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You're Reading Stone Mountain To Dallas - The Untold Story Of Roy E Davis



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In 1921, Roy moved his base of operations to Idabel, Oklahoma. Soon after his arrival, Roy was named as pastor of the city, and had been given enough contributions to purchase a brand-new Ford automobile.[137] With it, he travelled throughout Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee holding huge revivals that produced large numbers of new Klansmen and large sums of money for Roys empire. In Shults, Oklahoma, Roys evangelistic campaigns were declared the greatest religious waves[138] that had swept through that part of the country. Though he still had a foothold in Georgia, it was best for Roy to keep his distance, not just because of the scandal at the Acworth church, but also because of the nationwide scandal the Ku Klux Klan was facing.

The trouble began when a series of stories in the New York World hit the press in early September. On September 6th, 1921, New Yorkers woke up to headlines that read, Ku Klux Klan Wars on Catholics, Jews; Reap Rich Returns Nationwide Investigation of Secret Order Shows It Gains Great Power by Winning Officials as Members Fortune is Collected in Initiation Dues. The series of articles was carefully planned, the first creating an appetite for more information regarding the secret organization. It described the anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, and anti-African American agendas, but really caught the interest of its readers by describing the staggering membership numbers and initiation fees. Readers were suddenly learning about the salesmen, called Kleagles, who were recruiting for $4.00 a head. Finally, the writer promised to deliver more details in future installments.

The next day, after creating an anticipation in its readers, the newspaper published an article describing the testimony of one Captain Henry P. Fry, a former Kleagle who resigned his position in the Ku Klux Klan on moral grounds; due to the conflict between his oath to the United States Army and the one required by the Klan. The writer continued to deliver severe blows to the Invisible Empire by publishing Klan plots to control the United States Army and Navy, secret Klan rituals and oaths, propaganda, racial discrimination, violence, and more. For almost the entire month of September, New Yorkers awakened to big headlines that peeled the covers back on secrets that were very destructive to the survival of the Klan.

Congressman Upshaw was forced to spend most of his time in Washington, D. C. refuting these allegations.[139] The newspaper articles both contributed to and resulted from suspicions being raised in Washington over the terroristic activities of the Klan. Every lynching of a black man was highly publicized, and the Klan was immediately accused, whether they were behind the vigilante justice or not. At first, a few politicians were skeptical of the Klans secretive structure, but Frys testimony had raised concerns that the United States military was being infiltrated from within. Following this out to its logical conclusion, many Americans began to understand that entire government structures could become puppets on strings for civilians raised into power by a fraternal organization, and this idea did not sit well with the citizens.

When William Joseph Simmons was summoned to speak to these allegations,[140] Upshaw quickly stepped in to try and soothe public opinion before things went badly wrong. As a well-respected member of Congress who was even more respected as a Christian evangelist, his testimony towards the character of the Imperial Wizard would be heard. Issuing a public statement, he expressed his wounded pride after seeing his fellow Americans throwing around accusations towards the Ku Klux Klan, and stated that he was especially hurt because Simmons was the target.[141] The Klan was organized in his district in Atlanta, and he said that The Imperial Wizard is one of the knightliest, most patriotic men he had ever known. But even with his spotless reputation, his defense of the organization was heavily scrutinized. He had denied membership for months, but some people were starting to question his denial.

The house rules committee began to present its findings, and the Associated Press began to publish stories that were even more damaging to the Klan than the New York World publications. The Klan was infiltrating state and local governments, strategically placing people into power or converting people in power. Some of those people were arming the members of the Klan using government artillery, and instructed them to deny membership in the Invisible Empire. The investigation had produced private letters sent from Klan headquarters, implicating Congressman Upshaw as having been instructed to deny membership in the Klan while posing as a preacher and a church member.

It was assessed that even after paying the Kleagles, the Klan had taken in 1.4 million dollars in sales since its foundation. The organization had wealth, power, arms, and people in high places. The evidence was very convincing, and resulted in many Congressmen and Senators pushing for a full investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. Therefore, Simmons was called to testify.

