Monday, March 3, 2014

Georgetown, Texas, 1923

It is Monday, September 17, 1923, and you, along with many of the other residents of Georgetown, Texas, are headed to the Williamson County Courthouse for a trial that few thought would or could ever happen.
The case being heard involved a young traveling salesman, Robert Burleson, who had been warned by some "concerned citizens" to leave town because of a supposed "adulterous" relationship with the widow who ran a boarding house. Burleson, a World War I veteran, responded defiantly by announcing to everyone who he came into contact with that he was not going to be bullied and, in fact, would kill the first people who tried to make him leave. Faced with this impudence, those who warned him acted.
On Easter Sunday, 1923, ten unmasked men, in two cars, found Burleson out for a Sunday drive. He was with Fannie Campbell, the widow, and a married couple who were in the back seat. The men ran him off the side of the road. They pulled Burleson out of the driver's window and pistol whipped him. They then covered his head with a sack, drove him to a remote site, and tied him to a barbed wire fence. The 10 men took turns flogging and taunting Burleson. They then took him to the Taylor City Hall, chained him to a tree and poured hot tar on him.
One other very important bit of information: Those charged with the offense were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and because members of the Klan held local elected offices, controlled law enforcement positions in many communities, and had a majority in the Texas legislature, opposition to the Klan was rare.

And yet here were Burleson, who survived the attack, and Fannie Campbell who were ready and willing to testify. And here were Constable Louis Lowe and Sheriff Lee Allen who had conducted the investigation. And Dan Moody, the recently appointed District Attorney.

So it would be understandable that as you raced to the stairs to the second floor
that you did not take time to notice the rotunda
or to marvel at the perfectionistic work done by the craftsmen who installed the marble panels with great attention to matching the grain as closely as possible
or to pause and reflect on the impact of the "Whites Only" fountain and
the "Negroes" faucet that had one cup hanging nearby.
But you would have focused on getting to the stairway as quickly as possible,
hoping to find a seat in the 26th District Courtroom.
After all, here was a young District Attorney (in fact, at age 27, he was the youngest DA in the history of Texas), Dan Moody, who had been appointed within the past year to fill out the term of the previous DA who had resigned out of frustration at not being able to obtain a conviction against the Klan in a murder case.

He was the lead prosecutor going up against a six-member team of attorneys hired the Klan, but he had his own six-member team, including Constable Lowe and Sheriff Allen (who knew almost everyone in the county and consulted on the jury selection to rule out known Klan members or Klan sympathizers), former county judge Richard Critz and former county attorney Harry Graves.
Many of the witnesses before the grand jury were Klansmen; some simply lied, while others took the Fifth Amendment. Moody targeted four of the Klansmen and had Judge Hamilton grant them immunity. When they still refused to testify, they were jailed for contempt of court. A month-long legal battle ensued, but the Klansmen each spent that time in jail before their releases. The grand jury returned with prohibited weapon assault indictments against three Klansmen.
Moody had several early victories: Judge Hamilton ruled he could ask potential jurors about Klan membership, rejected the defense request to quash the indictment for alleged grand jury irregularities, rejected the defense change-of-venue motion.

When the trial began, Moody chose his strongest case of the three to try first.
After all the testimony, "it was clear that Moody had presented a solid, overwhelming case of guilt; he had thoroughly destroyed the alibi defense. In any normal case, the verdict wouldn't be in doubt. This was not any normal case. The real question was not Jackson's guilt, but whether any 12 jurors would have the courage to convict a Klansman. It was amazing that Moody, Allen, and Lowe had been brave enough to bring the case this far, but could they really expect 12 jurors to risk the wrath of the Klan by convicting? And even if they did convict, the jury was setting punishment. They could still let the Klansman off with a small fine or a few days in jail. Klansmen had been fined elsewhere. A light sentence would be almost as big a victory for the Klan as a "not guilty" verdict. No, Moody needed not only a conviction but a prison sentence.
"Judge Hamilton told the jury they needed to decide if Murray Jackson was guilty of assault with a prohibited weapon. If its verdict was guilty, jurors could set punishment anywhere between a $1 fine to five years in prison."
The jury deliberated for only 20 minutes. The packed courtroom heard the jury's verdict: "We, the jury, find the defendant, Murray Jackson, guilty as charged and assess his penalty at confinement in the state penitentiary for a term of five years."
Guilty. Maximum punishment. Twelve jurors had returned the country's first conviction and prison sentence against the 1920s Klan. Twelve jurors had the courage to stand up to the hate and violence.

Dan Moody went on to win three more convictions in three additional trials surrounding this same incident. But it was not until he had defeated Klansmen to win the election for Attorney General and then Governor of Texas that the Klan's "back had been broken."

And at age 33, he was the youngest governor in Texas history.

Anderson, Ken. Dan Moody. Crusader for Justice, Georgetown Press, 2009.

Resource that had been omitted from the initial posting:
Anderson, Ken. Konvicted: How Dan Moody Destroyed the Klan in Texas. The Alcalde, July/August, 2000.


DennyG said...

A nicely done piece. Entertaining & educational with some very nice pictures. It's not clear to me whether the entire article was taken from Ken Anderson's "Crusader for Justice" or if the book was simply the source of information.

eyad ammar said...

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شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام

eyad ammar said...

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eyad ammar said...

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