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KU KLUX KLAN TRIALS
IN THE 1920s, THE KU
KLUX KLAN (KKK) WAS A NATIONWIDE ORGANIZATION THAT
OPENLY PREACHED WHITE SUPREMACY AND HATRED FOR BLACKS,
JEWS, CATHOLICS, AND IMMIGRANTS. IN TEXAS, KLAN
MEMBERSHIP PEAKED IN 1923 WITH UPWARDS OF 150,000
MEMBERS. KLANSMEN INFLUENCED AND HELD POSITIONS IN LOCAL
AND STATE GOVERNMENT AND IN LAW ENFORCEMENT. THEIR POWER
ALLOWED MEMBERS TO ENGAGE IN ACTS OF VIGILANTE VIOLENCE
WITHOUT FEAR OF PROSECUTION. ALTHOUGH THEIR PRIMARY
TARGETS WERE PEOPLE OF COLOR, THE KLAN ALSO THREATENED
ANGLOS WHO DISAGREED WITH THE KKK’S CORE VALUES.
ON EASTER SUNDAY 1923, TEN KLANSMEN FLOGGED AND TARRED
ROBERT BURLESON, A WHITE TRAVELING SALESMAN, AFTER
BURLESON IGNORED THEIR WARNING TO LEAVE GEORGETOWN.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY DAN MOODY, A TAYLOR NATIVE, LED
PROSECUTION AGAINST THE KLANSMEN IN A SERIES OF TRIALS
BETWEEN SEPTEMBER 1923 AND FEBRUARY 1924. MOODY TRIED
HIS STRONGEST CASE FIRST AGAINST KLANSMAN MURRAY
JACKSON. AFTER SEVEN DAYS OF ARGUMENTS, THE JURORS
DELIBERATED FOR TWENTY MINUTES BEFORE RETURNING A GUILTY
VERDICT AND OFFERING THE MAXIMUM PUNISHMENT FOR THE
CRIME. MOODY’S INITIAL CONVICTION LED TO FOUR ADDITIONAL
CONVICTIONS AND FOUR PRISON SENTENCES FOR THE OTHER
GEORGETOWN KLANSMEN ON TRIAL AT THE WILLIAMSON COUNTY
THESE TRIALS WERE CONSIDERED THE FIRST PROSECUTORIAL
SUCCESS IN THE UNITED STATES AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE
1920s KLAN AND QUICKLY WEAKENED THE KLAN’S POLITICAL
INFLUENCE IN TEXAS. FURTHER, THE PUBLICITY GARNERED BY
MOODY FOLLOWING THE TRIAL LED TO HIS SUCCESSFUL RUNS FOR
STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL IN 1924 AND TEXAS GOVERNOR IN
1926 AND 1928. HE WAS THE YOUNGEST PERSON EVER ELECTED
TO BOTH STATEWIDE OFFICES.
The 1920’s version of the Ku Klux Klan was a nationwide,
secret organization that openly preached white supremacy and
hatred for blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants and law-breakers.
At its peak in 1925 and 1926, it had up to three million
members. It was active in all 48 states. Nationally, the Klan
marched 40,000 strong down Pennsylvania Avenue
in Washington, D.C. They were able to deadlock the 1924
Democratic national convention in
New York City. The Klan virtually
controlled state government in Indiana,
It controlled numerous city, county and legislative offices in
other areas of the country. In
Texas, the Klan’s membership peaked in
early 1924 at 170,000.
They elected Earle Mayfield to the U.S. Senate,
controlled most courthouses and city halls in the eastern
two-thirds of the state and had a working majority in the Texas legislature. Because they often
controlled the local law enforcement establishment, they were
able to engage in vigilante violence without fear of
prosecution. There were over 500 such acts of violence committed
by the Klan in Texas
Additionally, there were thousands of Klan warnings issued to
other citizens threatening them with violence if they didn’t
leave town or otherwise obey Klan orders.
In the Travis –
Williamson County portion of Central Texas, the Klan successively
established klaverns in Austin, Taylor and
during the spring and summer of 1921.
The Klan operated quietly as they took control of the Travis County
law enforcement agencies.
Both the Travis County Sheriff, W.D. Miller and
police commissioner J.D. Copeland along with many deputies and
officers were active members of the Klan.
During the summer and fall of 1921, the Austin Klavern
issued numerous warnings to leave town, and beat and tarred
three individuals who defied their warnings.
On September 2, 1921, 519 Klansmen, some armed, marched
Avenue before the crowd estimated at
30,000. The Austin
Klan’s reign of terror culminated with the December 8, 1921,
murder of Peeler Clayton in an alley behind the Klan meeting
place in downtown
just blocks from the Capitol building.
Clayton was killed in a
hail of bullets fired by numerous people.
