Texas writer Patricia Bernstein will tell a Nashville audience how the Ku Klux Klan rose in power nearly 100 years ago and how a young prosecutor successfully convicted KKK members. She speaks on Monday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Gordon Jewish Community Center.
The event is sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. It is free and open to the public.
Bernstein’s talk will be rooted in her most recent book, “Ten Dollars to Hate: The Texas Man who Fought the Klan,” published this year by Texas A&M University Press. She was born in El Paso and grew up in Dallas, where she was a member of the Temple Emanu-El congregation. She graduated from Smith College and has run her own public relations agency, Bernstein & Associates, in Houston since 1983. She has written for Texas Monthly, Cosmopolitan and the Smithsonian Magazine.
She sees “Ten Dollars to Hate,” her third book, as particularly timely.
“When I began to research the story of the 1920s ‘Super Klan,’ the only mass-movement version of the KKK, I thought it was interesting history that was not well-known,” she says in an email. “With the events of the last year or two, I have come to feel that it is critical history that everyone should know.
“There are uncomfortable similarities between life in the United States in the early 1920s and what we are experiencing today. … We see irrational fear and paranoia directed at immigrants and refugees because of the actions of a tiny minority. Then it was Jews and Catholics who were feared; today it is Muslims.
“We also see the prevalence of ‘fake news,’ which was not invented by social media,” she writes. “The Klan spread vulgar, fantastical lies about various ethnic groups. Many gullible and ignorant Americans believed them.”
“Ten Dollars to Hate” explores the rise of the 1920s Klan, whose ranks numbered in the millions, a news release from Texas A&M Press says. The Klan attained widespread control of politics and law enforcement across the United States, not just in the Deep South. Several states elected Klan-sponsored governors and U.S. senators. Klansmen engaged in extreme violence against whites as well as blacks, promoted outrageous bigotry against various ethnic groups and boycotted non-Klan businesses.
A few courageous public officials tried to make Klansmen pay for their crimes, but all failed until September 1923, when young Dan Moody convicted and won serious prison time for five Klansmen in a tense courtroom in Georgetown, Texas.
Moody became a national sensation overnight and went on to become Texas’ youngest governor ever at the age of 33. He was even considered as a possible vice-presidential running mate for Franklin Roosevelt.
In Texas, the Klan quickly dwindled. The final blow to the entire national movement arrived in 1925 when the head of the Klan in Indiana was convicted of murder for brutally raping a young woman who subsequently died.
Bernstein says, “We do not need to indulge in fantasy scenarios like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ or ‘The Man in the High Castle’ or Philip Roth’s novel, ‘The Plot Against America,’ to imagine what would happen if an extremist right-wing group took over our cities and states. We have already seen it in the 1920s. … It was a horrifying spectacle.
“The fight against the 1920s KKK also gives us hope and instruction in how to fight such a great evil successfully—lessons we can apply today.” •