S.M. Wright, John B. Hood and R.L. Thornton

February 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

Surrounded by plenty of slaves pre-Civil War and a rush of immigrants early 1900s, the hooded men felt at home where ever they stepped foot. They especially felt at home throughout Dallas County, home of the largest number of KKK members in the 1920s. But by the time the mid-1930s rolled around, being a Klansmen wasn’t too popular. Like an old millionaire moving to Miami, politics is where klansmen made their mark after retirement.

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A gentlemen picks up and returns Addie Frazier’s KKK hood after a klan march in 1979. DMN staff photo by David Woo.

In government is where klansman R.L. Thornton Sr., former mayor of Dallas in the ’50s and president of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s, decided to wane his influence. Thornton, a Democrat, mason and Methodist, was one of the founders of the Dallas Citizen Council, a good ole boys organization that would go on to run Dallas government (not politics) for another 70 years. Outside of dawning the hood, former mayor Thornton was a major philanthropist.

“Mr. Dallas” died in 1964 then the city changed their freeway name after him for his contributions to the city. And an elementary school in south east Oak Cliff that eventually feeds into SOC High School, the state of the art facility where students walked out to protest building conditions in December. Minor stuff, you know, like holes in roofs and mold and mildew everywhere and freezing cold classrooms. The problem exacerbated in December when the city suffered from large amounts of rain.

Another individual who was honored in Dallas was Confederate war hero John B, Hood. Hood quickly became a general during the Civil War; after the South’s defeat, Hood turned to the insurance industry and became a cotton merchant in New Orleans where he would die. Dallas built a middle school named after him in 1955.

The students at John B. Hood Middle School voted to rename their school to something more – sensible? But like Thornton Sr., Hood did a lot of good post-Civil War and eventually came to his senses that respect and kindness and treating someone like a human shouldn’t be contingent on their skin color; the blood and guts of slaves weren’t quite enough for Mr. Hood. The kids didn’t care and approved the name change on Thursday. We await the school board trustees approval vote.

(Back to the school name for a second. Was it done out of spite by Confederate sympathizers angry for losing the War? For comedy? Sick humor, for sure. Slave masters gave their slaves cruel names like Le Roi, or “king” in French, what later became LeeRoy.)

Mr. Hood, like Thornton Sr., at one point saw the light. Did he come to the realization after wiping slaves’ blood off his blade? Did Thornton Sr. see the life-like terror in a black child’s eye before burning a cross? We may never know. But we do know that these thugs were, in fact, forgiven and rewarded with monuments and schools and the likes. How is it that one that group of people can be forgiven and rewarded for century long atrocities but the other has to walk tight ropes while wearing suits to avoid instant death? Why is it that one group has to forget everything that happened in the past and be constantly reminded today is a new day?

We gave you black history month, quit complaining!

To have your history included in curriculum by DEFAULT reeks privilege. “It’s white and it’s the others,” an interviewer once told me. He was right.

img-sm-wrightLastly, it is important to note that on this day in 1927, Dr. S.M. Wright was born. He was a member of the Bon Ton community and later received a doctorate from Bishop College. He died in 1994. To honor his legacy, then Governor George W. Bush changed the name of Highway 175 to the S.M. Wright Freeway in 1995.

#UntoldHistoryofDallas

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