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3 Key Moments In Dallas' Confederate History

Rick Holter/KERA News
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Dallas' Lee Park.

A statue of Robert E. Lee was at the center of the white supremacist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Cities across the U.S., including Dallas, are now renewing debate on what to do with existing Confederate memorials.

Historian Michael Phillips, author of the book "White Metropolis," breaks down some key moments leading up to the Civil War and the aftermath.

The Texas Troubles

In 1860, Dallas was a small town heavily dependent on cotton, and by extension, the slave economy. A fire that broke out on July 8 that year reduced much of downtown Dallas to ashes.

"There were all these paranoid rumors that slaves were plotting a rebellion," Phillips said. "There were a couple of Northern ministers accused of being abolitionists and supposedly they had spread abolitionist doctrine to the slaves."

Other fires that day burned half of Denton's town square and a store in Pilot Point, which led to a panic that became known as the "Texas Troubles."

Towns across North and East Texas formed vigilante committees to root out and end any sort of rebellion. The three slaves accused of starting the fire in Dallas were hanged. There were also mass whippings, and some estimate 117 people were murdered by lynch mobs. A year later, Texas decided to leave the Union and join the Confederacy.

The Monuments

The Confederate War Memorial near what is now the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center was erected in 1896. A statue depicting Confederate General Robert E. Lee was erected in Oak Lawn Park, which was also renamed Lee Park in 1936.

"Those decades happen to be the peak years in which poll taxes were implemented in Texas, Jim Crow laws were implemented, and that's when Texas ranked third in the Union in terms of number of lynchings," Phillips said.  "This [was] a peak time of racial oppression." 

From 1882 to 1930, lynch mobs killed 492 Texans, including 349 blacks.  

The Ku Klux Klan

The original Ku Klux Klan faded in the 1870s, but rose to power again in the 1920s.  

"Dallas had the largest [Ku Klux Klan] chapter when the Klan was reborn," Phillips said. "They used to have Klan Day at the State Fair [of Texas]. You used to get discounts if you showed up in your hood and sheet."

People in positions of authority, such as police officers, members of the Dallas Daily Times-Herald, and prominent businessmen were Klan members.

"The Klan completely ran the city," Phillips said. "This was definitely 'Klan Central.'"

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.