Analysis: The KKK once gathered at this Texas site. Decades later, it’s becoming a racial justice center named after a Black man who was lynched

Is it possible to create an impactful center for healing from a former site of White supremacy?

For a non-profit based in Fort Worth, Texas, the answer is yes.

Founded in 2019, Transform 1012 N. Main Street is attempting to perform a bit of alchemy: Instead of razing a former Ku Klux Klan hall, the organization is converting it into a cultural hub and arts center. The new structure will direct resources toward groups previously targeted by the Klan, including Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic and LGBTQ communities.

Almost a century ago, the site was an edifice dedicated to hate. In the next couple years, it’ll provide services for underserved young adults and exhibit spaces centered on civil rights, among other things.

Or think of it like this: The reimagined area will offer a necessary and joyous haven for those US society has long kept on the fringes, and will be named after Fred Rouse, a Black man who in 1921 was lynched nearby following a union dispute.

“I don’t think that there could be another project that would be more meaningful,” 95-year-old Dr. Opal Lee, a founding member of the Transform 1012 board, told CNN.

Lee’s work with the non-profit harmonizes with her lifelong commitment to racial justice. The activist spent decades campaigning for Juneteenth to become a federally recognized holiday. Her efforts paid off in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

“The climate is right,” Lee added. “People are willing to be a part of doing something about our past — learning from it instead of letting it overwhelm them, and making sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Revisiting the past

Close to 100 years ago, 1012 N. Main Street — then 1006 N. Main Street — was the location of the Ku Klux Klan Klavern No. 101 Auditorium.

Opened in 1924, the building was destroyed by a fire but swiftly restored in 1925. The 22,000-square-foot hall could hold some 2,000 people, and it was designed to be a space where the klavern — a local unit of the Klan — could practice marches and perform minstrel shows.

The auditorium was designed for another purpose, too: to terrorize.

At the time, Fort Worth had a large number of Klan members, and the auditorium became the Klan’s headquarters in Texas. The towering building was meant to strike with fear Black, Hispanic and other marginalized residents passing through the city center.

It’s worth remembering that this was, as the historian Linda Gordon lays out in her 2017 book, the era of the second Klan, when the group’s members jettisoned the more covert vigilantism of the past and worked in the open, taking aim at a variety of supposed enemies.

“Unlike the first Klan, which operated mainly at night, meeting in hard-to-find locations, the second operated in daylight and organized mass public events. Never a secret organization, it published recruiting ads in newspapers, its members boasted their affiliation and it elected hundreds of its members to public office,” she writes. “Most important, the 1920s Klan’s program was embraced by millions who were not members, possibly even a majority of Americans.”

Over the decades, the building was repurposed a number of times. For instance, in 1927, it was sold to the Leonard Brothers Department Store, and by 1929, it was a dance venue. In 1946, the Ellis Pecan Company secured it for use as a warehouse.

In 2018, Adam W. McKinney, the co-founder of the Fort Worth-based arts and service organization DNAWORKS, was exploring the story of Fred Rouse, a Black butcher whom a White mob lynched near 1012 N. Main Street in 1921, when the dancer learned about the auditorium — that the structure was still standing.

From that moment on, McKinney and his fellow DNAWORKS co-founder, Daniel Banks, knew that something had to be done with the building.

‘We need something like this here’

But McKinney and Banks couldn’t do it alone. They met with Carlos Flores, a city councilmember for District 2, where the building sits.

“We discussed the needs of his district. We were still relatively new to Fort Worth, so we knew that this couldn’t be a DNAWORKS-only project,” Banks told CNN. “This had to be a citywide project. This had to belong to Fort Worthians. So, we began mapping out potential strong partners for a coalition that would work together to save the building.”

Inspired by their previous racial justice work, McKinney and Banks knew that they wanted the project not only to return resources to the communities most affected by the Klan’s activities but also to be led by members of those groups. In 2019, they helped to establish Transform 1012 N. Main Street, whose founding board consists of eight organizations representing the groups the Klan used to attack; Rouse’s grandson is an additional member, representing the family.

The non-profit’s aim is to turn the onetime Ku Klux Klan Klavern No. 101 Auditorium into the Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing.

“I was born in Mexico, but I was raised in Fort Worth. I grew up just a couple blocks from the building,” said Román Ramírez, the co-director of SOL Ballet Folklórico. “The building is at the entrance of the Northside community, which is a heavily Hispanic community and where our dance company is housed.”

He said that when DNAWORKS invited SOL Ballet Folklórico to participate in the project, it felt like fate.

“Every time Freddy Cantú — the other co-director — and I would walk or drive by the building, we would say, ‘Just imagine that being a theater,’ because there’s a shortage of theaters in Fort Worth,” Ramírez went on. “Every time we passed the building, it was like, ‘Imagine, imagine, imagine.’ And here we are today. The building’s going to do wonders for Fort Worth.”

Sharon Herrera, the executive director and founder of LGBTQ SAVES, which also is part of the Transform 1012 coalition, echoed some of Ramírez’s sentiments, and she underscored how necessary it is for the city to have a kind of haven for queer youth.

“I’ve always said that we’re one of the largest cities in the country but don’t have a resource center for LGBTQ youth. And our youth need a home,” she told CNN. “What could be better than a place where all the organizations are accepting and affirming of LGBTQ youth?”

Herrera said that she attempted suicide when she was 16 years old, and that she doesn’t want another child to think that suicide is the answer.

“That’s why this project is so important to me. It’s not only my organization in this building. Other organizations are going to support LGBTQ youth,” she added. “We need something like this here.”

The efforts of Transform 1012 might bring to mind the deeper question of what makes a center for reconciliation or a memorial truly effective.

“The people who were negatively affected by a particular event should be involved. If a site reflects the people being honored and their wishes, you’re much more likely to make an impact,” Claire Greenstein, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said last November.

“Acknowledging racial injustice and allowing the people who were affected to reclaim a space in a way that reflects their agency and their resistance by amplifying their voices rather than those of the perpetrators — all that’s hugely meaningful,” she continued.

Greenstein was talking about the Echo Project, which is converting the structure that in the 1990s and through the first decade of the 2000s housed “the world’s only Klan museum” into a site of remembrance and healing. But her analysis could easily apply to Transform 1012, too.

At a moment when the facts of history are under siege, Transform 1012 seeks a means of confronting the past without necessarily re-inflicting its many traumas.

“We want to link arms and repurpose the building,” Banks said. “We believe that the only way to create a truthful society is to shine a light on its dark periods. We can’t ignore them. Sweeping them under the carpet doesn’t make the pain go away. And it doesn’t prevent violence from happening again.”

How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-271-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

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