Reviews | Can this former KKK building in Fort Worth become a place of healing?
Then came several months of contact with the owners – until Banks, a “once every two months” Twitter user, received an alert as he and McKinney toured the building. It was historic Fort Worth. He informed them that the owners had requested permission to demolish the structure.
“I didn’t know if it was cosmic serendipity or if I was delusional,” McKinney told me.
The rest, so to speak, is history.
At a time when the country is rightly under pressure to unearth its brutal past, it’s shocking to realize just how much of Texas’ historic cruelties have lurked in plain sight from the start.
As a Dallas native, little did I know that I grew up just 40 minutes from one of the oldest purpose-built KKK headquarters in the United States.
Nearly 100 years ago, Ku Klux Klan Klavern 101 – a Klavern was a local unit of the KKK – built the hall as a space for marching practice, minstrel shows and other events. The auditorium could hold about 2,000 people. The ground floor alone is 22,000 square feet.
Over time, the building’s racist beginnings faded. In 1925 it burned down, though the Klan quickly rebuilt. But in 1927, he was sold to the Leonard Brothers department store, and after that it was used as an auditorium and dance hall. In the 1940s, the Ellis Pecan Company purchased it for use as a warehouse. In 2004 it was acquired by an entity called Sugarplum Holdings, and the venue, despite its past, is attracting interest from performers and arts groups; the Texas Ballet Theater at one point became interested in the rehearsal space.
I visited the building this winter. The roof is falling apart and a door has been kicked in, allowing me to peek inside. There were clear signs that the homeless had taken refuge there. I was also struck by the graffiti, I even found them beautiful – it was a sign that a new colorful energy could emerge from the residues of hatred.
This is where McKinney, Banks and DNAWORKS come in.
This fortuitous text two years ago sparked an epic reorientation. According to city rules, the owners of the building had to explore options other than demolition with the community. Banks and McKinney got to work organizing meetings and garnering support, eventually teaming up with eight other nonprofits representing groups formerly targeted by KKK hate.
With grants and donations, the coalition, which calls itself Transform 1012 N. Main Street, purchased the venue in January.
According to local historian Richard Selcer, there is little evidence that any violence or gatherings took place inside the hall itself. But the massive stage inside is a reminder of how art production, including dance and choreography, was integral to the Klan’s dual need to foster belonging to its ranks and project strength.
The hope is that black dancers such as McKinney, as well as dancers from SOL Ballet Folklorico, will use the space for dance, for resistance, for art. But it will not be a question of romanticizing the pain. “As artists, our goal is never to retraumatize, because that leaves us powerless,” McKinney told me. “We want to activate the change.”
For now, the coalition is focused on fundraising to stabilize the building and begin work. They plan to name the eventual arts center after Fred Rouse, the butcher who was lynched 101 years ago.
All of this begs a deep question: Is removing white supremacist symbols the way to healing?
Texas removed 15 Confederacy monuments last year, including renaming schools and roads, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. On the other side, there are those who argue that removing symbols – even those intended to glorify white supremacy – is tantamount to erasing history.
We know both of these views, but Transform 1012 points to a third: Fighting and healing white supremacy can also be about redirecting resources to aggrieved communities and their current needs.
Transform 1012’s efforts show what’s really at stake in these tussles. Who can write America’s history? Once-targeted groups in America are demanding a say in how history and memory are shaped. And we should let artists, dancers and poets help lead the way.