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

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Louisville Kentucky was significantly larger than Chattanooga. Over two hundred and forty thousand people were in the city, making it much easier for Roy to blend in. It was a river town that was positioned at the Falls of the Ohio River, and the rapids at this point in the massive mile-wide river made a barrier to river travel. As a result, settlers had built up communities in the late 1700s after George Rogers Clark founded the first European settlement. Two years after Clarks founding, the town was named after King Louis XVI of France[165], whose soldiers were aiding the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

Immediately across the Ohio River was Jeffersonville, Indiana, which was at one time the de facto capital of the Indiana Territory. Fort Finney was positioned at the north side of the Falls to protect Louisville from Shawnee Indians, and after the Northwest Indian War, was briefly renamed to Fort Steuben in honor of Baron von Steuben of the Continental Army. It officially became a town after a land sale that was spurred by the end of the War of 1812.[166] Jeffersonville was the location chosen for the first Indiana State Prison, and continued to be used to punish criminals with hard labor until the prison was burned in 1922.

The area was modernized, even before the turn of the century. A series of five Worlds Fairs were opened annually[167], one of which proudly displayed the incandescent light bulbs after Thomas Edisons invention. By the 1890s, just five years after the first skyscraper was erected in Chicago, Louisville had two skyscrapers towering above the city.

Louisville had one of the largest slave trades in the United States before the Civil War[168]. Largely because of the slave trade, it quickly grew to one of the largest cities in Kentucky. At the height of the slave trade, the slave population was nearly twenty-six percent of the entire population of Kentucky. Slaves on the underground railroad called the Ohio River into Southern Indiana the River Jordan, because if crossed, they stood a great chance of making it into freedom in the North.[169]

During the Civil War, Louisville and Jeffersonville became critically important as a gateway between the North and the South. Served by three railroads, supplies from the North were shipped to Jeffersonville, sent by boat across the Ohio River, and then shipped to the South through Louisville. As a result, the area quickly grew as a manufacturing and shipping port. In Jeffersonville, the Quartermaster Intermediate Depot was constructed to warehouse military supplies, and the Ohio Falls Car and Locomotive Company was created to maintain the transit system.[170] On the Louisville side, the military created a large operations center for planning, hospitals, supplies, recruiting and transportation for the Western Theater. The combination of the two created significant growth during the Civil War, and that growth continued to develop.

After the war, both sides of the river continued to grow due to a thriving liquor industry. Kentuckians had discovered a secret to making whiskey that made it a very hot commodity. Farmers had harvested corn in late summer and made whiskey, but before they could ship it down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, they had to wait for the rainy season. By pure accident, the whiskey aged in the barrels, and Kentucky Bourbon was born. Louisville and Jeffersonville were home to several large whisky distilleries, and the industry, creation to shipment, of liquor employed a large number of people in Northern Kentucky and Southern Indiana. But when Indiana and Kentucky became dry states in the years of 1918 and 1919, the income from the liquor industry was drastically cut. Production and shipping was cut to stay within the limits of medicinal whiskey.

This made Louisville an attractive place to elect William D. Upshaw to the position of vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1927, Upshaws campaigning against liquor made a quick detour to Kentucky for his election.[171] This brought a wave of controversy in the area local ministers and temperance supporters were greatly excited to see the famed leader of their movement, while those most impacted by Prohibition in the Louisville[172] and Jeffersonville area were angered by his presence.

But though Prohibition severely crippled the distilleries, it did very little to stop the actual consumption of alcohol in the area. Instead, it changed the landscape of the area to a much seedier place, similar to what Roy left behind in Fort Worth. Night clubs started springing up, attracting a much different crowd into the area. Drinking, gambling, dancing girls, and prostitution were part of the areas nightlife, and men left their jobs at the distilleries to produce liquor for the clubs. This resulted in turf wars, and soon little Jeffersonville became little Vegas.[173] Attracting the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger, and his mob, Southern Indiana quickly became a region of lawlessness. Prominent businessmen were being mowed down in nightclubs with tommy guns from hit men in Chicago, and police struggled to contain the problem. Police corruption made it impossible, with chiefs of police and their families indicted for running pool halls and slot machines. Though city and state officials tried to stop it, the sin trade was far too widespread.

Even if officials had been able to stop the private gaming community, the racing community supporting Churchill Downs in Kentucky was unstoppable. Because of its success, a dog track was built on the Indiana side to capture the interest of the gaming community, with a special attraction: monkeys. Dressed as tiny jockeys, monkeys[174] were strapped to the backs of the greyhounds, bringing a new level of excitement to the game. But that excitement was not enough to overcome the gloom that was spreading through the United States with the crash of the Stock Market.