Upshaw first made an appearance before the committee to give Simmons a commendation. According to Upshaw, Simmons was a consecrated God-fearing church man who was patriotic, of sterling character.[142] The room was crowded, many standing around the walls. Many African-Americans were present, and Upshaws praise of Simmons was met with harsh opposition.

Next, the congressional investigation listened to the Imperial Wizard deny the accusations. He entered the room wearing a vest that was decorated with a heavy gold chain, from which dangled a large Masonic emblem. He also wore a Masonic ring for decoration and the emblem of another fraternal order on the button of his lapel. Speaking before the committee calm and reserved, Simmons poured on his Irish charm. Giving a well prepared speech that could only be described as fine writing, Simmons captured the room by surprise.

He claimed that a traitor had absconded with the funds of the organization, and that he himself had very little money. Left with the debts created when he started the organization, he lived for nine months on one single meal per day, trusting in God to supply his needs. According to Simmons, his pay had not exceeded $12,000, not including his house that the Klan has purchased for him.[143] All surplus money went into the organization and the founding of the Lanier University in Atlanta. He emphatically denied paying his assistants 25 million dollars, and that he had accumulated any wealth through the organization.

Simmonss denial was met with skepticism, especially once people knew of the testimony and evidence collected by the investigative committee. Changing focus of the inquisition, the committee began describing numerous instances of lynching, beatings, and general lawlessness, which Simmons also denied. Simmons declared that the organization respected the laws of the country, and any ritual that operated outside of the laws of the United States of America were outside of the laws of the Ku Klux Klan. Even so, Simmons was not able to convince the group.

Fortunately for the organization, Upshaw had a plan that could not fail. Most of the officials in the room were a member of one fraternal organization or another, and he knew it. Many were wearing rings or pins with emblems just like Simmons wore, and he knew that others who wore no fraternal symbols were involved in secret societies. Standing before the crowded room, Upshaw raised his objection to investigating the Ku Klux Klan simply because it was secretive. There were other secret societies in the country, and he began naming them. If they investigated the Klan, Upshaw urged that they should also investigate the Masons. And if the Masons, then they should look into the secret dealings of the Woodsmen, Odd Fellows, Red Men, Moose, and more. Each secret order had a structure that required secrecy, and their structure had very little to do with the outside world. Each organization was independent. He reminded them that the Odd Fellows dont care what the Masons do and the Red Men arent interested in the activities of the Elks. And yet, all of these groups are on the friendliest of terms. He said the group was no more militaristic than the patrol of the Mystic Shrine.[144]

However, according to Upshaw, the same rules were not being applied to the Ku Klux Klan. Each criticism that is raised against the Klan sparked an investigation, and the entire country was sent into an uproar rather than embracing the activities of the order. Upshaw pleaded with the committee to apply the same standards to the Klan, and to allow them to operate within the same limitations of the other secret orders.

His plan was successful. Almost immediately after his speech, officials raised concerns that their secret orders would be investigated. Everyone who was a member of a secret society began to change his vote in favor of Upshaw, and these votes suddenly outnumbered those against him. The committee voted unanimously not to call any more witnesses, and the investigation ceased.

This was not the end of problems for the Klan, though. Public opinion had already been turned against the Invisible Empire.

After the heat died down in Georgia, Roy returned from his evangelism in Oklahoma to strengthen his Georgia foothold. By January 1922, he was elected mayor of Meigs, Georgia, defeating Roy Negler and ousting mayor T. A. Jones. The women of Meigs voted for the first time, contributing to a large number of the votes for Roy Davis. [145]

William Joseph Simmons organized a public relations strategy that included advertisements, public speeches, informational lectures, and more. He chose Roy Davis as the lecturer[146] to draw the crowds, having seen his large success in debate and public speaking. As the official spokesman for the Ku Klux Klan, Davis began claiming that the Klan was not anti-negro, anti-Catholic, or anti-Jewish. Booking large events with Simmons, Davis made a solid attempt at helping Simmons rebuild his crumbling Invisible Empire. Ultimately, though, Simmons was unable to salvage what he had lost. His decline in power had spread from Washington all the way back home to Atlanta. Once seen as a hero before public, Simmons was eventually seen as a villain.

