Occasional Blog

This is where I say things that I need to say that I haven’t said elsewhere.

The Crowd in the Streets of Dallas

In the winter of 1910, Dallas was suffering a crime wave of purse snatchings and assaults. The police didn’t know how to stop it, and people were hungry for blame.

One night amid this crisis, a 68-year-old servant named Allen Brooks was discovered in a barn outside of town in the company of 3-year-old Ethel Huvens. The record doesn’t state they were doing anything more nefarious than playing patty cake, but Ethel had been missing, and Brooks was a black man. And then there was the matter of the blood smeared on her legs.

Fearing a mob, the authorities did the fair thing: They hid Brooks away for a week while they waited for his trial.

The day of Brooks’ hearing arrived. But the people of Dallas were enraged and turned against the police. Feeling terrorized by the crime wave, they blamed police for dragging their feet. They demanded action. In a building facing what is now Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, more than 70 officers were needed to escort him to a courtroom on the second floor.

Before Brooks could respond to the charges against him, the mob stormed the courthouse—snapping the heavy chains that had been strung across Grand Staircase to stop them. Furious citizens, insane with rage, filled the courtroom, heedless of the police’s shouts for them to stop, and found Brooks shielding himself in a corner.

They tied a rope around his neck. The other end of the rope was fed through a window to the braying throng below, which hoisted it until Brooks was dragged kicking and clawing across the courtroom floor. He jerked through the glass and was yanked headfirst to the sidewalk below.

If the fall killed him, we will never know for sure. Because once they had him, the stamping mob “crushed his face into a pulp,” as a bystander reported, and dragged his body for blocks down Main Street—past Market, past Lamar. They stopped by an arch at Akard Street that was left over from an Elks convention two years before. Never pausing, they hanged his body from a telephone pole. The cheers of 10,000 people rang through the streets of Dallas’ central business district.

This happened in nearly the exact same spot as what happened last night.

Estimated to number at least 3,000, now the mob was empowered. It surged back down Main Street to the jail, also on today’s Dealey Plaza. They seized steel rails to batter a path inside, braying for the execution of four more accused criminals, three black and one white.

“The firemen were called out and attempted to disperse the crowd with water,” reported The New York Times, “but the threat to lynch them caused a quick withdrawal. Then dynamite was displayed, and the word passed that the jail would be blown up if the garrison held out much longer.” Officers had just enough time to race the four prisoners to safety by automobile in Fort Worth.

Dallas was in shock over what it had done. The mayor had to close all 220 of its saloons and mobilize the Texas National Guard.

But the incident was made minor. Despite 10,000 witnesses, no one was charged with a single crime.

A photograph of the mob surrounding Brooks’ broken body, dangling in the middle distance from the telephone pole, became a popular postcard traded by white supremacists—postcards of negro murders were considered powerful declarations of warning by white nationalists.

Brooks’ lynching became not a lesson but a souvenir, yet despite the meaning of the word souvenir it was not remembered beyond its generation. Even now, few in Dallas would even believe it happened, that its people would be capable of such a thing. No one bothered to put up so much as a plaque.

“Man, you’re talking about the bloody teens and the bloody ’20s,” said Darwin Payne, a journalist who researched the Brooks lynching, to the Wilmington Morning Star in 1999. “This was home to Klan Chapter Number 66, the largest in the country.” Texas was, after all, a slaveholding state, and in 1860, a third of its population was in bondage, which is not something Texans generally brag about when they’re boasting about their ten-gallon heritage.

Years after the horror, in our own times. Payne made a terrible discovery. While digging around archives on the history of Dallas, he discovered one fact that had never surfaced: A professional enemy of Brooks’, a rival servant in the same house, privately admitted to smearing chicken blood on the child’s leg in a plot to trick police into believing his enemy had harmed her.

Beside the Old Red Courthouse, where the luckless Brooks was seized, Main Street folds into Dealey Plaza, and this is where, decades later, Senator John F. Kennedy arrived in Dallas with his running mate, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. They were greeted by a marching band and another Dallas crowd—this one not lusting for vengeance but cheering its welcome to the affable candidates.

They walked up Main Street, stopping by the place where Brooks’ mutilated corpse had hanged a half century before. Some of the older people had been in the crowd that awful day, too.

Today, Dallas was all smiles. Kennedy greeted them, drew a breath, and delivered a speech.

It was September 13, 1960. He would return to this place.

It happened in Dallas.

It happened in Dallas.

Why are there Confederate Flags in Times Square station?

Dixie on 42nd Street

Dixie on 42nd Street

If you doubt just how widespread the reach of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was (see yesterday’s post for that), go into any 42nd Street entrance at Times Square subway station, the nucleus of New York City’s transportation network, and look up.

The tile mosaic ceiling trim running throughout the concourse depicts, at regular intervals, a hanging Confederate battle flag.

Adolph S. Ochs, the publisher of the New York Times from 1896 to 1935, built the skyscraper over the station (which opened on the subway’s first day of service in 1904). He was one of the most powerful men in New York City, and also he happened to be the son of Bertha Levi Ochs, a Bavarian-born Jew, Confederate, and charter member of the UDC.

Bertha was once arrested for trying to smuggle drugs to Confederate soldiers in a baby carriage. In her later years, she vindicated herself by throwing herself into the UDC. She died in 1910, near the peak of the group’s powers in changing landscapes and textbooks alike, with full funeral honors from the group—she refused to allow her casket to be draped in the U.S. flag, insisting on the Stars and Bars.

The original color scheme, before restoration 20 years ago.

The original color scheme, before restoration 20 years ago.

In 1917, during an expansion of the station, the head architect, Squire J. Vickers, and his head tile man W. Herbert Dole, appear to have tried to please Ochs by embedding Confederate flags throughout the train station beneath the headquarters of New York’s “Gray Lady” newspaper.

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It’s gone over New Yorkers’ heads for decades.

The MTA objects a little too quickly to this discovery. “It is a geometric pattern, not a flag design, and has no reference to anything beyond a pattern,” said spokesman Kevin Ortiz. “Similar patterns in other palettes of colors are found in various subway stations.”

But despite its official protests, there is no way for the MTA to know for sure. Two years ago, I spent several hours going through the Vickers pages at the MTA’s archive in downtown Brooklyn, but neither Vickers nor Dole left behind any notes that hint at why the Confederate flag motif was chosen. The documentary evidence doesn’t support a definitive denial, but paying tribute to a moneyed patron has always been a solid reason.

It’s also said that when Ochs died in 1935, the UDC sent a pillow embroidered with the rebel flag to be placed in his coffin, sending the Confederate flag to lay beside the publisher of the New York Times for eternity.

What all of this means is that for a century, starting within living memory of the Civil War, a Rebel flag has flown proudly over the heads of unsuspecting Yankees.

Confederate flags in Times Square subway

Look up, Dixie Land.

Click here to read about another secret in plain sight in the Times Square subway station: the Knickerbocker Door.