by Adam W. McKinney
There. Is. No. Such. Thing. As. Race.
Race. Is. An. Invention.
Racism. Is. Real.
Racially motivated anti-Black violence perpetuated by the externally enforced policing of our lives is no match for our inherent power, connection, and humanity.
Like the Sankofa, the Ghanaian Adinkra bird symbol whose body and feet face forward with its head turned in the opposite direction to look back, we must “go back and get it.” And by “it,” I think the ancestors mean “history” in hopes of better understanding our present in order to create the world we want.
I live in Fort Worth, TX, which had perhaps one of the largest, proudest, most vibrant, and most robust Ku Klux Klan (KKK) memberships in the United States in 1920s. One hundred years later, the ideologies of hate, threat of violence, aggression, xenophobia, and anti-Black racism are woven into the very fabric of our cultural identities as Fort Worth, TX residents.
I think about the historical connections between law enforcement and the surveillance of Black people. I am reminded of how the police have racially profiled all of my immediate Black family members—myself included; I was once wrongly accused of robbing a bank complete with several police officers drawing guns on me. I am aware that these incidents are neither isolated nor rare. Almost every Black person I know has a similar story of being criminalized for no other reason than being Black. These traumatic experiences have become part of our collective group consciousness.
I think about Ms. Atatiana Jefferson of Fort Worth, TX, who lived 4.6 miles from me. She was murdered by Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean when he opened fire on her body and home after a neighbor called Fort Worth Police Department for a “welfare check.”
I think about Mr. Fred Rouse who was lynched in Fort Worth, TX on December 11, 1921 by a mob of White men. Mr. Rouse was a non-union strikebreaker who worked for Swift & Company Meatpacking Plant in the Fort Worth Stockyards. When leaving work on Tuesday December 6, 1921, Mr. Rouse was threatened and accosted by strike agitators. Mr. Rouse was shoved, then stabbed. As he defended himself from the crowd, a violent struggle ensued and two agitators were shot. The White mob began to beat and bludgeon Mr. Rouse with a streetcar guardrail. With his skull fractured in two places, internal injuries, and several stab wounds, Mr. Rouse was left for dead in the middle of Exchange Avenue. Police officers placed Mr. Rouse’s body in the back of their car. On the way to the mortuary, realizing that he was still alive, they drove him to City & County Hospital. He was kidnapped from there on December 11, and, twenty minutes later, he was hanged from a hackberry tree and riddled with bullets. The White mob left a bloody pistol under his feet. Six White men were charged in the murder of Mr. Rouse, three of whom were law enforcement officers, at least one of whom was known to be a member of the KKK. All went free. No one was ever held responsible for the murder of Mr. Rouse.
Mr. Rouse’s story reminds us that perpetrators of racial terror violence were/are often members (or admirers) of local law enforcement and the KKK. There is a clear, White supremacist, patterned connection between the enforcement of laws that are meant to protect and secure Whiteness, and that, simultaneously, control and criminalize Blackness.
As a Black artist and educator, I have been working to put back together the pieces of history connected to the lynching of Mr. Fred Rouse. Because I could locate no photographs of Mr. Rouse, I have chosen to use my body as the canvas on which to remember and localize his experiences. I collaborated with Diné photographer and artist Will Wilson to create tintype photographs of me standing as Mr. Rouse in the traumatic sites associated with his murder. Will and I use tintype photography to confuse the viewer and perplex the notion of historical and contemporary violences against Black people.
The KKK in Fort Worth, TX first organized themselves in October 1916 when the second iteration of the KKK rose to power in the 1920s. The “second Klan” was more public and visible in their racist practices. KKK membership was akin to membership in any other popular, social, fraternal group similar to the Elks or Freemasons. The promise and admiration of belonging to a community seemed to attract people from all walks of life, as long as they were White and Protestant. Affiliation in this way was an honor and a status symbol. One was required to pay dues and purchase a uniform (satin for women), participate in very particular choreography in meetings and public gatherings, and memorize passages from the Kloran, the KKK handbook that detailed ceremonies, and outlined hierarchical roles and group rules. There were many, many public KKK chapters across Texas, most for men, some for women, and even some for children. Many adult male members held prominent positions in the community, including in politics, religion, law, business, medicine, finance, education, and law enforcement. Fort Worth, TX, in particular, had several auxiliary chapters and a main chapter known as KKK Klavern No. 101, which was one of the largest, if not the largest Klaverns in the United States at that time.
In 1925, after its first auditorium burned due to a mysterious electrical fire (or a firebomb thrown from an airplane—no one quite knows), KKK Klavern no. 101 built an even larger, more magnificent, looming auditorium to seat upwards of 2,000 people for meetings, rallies, initiations, and performances (including one by Harry Houdini who, in the auditorium, asked, “Can the dead speak to the living?”). At the time it was built, KKK Klavern no. 101 auditorium was one of the largest buildings in Fort Worth, TX. Strategically built between downtown Fort Worth and the Northside (where many Black and Latinx folks lived), the monolith was a daily reminder of degradation and disempowerment; the looming edifice was yet another form of policing people’s emotions, movements, and behaviors.
The “second Klan” began to lose local and national popularity just before the onset of the Great Depression. By 1927, KKK Klavern No. 101 membership dwindled. They sold the building to the Leonard Brothers Department Store as a warehouse. By 1929, the building was known as “North Main St. Auditorium” out of which held dance marathons and wrestling matches. In 1947, Ellis Pecan Company purchased the building as a pecan shelling factory. In 1999, the building was left derelict and, in 2004, was purchased by Sugarplum Holdings, L.P. to be used as the rehearsal studios for Texas Ballet Theatre. The building, however, was never occupied and has remained empty since then, except as provisional, unofficial shelter for some of Fort Worth’s houseless population.
