan in the community.
Criminal District Judge C.W. Robinson, who despised the Klan,
received threats when he announced plans to speak at a rally in
Goose Creek. Undaunted, the judge began his speech by saying he
never was afraid to speak where there was a Baptist church and a
Masonic Hall. “With that opening,” Haenel wrote, “he proceeded to
give the Klan a verbal lashing.” The Klan method of operation
usually began with gossip about the so-called immorality of a
citizen. After the story got around, an organized mob would invade
the individual’s home or business, put a sack over the victim’s head
and then lead him or her away to be whipped.
In one incident after whipping a woman, the mob held a prayer
meeting and then took her back home. In another incident, the
Klansmen left a man and woman chained together. In yet another
incident, a man and woman were beaten on a lonely country road. The
assailants then cut off the woman’s long black hair and hung it from
a telephone pole on Texas Avenue. Horrified citizens attempted
to organize at a called meeting, but they were afraid to speak out.
After milling about for an hour, the gathering dispersed.
Local law enforcement officers also were intimidated, afraid to
confront the Klan.
Meanwhile the Houston Chronicle and Houston Press conducted a
vigorous campaign condemning the Goose Creek Klansmen, who by then
were making headlines nationwide. In its report, the grand
jury in Judge C.W. Robinson’s court stated Goose Creek for more than
two years had “a reign of terror unparalleled in this country.”
This was brought about not by the whole citizenship of Goose Creek,
the grand jury reported, but by a small minority, probably not more
than 50 men. “During that time, something like 20 persons were
beaten. Among these were men, women and children, and one boy about
16 years old.”
After Klan members pleaded guilty to 17 indictments in Judge
Robinson’s court, the organization disbanded in Goose Creek.
To this day, no one wants to believe those atrocious acts really
happened in their hometown, but they did. Evil happens when
good people say and do nothing.
Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor for The Baytown Sun.-
Reprinted with permission of Wanda Orton
"My grandmother was born in 1906
and had 2 siblings. My g-grandfather moved to Baytown when the
Humble Oil & Refinery was being built. He was a pipefitter and rose
through the ranks as a foreman. When my grandmother was a young
pre-teen she and her sister were sent to St. Agnes Academy, a
Catholic Boarding School in Houston, then located on Fannin. Her
brother Gerald was sent to LaPorte to study at St. Mary’s seminary
for high school. The event that precipitated this move was Klan
activity aimed at Catholics. She remembered a cross being burned in
their front yard. I have no idea where they were living at the time
but my G-grandfather was Tom Griffin, she was Kathryn Griffin
Fortney, and she married William H. Fortney, in the late 20’s. I
wondered if you have any information on the Catholic families who
were terrorized. I grew up in Baytown as a Fortney—my whole family
lived there. Tom Griffin died there but I have been unable to find
out where he is buried. Thanks for your history of klan—it
definitely fits my family’s recollection that was passed down over
the years." Anne Fortney Way