Today I make a nomination for Worst Mayor of Dallas Ever: John Henry Brown. I actually don’t know much about his term as mayor (1885-1889), but he’d already had a long and storied evil career by then.
“[A]malgamation of the white with the black race, inevitably leads to disease, decline and death,” he wrote in 1857, when he was a state legislator from Galveston. At the time he chaired the House Committee on Slaves and Slavery, and he was making a proposal that proved too radical for even that committee. Arguing that Africans had been “indisputably adapted by nature to the condition of servitude,” Brown proposed a legislative resolution calling for the rebirth of the African slave trade. (It had been banned in 1808, even though slavery was still legal.) The committee rejected the notion.
In 1860, with abolitionist fervor rising (particularly in parts of North Texas that didn’t grow as much cotton), Brown told Texans to “whip no abolitionist, drive off no abolitionist — hang them, or let them alone.” And after the Civil War, rather than stay in a Union-controlled Texas, he ran away to Mexico like a little punk.
John Henry Brown: A little punk.
There used to be an elementary school in Dallas named for him. In the segregation era, it was a whites-only school; when the children of Elmer Hurdle — a black man who lived half a block from John Henry Brown Elementary — were told they couldn’t attend there, they became plaintiffs in the first Dallas school-desegregation lawsuit. (It was dismissed four days later, in 1955; Dallas didn’t really desegregate for many years after that.)
As time moved on, the school’s student body shifted to being 98 percent minority, which created a bit of dissonance with Brown’s little punk past. But in 1999, the Dallas school board changed its namesake to Dr. Billy E. Dade, a Dallas teacher, principal, and college professor.
Wow, what a reversal North Texas would make over the years. I guess all the abolitionists moved to Kansas since Dallas would become the center of the KKK in Texas and America by the 1920s. Between 1922 and 1924 the Klan controlled every elective office in Dallas, in both city and county government.
I nominate Laura Miller. For it was under her watch that city hall announced plans for the Mavericks victory parade after game 2 of the NBA Finals, thus jinxing the Mavs for all eternity. She also killed Kennedy.
The Klan certainly played a big role in 1920s Dallas -- as it did in a bunch of other places, since roughly 15% of the eligible adult population was a KKK member -- but I think it's an overstatement to call Dallas the center of the Klan in America. It was never as strong here as it was in, say, Indiana, where the governor was a Klansman.
Here's a good article on the Texas Klan in those days.
For what it's worth, my employer fought the Klan's influence pretty forcefully back in the '20s.
Joshua Benton is the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, among other things. Before that, he was a staff writer and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. (More.)
Any opinions expressed here are solely mine, and not those of my employer. In many cases, they may not even be mine.