Chamblee54

The KKK In Atlanta

Posted in Georgia History, Library of Congress, Race, Religion by chamblee54 on June 25, 2021


@SpaceyG “Buckhead hasn’t been considered an Atlanta suburb since the head of the ATL Klan developed the Peachtree Battle-Peachtree Rd. area as one. When he sold some land to the Catholic Church (for Christ the King) he was relieved of his top Klansman duties.” This was news to ATLien PG, though not terribly shocking. His google habit kicked in, and soon there was a handful of articles. There was a lot of disagreement over the specifics.

There was also a lot of oh-how-terrible posturing. This will be held to a minimum in this post. We are talking about the Ku Klux Klan. If you don’t know by now, they were horrible, horrible people. If you want to get worked up about it, go watch tv.

The KKK was revived in 1915. Birth of a Nation was one inspiration. Another catalyst was the Leo Frank affair. He was convicted of the murder of Mary Phagan, despite substantial evidence of his innocence. Mr. Frank was Jewish. The trial was the occasion for anti-Semetic hate speech.

Gov. John Slaton commuted the death sentence of Mr. Frank to life imprisonment, along with suggestions that the verdict would be overturned. A group called “The Knights of Mary Phagan” broke into the state prison, and took Leo Frank out. On August 17, 1915, he was taken to Marietta, and lynched. This happened where I-75 crosses Hwy 120 today, downhill from the Big Chicken.

“An itinerant Methodist preacher named William Joseph Simmons started up the Klan again in Atlanta in 1915. … On Thanksgiving Eve 1915, Simmons took 15 friends to the top of Stone Mountain, built an altar on which he placed an American flag, a Bible and an unsheathed sword, set fire to a crude wooden cross, muttered a few incantations about a “practical fraternity among men,” and declared himself Imperial Wizard of the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

The Klan initially did not do very well, until I.W. Simmons met Edward Young Clarke and Mary Elizabeth (Bessie) Tyler, a pair of promoters. They rebranded the Klan to fight against Jews, Catholics, and anything else people did not like. Clarke and Tyler had a knack for publicity, and got a lot of new members. The recruits paid a $10 initiation fee, with a substantial cut of that going to Clarke and Tyler. Soon, the money began to pour in.

These recruits were going to need pointed hoods. “Although it’s little more than an unassuming office structure today, the Cotton Exchange Building on bustling Roswell Road has something of a haunted past. In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan bought and used it as a manufacturing and distribution center for the group’s propaganda. Additionally, the Klan produced its robes, hoods and gloves there.” The Cotton Exchange building still stands today, a block north of the Buckhead triangle.

“On October 11, 1921, Elizabeth Tyler was entertaining a few friends in her elegant Atlanta home. … At 9:45 p.m., five gunshots rang out. Half an hour later, the telephone rang at the Atlanta Constitution. “I want to talk to a reporter … I just want to tell you that we got Mrs. Tyler tonight.” The assailants, who were never identified, hadn’t gotten anyone. All five bullets had missed.”

That was not the only trouble in paradise. The Klan leadership began to quarrel. I.W. Simmons was pushed out, replaced by Hiram Evans. Soon, Clarke and Evans were out. Imperial Kleagle Clarke was convicted of violating the Mann Act. Bessie Smith moved to California, and died in 1924.

The sources PG found are unclear about a KKK real estate business. I.W. Simmons had plans for a University, and began to purchase property for it. There was also the Imperial Palace, at the corner of Peachtree and West Wesley. Here is what the Catholic church says:
“In 1916, an elegant white-columned, Greek revival-style mansion was built by Edward M Durant on the site of the Cathedral. In 1921, the house was bought by the Ku Klux Klan. The group met mostly in secret in the home with the intention of transforming it into their “Imperial Palace,” but by the 1930s had begun to unravel with the onset of the Great Depression. After the property went into foreclosure, the Church was able to purchase the land from the mortgage holder. The cost of the 4 acres of land and mansion was $35,000, quite a sum at that time but was chosen over other available locations due to the fact it was on public transportation. … On the Feast of Christ the King on October 31, 1937, the cornerstone for the Church was blessed and the dedication took place on January 18, 1939.” Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

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