Serendipitously, in June 2019, while taking the tintype photographs with Will Wilson in front of the building, my husband and co-director of DNAWORKS, Daniel Banks, and I learned of the building owners’ application for a City of Fort Worth Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission (HCLC) Certificate of Appropriateness for demolition. In that moment, Daniel and I were reminded of the important message of the Sankofa—“go back and get it.” We thought that there might be a way to transform our city’s historical and contemporary racist realities by transforming this historically racist space. Daniel and I decided to move forward in working to acquire the building and called the project “Transform 1012 N. Main Street.”
At a July 2019 City of Fort Worth HCLC hearing, I spoke in support of delaying the demolition of 1012 N. Main Street alongside several others, including Daniel. The HCLC granted a 180-day stay of demolition (the longest allowed), which expired January 4, 2020. In the last eight months, Daniel and I have organized six other local organizations who are committed to working together to acquire the building and transform it into an international center and museum for arts and community healing to be named after Mr. Fred Rouse.
The “1012 Leadership Coalition” models a pluri-cultural and shared leadership approach to securing, programming, and managing the space. The Coalition ensures that the building will be led by representatives of the cultural groups that were, and still are, targeted by the KKK, thereby returning resources to the communities who suffer/ed at their hands. In so doing, we also bring together groups of people in Fort Worth that are systemically isolated. Specifically, we represent African American, Hispanx, Jewish, immigrant, LGBTQ+, and Catholic populations. The goals with “Transform 1012 N. Main St.” are to:
- “Reassemble” the city by returning power to groups targeted for oppression.
- Make 1012 N. Main Street a site of memory, a place for the whole city to come together to wrestle with our history and build a collective way forward.
Our vision for “Transform 1012 N. Main Street” includes spaces for:
- Artist live/work spaces.
- A marketplace to help alleviate Northside food deserts while providing farmers, artisans, and small businesses incubator services.
- Meeting spaces for racial equity and leadership trainings.
- Museum and exhibit spaces dedicated to racial, economic, gender justice, and civil rights, to work in concert with the local school district.
- A performance space for local and touring artists, especially culturally-specific and social justice-oriented groups.
- A tool and equipment library with DIY classes and workspaces.
- Youth arts training and programming, including mentorship and performance opportunities for early career performing artists.
Our goal with “Transform 1012 N. Main Street” is to re-member—to literally and figuratively put back together the pieces of history to:
- Design community-driven sustainable healing processes.
- Never forget that the KKK was a powerful force in our city.
- Never forget the lynching of Fred Rouse.
- Notice that we can heal from the vestiges of trauma instituted by systemic racism.
- Place People of Color at the center of all components of the vision for 1012 N. Main Street.
- Recognize history and tell the truth.
- Transform racism by transforming 1012 N. Main St.
While the majority of local, national, and international responses have been positive, we are very much aware of those who consider the idea of preserving 1012 N. Main Street painful. We are also aware that our country is on the heels of “The Summer of Hate” and in the midst of reconciling our racist and Confederate histories.
We are pleased to be working with MASS Design Group, who created the design for Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. MASS Design Group is creating a design for our vision and is acting as the project’s fiscal sponsor. Additionally, we are working with the Projects Group Fort Worth who is overseeing the management of the project.
With “Transform 1012 N. Main Street,” we contextualize our connections to history and to racist, civic spaces. It is our goal that no one leaves the building unchanged and without learning something new about Fort Worth, its residents, and its history.
In conclusion, I offer words I shared at the City of Fort Worth Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission hearing on July 9, 2019.
As a city, we need to harness this particular moment in time to turn this building into a jewel of Fort Worth, as opposed to demolishing a building with a very troubled past. I believe that it behooves us a city to be the national and global frontrunner of civic transformation and mobilization in this way.
Given the application for the certificate of appropriateness, I suggest that the demolition of the building at 1012 N. Main Street be deemed “inappropriate” because it means that a history of violence will be forgotten. And when we forget to remember, it allows for the possibility of violence to be reconstructed and repeated.
To learn more about “Transform 1012 N. Main Street,” please visit its Facebook page and http://www.dnaworks.org.
Adam W. McKinney is a QueerBlackNativeJew. He is a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater among other prestigious dance companies. He has led dance work with diverse populations across the U.S. and in 17 countries. Named one of the most influential African Americans in Milwaukee, WI by St. Vincent DePaul, McKinney is the co-director of DNAWORKS, an arts and service organization committed to healing through the arts and dialogue. An Assistant Professor of Dance, McKinney holds a BFA in Dance Performance with high honors (Butler University) and an MA in Dance Studies with concentrations in Race and Trauma theories (NYU-Gallatin).
“Good Deeds by Day, Dark Deeds by Night: The Ku Klux Klan in Fort Worth.” Hometown by Handlebar, hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=12678.
“White Supremacist Infiltration of US Police Forces: Fact-Checking National Security Advisor O’Brien.” Just Security, 1 Jun. 2020, http://www.justsecurity.org/70507/white-supremacist-infiltration-of-us-police-forces-fact-checking-national-security-advisor-obrien/.
Banks, Daniel. 1012 N. Main Street Prospectus. 1 Aug. 2020, madmimi.com/s/246e6f.
Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. Liveright Publishing Corporation, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Hassett-Walker, Connie. “The Racist Roots of American Policing: From Slave Patrols to Traffic Stops.” The Conversation, 8 June 2020, theconversation.com/the-racist-roots-of-american-policing-from-slave-patrols-to-traffic-stops-112816.
Winkle, Timothy. “When Watchmen Were Klansmen.” National Museum of American History, 29 May 2020, americanhistory.si.edu/blog/watchmen.
NEW! – Biography