Simmons organized a public meeting at the municipal auditorium in Albany, Georgia to speak on behalf of the White Knights. Representing the Klan, Davis told the press that Colonel Simmons would present the public with a better idea of the Klan and its purposes[147], answering many questions that the public were now asking about the secret society. But the city of Albany did not approve of this use of their facilities, and informed Davis that the use of the auditorium would be put to an official vote. If approved, Davis could announce the time of the meeting at the Dougherty country courthouse, but that was as far as they could go towards advertising. After the mayor and city council put the question to a vote, Davis and Simmons were denied by a three-to-two vote.[148]

This rejection made almost as big news as the New York World publications. The Associated Press picked up the story, and newspapers around the country were once again waking up to negative publicity about the Ku Klux Klan. This time, however, opposing factors within the Klan saw an opportunity and seized it. Under the growing leadership of Hiram Wesley Evans, many Klansmen were not happy with Simmons and the negative publicity he caused. Internally, the Ku Klux Klan was facing its own civil war.[149]

Roy Davis was appointed official lecturer of the Klan to try and reinvent their image. In July of 1922, Roy started a series of public events throughout the country to debate the virtues of the Ku Klux Klan and to challenge anyone who opposed the Invisible Empire. Captain D. D. Unsell was one of the first to accept the challenge, and a huge debate was held in Poplar Bluff, MO[150]. Interestingly, what began as a public challenge turned into a huge membership drive. Roy found the speaking arrangements to be a huge success in signing new members up for the organization, no matter which side of the Civil War they chose. A thousand new members were expected within just thirty days.

The next month, in Blytheville, Arkansas, Roy hosted a debate in a baseball field and filled every seat in the stadium.[151] Every seat in the grandstand was taken, and hundreds of people were seated in the grass as Roy debated local attorney A. G. Little. Little spoke for more than two hours, and made many references to the investigations into the Klan. But the publicity was more than helpful to Roy, and his success as a Klan lecturer and debater was quickly growing.

Using the money from the debates, Roy setup another Klan newspaper publication he called the Brickbat in Meigs, Georgia, and immediately picked up where his Progress paper left off. But even with his self-promotion, his name in the mainstream newspapers was disastrous. The Georgia Farmers Union[152] started investigating his past, and learned of his dual life in Texas and Georgia. Almost immediately, he was overthrown from his position, and received even more negative publicity in the Georgia newspapers. This caught the attention of one Katy Lee Kirk who had for some time been the target of his Brickbat publications in Acworth. She told authorities that she had been damaged by the attacks on her character, and that Davis was solely responsible for the publications. Police arrested him on charges of criminal libel, which was only a minor setback. [153] He posted $500 bond and continued his speaking engagements. But the newspapers continued to publish details of his dealings in Georgia, and air all of his dirty laundry. In an investigative report in the Macon Daily Telegraph in July, 1923, his entire history from Texas to Georgia and South Carolina were printed for all to read.[154] His congregations and business acquaintances were now learning of his misuse of church funds around Georgia, charges of fraud in the purchase of a church organ, taking money from church widows, threatening church elders, and more. Everyone was now aware that Ron and Lon were one and the same, and his days of an evangelist in Georgia were now behind him. Roy headed back to Texas to start organizing the White Knights in Texas under the name Lonnie Davis.

Keeping the road hot from Houston up through Eastern Texas, through Dallas and Fort Worth and up through Northern Texas, Roy began to hold meetings to discuss the Invisible Empire. But his trouble came when he held a meeting in Wichita Falls. His brother, Z. W. Davis, had promoted the meeting, and organized a meeting place when Roy arrived. Though his posted advertisements did gather a lot of attention for the meeting, it also gathered some unwanted attention. Someone recognized the singing evangelist as the man who was arrested in South Carolina for swindling and living a dual life. During the meeting, to the surprise of his eager participants, ten men suddenly stormed into the small brick building wearing pistols strapped to their legs. One of them stood at the entrance carrying a shotgun and a dripping wet rope. The blast from the shotgun startled everyone in the room, and Roy stopped his promotion mid-sentence.