Although it defied logic to think that Klansmen had not
committed the murder, a three-month grand jury investigation
concluded the following April without a single indictment.
On the eve of the grand jury’s first meeting, the Austin
Klan staged a mass initiation of 700 new Klansmen.
They invited newspaper reporters, who promised not to
reveal names, to cover the event.
A frustrated district attorney, Ben Robertson, resigned
after grand jury investigation failed to identify any of the
The Ku Klux Klan trials were held in the Williamson County
began on September 17, 1923 with the 7-day trial of Murray
Jackson and concluded on February 1, 1924.
District attorney, later governor, Dan Moody prosecuted
four Klansmen for their roles in the kidnapping and beating of
Robert Burleson, a white traveling salesman who had defied a
Klan warning to leave town.
Burleson’s beating on Easter Sunday, 1923, led to an
immediate investigation by Williamson County Sheriff Lee Allen
and Taylor Constable Louis Lowe.
One hundred witnesses were called to the Williamson County
courthouse during a two-month grand jury investigation in May
and June, 1923, that resulted in four Klansmen being confined
for a month on contempt charges, numerous appeals and, finally,
three indictments against Klansmen involved in the actual
On September 25, 1923, as the eyes
of Texas and the nation
watched, a courageous jury of twelve
County citizens returned a
guilty verdict and maximum 5 year prison sentence against Murray
Jackson the first Klan defendant. Two other Klansmen Olen
Gossett and Dewey Ball, eventually pled guilty and received one
year prison sentences.
Moody used the Jackson verdict to convince five Klansmen to
tell the truth and become state’s witnesses.
Armed with their testimony, Moody went back to the grand
jury and obtained a perjury indictment against A.A. Davis, Klan
leader who had delivered the warning to Burleson and lied about
it to the original grand jury.
In another dramatic jury trial, he obtained a perjury
conviction with a two year prison sentence against Davis.
The four convictions and prison sentences were likely the
first prosecutorial success anywhere in the United States
against members of the 1920’s Klan.
that alone is noteworthy, Moody followed up on the trials and
resulting publicity by taking on the Klan on a statewide basis.
It was well-known that the Klan’s election goal in 1924 was to
elect Klansmen to the three top state offices—governor,
lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Moody ran for attorney general. He used the publicity of
the trials to turn Texas public opinion against the Klan. He
engineered a massive electoral defeat of the Klan in the 1924
elections which resulted in his election as state attorney
general. The New
York Times would later describe that election victory as
“the death-knell of Klan domination”
Although the Klan continued as a power for two more years in the
other 47 states, the dramatic legal defeat of the Klan in the
County courthouse and the 1924
elections, effectively ended the power on the 1920’s Klan in
and encouraged Klan opponents in the rest of the United States.
The history of the 1920’s Klan is chronicled in:
Alexander, The Ku
Klux Klan in the Southwest, 1–19; Chalmers,
Americanism, 28–38; Wade,
The Fiery Cross:
The Ku Klux Klan in America, 140–166.
The beginning of the 1920’s Klan in
The Ku Klux Klan
in the Southwest, 20–39; Brown,
Hood, Bonnet and
Little Brown Jug, 49–52; Chalmers,
On Klan violence in
The Ku Klux Klan
in the Southwest, 41–54; Brown,
Hood, Bonnet and
Moody: Crusader for Justice, 19–27.
Earlier in 1923, twelve members of the Goose Creek Klan
had paid $100 fines for the kidnapping, flogging, and
tarring of a man and woman near Houston.
The Klansmen thought it was a good trade-$1,200
to clean up a town-and rightfully declared it a Klan
Three weeks after the Murray Jackson conviction, an Amarillo jury sentenced the leader of a
flogging party to two years in prison; his conviction
was reversed on appeal.
As for whether the Jackson case was the first
prosecutorial success in the nation, it is difficult to
determine with absolute certainty.
A review of numerous secondary sources fails to
show an earlier felony conviction, but none of these
sources contained any real discussion of prosecution
They do chronicle some spectacular failed prosecutions,
such as the lack of felony convictions after the
mini-war that broke out when Klan forces invaded the
anti-Klan town of Mer Rouge,
Times article in 1926 about Moody states that the
four Burleson convictions constituted “one of the first
successful prosecutions of Klan law violators in any
details of other prosecutions were given.
Whether this was an example of imprecise writing
by a reporter who was on deadline is hard to tell.
But whether Jackson was
the first or one
of the first, it is certain that it was the first
conviction that was followed up by a statewide election
victory and the destruction of the Klan in an entire
October 12, 1923;
State v. T.W. Stanford, 268 Southwest Reporter 161;
Klux Klan in the Southwest,
Creek), 68-74 (Mer Rouge);
New York Times,
September 12, 1926.
New York Times,
Sept. 12, 1926.