Though it was easy to hide from his criminal background in Louisville and Jeffersonville in any of the seedy venues given a blind eye by local law enforcement, Roy chose to continue his religious ministry. The Federal Bureau of Investigations field office had closed in Louisville, and he had less worry of being caught by a federal agent. And there was an added benefit to his migration to Louisville; his brother could help him gain a solid foothold. Roys brother, the Reverend Daniel S. Davis, was the head of the Pentecostal Baptist Church of the Holy Mission Hall in Louisville[175]. And across the river in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Ku Klux Klan had a headquarters in the Spieth Building[176] that would provide a base of operations. Indiana was an interesting proposition where Klan activity was concerned. Klan membership was heavily concentrated in Indiana, even after the fall of D. C. Stephenson.

Upshaw was voted out of Congress[177], and his influence had been silenced. He had tried a second attempt at running, but was ruled ineligible for not complying with the rules of the committee. Finding a new way to make waves in the political community, Upshaw took a job as a journalist in the New York Graphic[178] dubbed the pornographic[179] by critics of its time for its trashy content and his journalism was not the success it was in his childhood days. It did not have the political impact necessary to make any change in the political landscape.

Hiram Evans was failing to maintain control of the Klan. After the negative publicity of its second major investigation, the Invisible Empire was starting to be viewed as a terrorist organization[180] by more than just its targets. The Empire itself was turning into a battleground for power, and the internal rivalry was hindering political efforts. During the struggle, Klan membership dropped from six million to thirty thousand.

The face of the Klan was changing, the number of members was fading, and Roy saw an opportunity presenting itself. Simmons was out, Stephenson had failed, and it was time for change.



Dan, I need your help.

Roy, is that you? Dan replied. I havent seen you in years!

Its me, Roy said. I need a place to stay while I put things in order.

I heard that you were on the run from Georgia after what happened with Simmons, Dan said. You arent still running from the Law, are you?

No, no. Roy said, not telling Dan about the events in Chattanooga. I wish Id have cut my losses when he was forced out. Im afraid Ive forced myself into a bad place.

I cant help you there, Dan said, But I can help you in other ways. Junior, come in here! From the back of the building, they could hear footsteps coming towards them. Soon, a dark-headed teenager stepped into the sanctuary.

Roy Davis Junior! Roy exclaimed. Is that you? Junior looked at him without emotion.

Juniors been a big help around here, Dan said. Havent you, boy? Junior nodded his head, looking up at Dan.

Is Emma Roy began.

No, Roy, Dan stopped him. Shes with Dowdy back in Texas. We took Junior and Katherine in to raise a few years back. Katherines staying with one of the families from church at the moment. Roy stepped up to put his arm around Junior, but Junior stepped back. He looked at the beautiful young girl standing beside Roy.

Dont be bashful, boy, Roy said. Your daddys just trying to be friendly! Say hello to Allie here.

Allie stepped forward, just as bashful as Junior, and tried to say hello. No sound came out, but she smiled. Only seventeen, she was only a few years older than Junior.

Dan, you got some place we can go discuss business? With that, he told Allie to stay and talk to Junior and the two went into the upper level of the building. Dan closed the door.

Roy, he said, sternly, Ill help you get back on your feet, but you and I have to distance ourselves. Ive built a respected reputation in this town, and I intend to keep it.

Im not asking for your financial help, Dan, Roy said. I need help getting connected to the people. The Klan will still pay me for every head I bring in.

How do you propose I do that? Dan asked, walking over to a wooden chair behind a desk and taking a seat. He looked up at Roy, who was still standing. I just run a small church, nothing more.

I need publicity, Roy said. I need a pulpit to speak, thats all.

I can arrange that, Dan said. But you have to promise me one thing.

Whats that, Dan? Roy asked.

This arrangement better be temporary. He said. Then he changed the subject, and the two began to discuss the events of the last ten years. Dan chuckled as Roy told him how many times he almost got caught but somehow managed to escape each time.

During the course of the next several months, Dan invited Roy E. Davis, the singing evangelist to speak at his church. And they did it without drawing much attention to Roy, other than what was necessary to attract people to the meetings. But Roy quickly learned that it was not enough. Though it was different in Southern Indiana, the Klan was largely unpopular in Northern Kentucky, especially among the church crowd. People were continually writing letters to the editor condemning the Invisible Empire, and many city ordinances were created and enforced to prevent the assembling of the White Knights. Though it was a risk, Roy needed more publicity, and it needed to be over a controversial topic. It needed to be something that became the talk of every person in the Louisville area.

