Cities across the country are taking down Confederate monuments, which stand as a daily reminder of the country’s racist roots. But when it comes to dismantling lingering symbols of white supremacy, Texan artists and other organizers are taking a different approach: They’re reclaiming and repurposing a building once used by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
A group calling itself Transform 1012 N. Main Street (T1012)—a name that incorporates the fraught structure’s address—raised enough money through donations and grants to buy one of the oldest purpose-built KKK headquarters in the country.
Located about a mile northwest of downtown Fort Worth, the 20,000-square-foot building—once named Ku Klux Klan Klavern 101—hosted minstrel shows, marching practice and other KKK events in the mid to late 1920s. Now, local artists and social justice leaders are working to transform the massive space into a community center and arts hub they hope will inspire moments of “truth-telling and healing,” per the group’s website.
The initiative began when Adam W. McKinney began researching the murder of Fred Rouse, a Black butcher lynched by a white mob in Fort Worth in 1921. McKinney, a dance professor and classically trained ballet dancer, learned about the hate group’s former headquarters in Fort Worth and discovered that it was still standing.
McKinney and his partner Daniel Banks, who co-founded the DNAWORKS arts and service organization, saw an opportunity to breathe new, productive life into a building that once housed so much hate.
“We intuitively understood the power of transforming a monument to hate and violence into a space for reparative justice,” Banks tells Hyperallergic’s Elaine Velie.
Not long after the pair began to envision new uses for the site, its owners applied for permission to demolish it. But the city’s guidelines required them to explore other alternatives first, giving McKinney and Banks a chance to try to save the dilapidated structure. In the end, eight community groups banded together to raise money to buy the building. This January, they succeeded.
The structure is in rough shape, so crews will need to do major renovations, but the groups hope to someday reopen it as the Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing, named for the murdered Black butcher who inspired the initiative.
“We believed, and still believe, it is inappropriate to demolish the building because we felt that a history of pertaining to racism, racial terror violence, and white supremacy would be lost,” McKinney tells ARTnews’ Tessa Solomon. “In so doing, the reoccurrence would be that much more easily reproducible.”
Originally constructed in 1924, with an auditorium large enough to accommodate some 2,000 people, the brick building was “yet another form of policing behavior, movement and culture” and showed “how architecture is capable of violence,” according to T1012’s website. It stood in a neighborhood that Fort Worth’s Black, Hispanic and immigrant residents had to pass through on their way to and from downtown and, according to T1012, was located there specifically to intimidate the city’s minorities. At the time, Fort Worth had one of the largest KKK memberships in the country.
After a fire damaged the building in 1925, the Klan rebuilt it. Two years later, they sold it. Over the years, it served as a department store, a concert hall, a wrestling arena, a pecan warehouse and a ballet rehearsal space.
The very people the Klan once terrorized—Fort Worth’s Black, Catholic, Hispanic, immigrant, Jewish and LGBTQ+ residents, among others—will now organize the new space’s events and programming. The center will feature a small business incubator and a makerspace, plus living and working spaces for artists-in-residence; it will also host performances, racial equity workshops and civil rights exhibitions, per Hyperallergic.
“How inspiring it will be for one of my students to look up and see a ballet class or look and see art displayed, it can open their minds to show them that they can do that,” Román Ramírez, co-director of one of the project’s partner organizations, Mexican folk dance company SOL Ballet Folklórico, tells ARTnews.
In the seemingly black-and-white battle over whether to demolish racist landmarks completely or leave them standing as-is, T1012 is charting a different path forward. As Karen Attiah writes in the Washington Post, “fighting and healing from white supremacy can also be about resource redirection toward harmed communities and their present-day needs.”