The KKK once met at this Texas site. Decades later, it becomes a racial justice center named after a black man who was lynched

Is it possible to create an impactful healing center from a former white supremacist site?

For a Fort Worth, Texas-based nonprofit, the answer is yes.

Founded in 2019, Transform 1012 N. Main Street is trying to achieve a bit of chemistry: instead of razing a former Ku Klux Klan hall, the organization is converting it into a cultural and arts center. The new structure will direct resources to groups previously targeted by the Klan, including Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic and LGBTQ communities.

Nearly a century ago, the site was a building dedicated to hatred. Over the next two years, it will provide services to underserved young adults and exhibition spaces centered on civil rights, among other things.

Or think of it like this: the reimagined area will provide a necessary and joyful refuge for those whom American society has long kept on the fringes, and will be named after Fred Rouse, a black man who in 1921 was lynched nearby following a labor dispute.

“I don’t think there could be another project that would make more sense,” Opal Lee, 95, a founding board member of Transform 1012, told CNN.

Lee’s work with the nonprofit aligns with his lifelong commitment to racial justice. The activist has spent decades campaigning for Juneteenth to become a federally recognized holiday. His efforts paid off in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing June 19 as June 19 National Independence Day.

“The climate is good,” added Lee. “People are ready to do something about our past – learning instead of letting it overwhelm them and making sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Revisiting the past

Nearly 100 years ago, 1012 N. Main Street—then 1006 N. Main Street—was the location of Ku Klux Klan Klavern Auditorium No. 101.

Opened in 1924, the building was destroyed by fire but quickly restored in 1925. The 22,000 square foot hall could hold some 2,000 people, and it was designed to be a space where the klavern – a local Klan unit – – could practice marches and perform minstrel shows.

The auditorium was also designed for another purpose: to terrorize.

At the time, Fort Worth had a large number of Klan members, and the auditorium became the Klan’s Texas headquarters. The towering building was meant to strike fear into blacks, Hispanics and other marginalized residents passing through downtown.

It is worth remembering that it was, as historian Linda Gordon explains in her 2017 bookthe era of the second Klan, when the group’s members abandoned the more covert vigilantism of the past and worked in the open, targeting a variety of supposed enemies.

“Unlike the first Klan, which operated primarily at night, meeting in hard-to-find locations, the second operated by day and held mass public events. Never a secret organization, it placed recruitment advertisements in newspapers, its members boasted of their affiliation, and it elected hundreds of its members to public office,” she wrote. “Most important, the Klan’s program of the 1920s was embraced by millions maybe even a majority of Americans.”

Over the decades, the building has been remodeled several times. For example, in 1927 it was sold to the Leonard Brothers department store, and in 1929 it was a dance hall. In 1946, the Ellis Pecan Company secured it for use as a warehouse.

In 2018, Adam W. McKinney, the co-founder of Fort Worth-based arts and service organization DNAWORKS, explored the story of Fred Rouse, a black butcher who was lynched by a white mob near 1012 N Main Street in 1921, when the dancer learned of the existence of the auditorium – that the structure was still standing.

From that moment on, McKinney and his DNAWORKS co-founder, Daniel Banks, knew something had to be done with the building.

“We need something like this here”

But McKinney and Banks couldn’t do it alone. They met Carlos Flores, a member of the city council for District 2, where the building is located.

“We discussed the needs of his district. We were still relatively new to Fort Worth, so we knew this couldn’t be a DNAWORKS-only project,” Banks told CNN. “It was to be a citywide project. It was to be owned by Fort Worthians. So we began to identify strong potential partners for a coalition that would work together to save the building.”

Inspired by their previous work on racial justice, McKinney and Banks knew they wanted the project to not only return resources to communities most affected by Klan activity, but also to be led by members of those groups. . In 2019, they helped establish Transform 1012 N. Main Street, whose founding council consists of eight organizations representing the groups the Klan used to attack; Rouse’s grandson is an additional member, representing the family.

The nonprofit’s goal is to transform the former Ku Klux Klan Klavern Auditorium No. 101 into the Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing.

“I was born in Mexico, but I grew up in Fort Worth. I grew up a few blocks from the building,” said Román Ramírez, co-director of SOL Ballet Folklórico. “The building is at the entrance to the Northside community, which is a heavily Hispanic community and where our dance company is located.”

He said that when DNAWORKS invited SOL Ballet Folklórico to participate in the project, it seemed like fate.

“Every time Freddy Cantú — the other co-director — and I would walk or drive past the building, we’d say, ‘Imagine that’s a theater,’ because there’s a shortage of theaters in Fort Worth,” said Ramirez. on. “Every time we walked past the building, it was like, ‘Imagine, imagine, imagine.’ And here we are today. The building is going to do wonders for Fort Worth.

Sharon Herrera, executive director and founder of LGBTQ SAVES, which is also part of the Transform 1012 coalition, echoed some of Ramírez’s sentiments, and she underlined how necessary it is for the city to have some sort of safe haven for young homosexuals.

“I’ve always said we’re one of the biggest cities in the country, but we don’t have a resource center for LGBTQ youth. And our youth need a home,” he said. she told CNN. “What’s better than a place where all organizations are accepting and affirming LGBTQ youth?”

Herrera said she attempted suicide when she was 16 and didn’t want another child to think suicide is the answer.

“That’s why this project is so important to me. It’s not just my organization in this building. Other organizations are going to support LGBTQ youth,” she added. “We need something like that here.”

Transform 1012’s efforts might call to mind the deeper question of what makes a reconciliation center or memorial truly effective.

“People who have been negatively affected by a particular event should be involved. If a site reflects the honorees and their wishes, you are much more likely to have an impact,” said Claire Greenstein, assistant professor in the Department of political Sciences. Science and Public Administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said last November.

“Acknowledging racial injustice and allowing those affected to reclaim space in a way that reflects their agency and resistance by amplifying their voices rather than those of the perpetrators – all of this is hugely meaningful,” she continued.

Greenstein was talking about Project Echo, which converts the structure that in the 1990s and first decade of the 2000s housed “the only Klan museum in the world” into a site of memory and healing. But his analysis could easily apply to Transform 1012 as well.

At a time when the facts of history are under siege, Transform 1012 seeks a way to confront the past without necessarily reinflicting its many traumas on it.

“We want to link arms and repurpose the building,” Banks said. “We believe that the only way to create a truthful society is to shine a light on its dark times. We cannot ignore them. Sweeping them under the rug doesn’t make the pain go away. And it doesn’t prevent the violence. reproduces itself. “

How to get help: In the United States, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-271-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Friends all over the world can also provide contact details for crisis centers around the world.

Comments are closed.