Lonnie Davis, he shouted. Every head turned back to look at the men, all of which were now holding their weapons. Roy dove for the ground, thinking he was about to be shot. Two of the men rushed forward to grab him while the others trained their guns on the men in the chairs.

Gentlemen, Roy said, his voice shaking. We are holding a peaceful meeting here, no need for violence.

This meeting is over, said the man with the shotgun. We have it on good authority that this man is the Ku Klux Klan organizer of Valdosta, Meigs, and Fitzgerald, Georgia.

The Ku Klux Klan is a reputable Roy started, but he was cut off mid-sentence.

Lon here abandoned his wife and children to tend to this business in Georgia, the man with the shotgun said. and hes still living with another woman in Georgia. All eyes turned back to Roy.

You must have me mistaken for someone else, Roy objected. Im a pastor of a well-known church in Eastern Texas. By now, the men had lifted Roy up by his collar and was carrying him to the side of the building. One of the men, also carrying a rope, threw one end over the rafters while another man removed Roys coat, ripped his shirt off, and tied his hands together. After he was bound, the men pulled the rope, raising his hands above his head.

Roys brother, Z.W., stood up and tried to stop the men, but was stopped squarely in his tracks when the butt of the shotgun was firmly planted against the back of his head. Instantly, he fell to the floor unconscious.

The man handed his rifle to one of the others, and started uncoiling the dripping wet rope. He proceeded to lash the back of Roys bare back.[155] The room watched in horror as the rope tore the flesh, Roy screaming with each snap. By the time they left, Roy and his brother were both unconscious. The others in the room rushed to their side.

Z. W. was taken to the hospital in serious condition, but Roy refused to go. Barely taking the time to bandage his wounds, Roy was placed on a train bound for Shreveport.

 

 

 

In January of 1924, the Invisible Empire began to temporarily crumble. Roy, still avoiding his route through Texas, tried to seek refuge in Georgia. But his supporters were being replaced with others, and the Klan stronghold in the state was quickly fading. The Grand Dragons in Washington voted to banish Simmons from the Ku Klux Klan and appoint a new Imperial Wizard. Their own public opinion had been tarnished by the negative publicity, and they were growing disgusted with the political cartoons characterizing them as puppets on strings. The Klan was never meant to be a political machine, they argued, and should remain devoted to developing spiritually, morally, and physically sound Protestant white men in America. Realizing the inevitable, Simmons agreed to a $145,000 cash settlement for his stake in the organization, and he forfeited his copyrights and lifetime office of Emperor. When he received the first installment of $90,000, Simmons invested it into a new fraternal organization based on the premises of the original Ku Klux Klan he titled the Knights of the Flaming Sword and made Davis a Royal Ambassador.[156] Even though he himself had not cut his ties to the Klan, Davis took the opportunity to build a new life as an ambassador at the top of a new secret order.[157]

He also took the opportunity to start over with his personal life. Leaving Ruby behind, he asked a sixteen-year-old girl to leave with him for a new life. She agreed, and Davis left Atlanta for Chattanooga. Chattanooga, Tennessee was the perfect place to hide in plain sight. It had literally exploded when the United States entered World War I, as the nearest military training camp within distance to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. And the end of the war did not hinder the growth; the population in the city was nearing a hundred thousand people. Though automobiles were quickly starting to gain in popularity for travel as opposed to passenger trains, Chattanooga was still an extremely busy railroad hub that routed shipments from the North to the South and East to West. Interestingly, Georgia still owned a piece of downtown Chattanooga. When the Western and Atlantic Railroad was built to link Chattanooga with Atlanta, Georgia funded and managed the construction of the switchyards and terminal. Owning this piece of land, Georgia continued to build a blockade of buildings that was a considerable nuisance to the citys growth.