In February of 1930, Roy had an idea. There was no topic so controversial as prohibition in the cities of Louisville and Jeffersonville. Many poor people were struggling and had been for years over the cutbacks in the distilleries. Not only did these cutbacks hurt those directly employed, it also slowed income for every aspect of the business from printing materials to shipping and more. Even more troubling was the rising crime, gambling, and murders that came after Prohibition was instituted in the area. Roy decided that he would take his stand to defend the liquor industry, even if it meant siding against even the beliefs of his fellow Klansmen. After all, Simmons himself enjoyed liquor. Roy wrote a letter to the editor of the Courier Journal, Louisvilles local newspaper:


To the Editor of the Courier-Journal,


For several weeks I have been reading articles in your paper relative to what Mr. Wilson did or did not say concerning prohibition. As to what he said then, I am not prepared to say. But I sincerely believe were he alive today, and would manifest that same degree of interest in the public welfare as these gentlemen aver he did when living, he certainly would not speak a single word in favor of the present status of the prohibition question.


I am a minster of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Have been for eighteen years. I am pastor of a church in this city. I do not use tobacco in any form, nor use strong drink. I have spoken thousands of times in the interest of the prohibition question. Now that I have had time to see its deviltry, its danger to the morals of young men and women, I must say that I am positively opposed to the present manner of dealing with the prohibition question.


The present arrangement of this question before the American people is dangerous to the morals of our young men and women; a breeder of lawlessness; a school to which the young and the old go to learn how to utterly disregard constituted authority it is a thief whose soft footfalls cannot be heard as he enters within the portals of the humble homes and robs that waiting mother and loving wife of the bare necessities of life; it is the emptier of the daily employees purse into the coffers of the murderous bootleggers all over the country.


In my own church in this city I have had to leave the pulpit to raise drunken men out of the laps of members of my congregations. I have had to take women drunken women by the arm in the presence of my congregation and lead them to seats. It is not an uncommon thing to see from one to half dozen drunks in my audience.


One may ask what kind of a community of believers have I. I am working in the midst of a neglected people in this city. You who are crying out ignorantly that prohibition is making the people better, and that there is less drinking now than when we had the open saloon, come with me almost any night of the week and Ill show you young boys and girls of the school age so drunk they cannot walk without assistance.


I believe in law and order. I believe we should have respect for constituted authority. But so long as I live, I shall never report a drunkard to the officers of the law, when they have better eyes than mine, and so long as the prohibition question remains in the disgraceful way it is now.


For the peace of this nation, this damnable curse should be abolished and inaugurated in its stead something reasonable to take its place. In the name and for the defense of the American youth I plead for something better than we have, and anything, in my estimation, would be better than this thing.


Louisville ROY E. DAVIS[181]


After writing the letter, Roy began preaching with anticipations of gaining a much larger crowd. In politically motivated sermons condemning the very negative effects that Prohibition had on the Louisville and Southern Indiana area, Davis started to attract new members. Local Baptist ministers wrote into the Louisville newspaper to protest, but did very little to hinder his success.[182] He was not the only one opposed to the liquor laws, and his message seemed to resonate, especially with the poor. Using his quick gains as a projection, Davis began planning on a strategy to grow his following and to have a place for them to gather. He started taking up collections to rent the Union Labor Temple in Louisville, a massive $350,000[183] complex with basement pool parlors, bowling alleys, swimming pool, gymnasium, shower baths, movie theater, libraries, recreation rooms, and more. The congregation willingly gave.

He also began collecting offerings for printing equipment. Describing the power of a publication in Louisville that spoke out against the corrupt government and prohibition, he was able to convince a number of people that he could make an impact on the community.

Influenced by Pentecostalism, Roy did not follow the doctrinal guidelines of Louisville Baptist ministers trained in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Baptizing his congregants according to the Assemblies of God formula of Jesus Only[184] instead of Trinitarian, Davis church was raising the eyebrows of the Baptist community. He quickly found the congregation did not grow as he had expected. Having collected the funds for the rental, he found that the crowd did not grow much larger than the Missionary Baptist church itself could already hold. Keeping all of the money, Roy decided to wait until the congregation had outgrown the small building. This did not sit well with the congregation, and Davis soon found the Louisville police at his door.

Roy Davis? The officer asked as Roy opened the door.

Speaking, Roy said, nervously. He suddenly began to tremble, mistakenly thinking that his affairs in Georgia and Tennessee had caught up with him.

You are under arrest for the defrauding of Mrs. Minnie Burgin.[185]

Under arrest! Roy exclaimed. Ive not mistreated Mrs. Minnie! Shes hardly been in my church for a few weeks, and outside of service, Ive never seen her. The officers were unsympathetic to his objections, and he soon found himself in the back of an automobile headed for the county jail.

In a series of trials that lasted almost thirty days, Roy was able to convince a jury that he meant no harm. The congregation willingly gave into the offering plate, and as a minister of the Gospel, this is how he made his living. Unaware of Daviss criminal past, the prosecuting attorney had very little to work with towards convincing the jury of any wrongdoing. Roy won the first of his battles in the area, but he knew more skirmishes were coming. Not only was his name in headlines for speaking against Prohibition, it was making headlines as a pastor swindling his congregation. Even though he won the battle through the legal system, he also knew that his brush with justice would attract unwanted attention.