Claiming the title of Dr. Roy E. Davis, Roy began working to collect membership dues as the royal ambassador of the Knights of the Flaming Sword with limited success. Many were skeptical of the new order, just as they had been with the Klan while under Simmons control. Hiram Evans, the new Imperial Wizard of the Klan, had taken the Klan to the highest peak in membership, organizing Klan groups of up to 200,000 people[158]. Though its popularity had been struggling in recent days, he was far more successful than Simmons had ever been.

As Davis struggled to gain new recruits in the Flaming Sword, the Ku Klux Klan began filling the Indianapolis Republican seats with Klan members. Evans had appointed D. C. Stephenson from Evansville, Indiana as Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan for the state of Indiana, and Stephenson was becoming very powerful through a political strategy that took the state by surprise.

A gambler and saloonkeeper from Louisville, Kentucky by the name of E. Howard Cadle mysteriously came into a large sum of money, and decided to convert to Christianity. Taking the funds, he purchased the grounds and building for a massive church complex in Indianapolis for over $300,000.[159] Cadle conducted his religious operations by day, and the Klan organized their strategies using the complex by night.[160] At the command of Stephenson, the White Knights had almost gained controlling power of the State of Indiana[161]. The Klan in Indiana was so popular among the people that Imperial Wizard Hiram W. Evans meetings in the Cadle Tabernacle were advertised[162] with very little protest. It was a very successful. In the 1924 elections, Stephenson organized a powerful political force with Klansmen or Klan sympathizers in positions as senators, congressmen, judges, governors, and state legislators of Indiana and the surrounding states. Eventually, he successfully lifted Ed Jackson into power as the governor in the state of Indiana.[163]

Realizing that he was not going to make any money at selling the secret order, Davis gathered together all of his converts to the Flaming Sword for a meeting, and officially cut his ties from Simmons. And he called for all existing members to do the same.

I, Dr. Roy E. Davis, Royal Ambassador of the Knights of the Flaming Sword do hereby issue a royal proclamation, he said in front of a small number of bewildered faces. I call upon you to withdraw from this order. It has no place in American institutions, because the movement is dedicated to the one proposition of accumulating millions for private, personal, and greedy individuals.

I have reviewed the organization of the Knights by Colonel William Joseph Simmons of Atlanta whom I might add has been banished from the Ku Klux Klan and have found the institution of this organization to be built upon the sole foundation of increasing the wealth of its founder. This is not unlike the same accusations made by the Ku Klux Klan when he was cast down from his mighty thrown as Imperial Wizard.

And I must apologize to you, he said. I was led to believe that Colonel Simmons was one of Americas greatest Christian statesmen and the Moses of the present order of things. But while the organization of the Flaming Sword had been proposed to me as an eleemosynary institution, not one single dime of the $150,000 collected by the Klan to Simmons or the monies collected from the Flaming Sword has been given to satisfy this. In my opinion, this fraternity is doing nothing to help the poor, but instead, doing everything to make its members poor.

Fraternalism is an unknown quantity of this organization, he continued, In that practically every worker in the field for Colonel Simmons has had to resign because he could not get what money was due him.[164]

But while Davis thought that his stance for the people would gain him favor in their eyes, the opposite happened. His royal proclamation made its way to the Associated Press, and he found his name once more in the news of people across the country. This brought the attention of his multiple enemies in Georgia, and this time they had the power of the government on their side. Multiple people from multiple counties in Georgia and Texas now knew his whereabouts, and many wanted justice for his wrongdoings. Many more wanted their money back, having realized that the singing evangelist had been nothing more than a singing swindler.

Calls were made to the sheriffs office in Chattanooga, and Roy was once again arrested and under investigation. Temporarily, they held him on violation of the Mann Act for his bringing an underage girl from Georgia into Tennessee while they began to build a bigger case. It took some time to gather all of the wronged parties, however, and Roy had saved up quite a bit of money from his evangelistic work. Before additional charges could be filed, Roy posted bail and fled to Northern Kentucky.

As he was driving his automobile North, two men in black suits got off the train in Chattanooga. Heading over to the local Sheriffs office, they introduced themselves.

Were with the Secret Service, one of them said. The department of justice has opened an investigation on this man. He handed the sheriff a photograph of Davis.