The Historical Truths of Lynching, Racism, and the KKK in Grand Saline

A lot of you have opinions about me and my views of race in contemporary America. I know this. I have been very public about my research on race, Charles Moore, and Grand Saline, and this has caused me to lose friends from my hometown and have people attack me publicly. Though that hurts me on a personal level, I understand it. Many feel that I am defaming my hometown or calling everyone there a racist. Please believe that I am not trying to do that. Rather, I am trying to write about what I know to be true. To some, I must come off as some liberal, ivory-tower researcher who many have dubbed as “knowing nothing about the real world.” I get it. I think I actually know a lot about the real world, but I get it.

I have reached a point in my research that I think it would be a good time to come forth with some of my findings, not as a way to “defame” the town or create more arguments among my friends, but to show some of you what I have found. And I think some of you will actually be surprised. In the sections that follow, I will analyze the three most told legends of Grand Saline regarding the sundown sign, the KKK and Clark’s Ferry, and Poletown. I will try to cite each source from my material for you to investigate on your own, but I urge each each of you to read this all the way through.

So here it goes. Here are the historical truths of race/racism in Grand Saline.

sundown towns

“The Sundown Sign”— James Loewen, a renowned sociologist and historian, has collated some oral evidence to suggest Grand Saline did have sundown signs. He has collected various oral evidence to make this claim on his larger project and labelled the town as such in his book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. His collected evidence can be seen here:

Other articles, such as Richard Stewart’s article on Grand Saline and segregation in the Houston Chronicle, analyzes how some of these legends. He writes halfway through the article, “Grand Saline’s reputation for racial intolerance is rooted in stories — denied by many local residents — of lynchings of blacks who stayed in the town past sundown.” He also quotes a few current residents who state the town did actually have these signs. His research can be found here:

“The KKK in Grand Saline”— There is more historical evidence of the KKK existing in Grand Saline than people give credit to. In a historical project of Jordan’s Saline, the previous name of Grand Saline, Milda Mason, accompanied by researchers Ruby Wallace and Elvis Allen, states that the KKK has a “large encampment of men” outside of town in the late-1800s and terrorized the people of town and that they often controlled much of the culture of town. Her research can be found here:

Margaret Elizabeth Hill’s book, A History of Van Zandt County, backs up these claims and even states that the KKK killed many men (black and white) during this time. On one occasion, she writes, the KKK “repeatedly shot five Negroes and dumped their bodies in a Canton street.” She states another incident in which the KKK found out that a local white man spoke at black assembly. The KKK captured him and “displayed his head on a pole along the roadside.”

Of course, most historical work on the town agrees the KKK was active in the Reconstruction period of town, but many question the KKK’s influence afterwards, especially leading into the years in the post-Civil Rights 1970s. Both Stewart’s article and Suzanne Gamboa’s 1994 piece on race in Grand Saline, both cite residents who claim they have seen the KKK at Clark’s Ferry or even show that some people in town road around with KKK bumper stickers on their car. From this research in the early-1990s, over twenty years ago, it seems the legends of the KKK have captivated the town for quite some time and was even a part of normative culture of one point (since the town had KKK sympathizers who felt they could put these stickers on the cars and feel safe).

Statesman GS Article 4

“Lynchings at Poletown”— The story of Poletown revolves around legends of Grand Saline residents and the KKK lynching people at these sites. Hill’s book, stated above, reports at least one incident of this. Mason’s research, also shared above, does the same. Much of the stories of lynchings stem from oral legends, told from one another in passing. Several current and former residents of Grand Saline tell me they quite vividly remember the stories of Poletown, but none of them can trace back the origins of these stories.

Out of all the hours of research, searching the internet, digging around archives, and scrolling through newspaper microfilm, I have only been able to find a limited amount of evidence talking about race in Grand Saline that I have stated above. For a town that many would state has a rich history or folklore of race and racism, you would think more research on this subject would exist. But there doesn’t seem to be much.

Statesman GS Article 5


The truth is we don’t know much truth about racism in Grand Saline. The truth is we may never know much more than we do now. From all the research I have conducted, the interviews, archival work, and newspaper clippings, the history of Grand Saline’s racism does not seem exceptional. They seem to be similar to most towns in the south via pre-Civil Rights. And I can’t help but feel happy to be able to say this.

But a deeper truth lies within Grand Saline, one ultimately darker than their history. If Grand Saline was not exceptionally racist, if the town never took part in these lynchings or hosted KKK meetings, then why do many town residents tell stories of these legends? Why are these legends in the first place? I contend the heart of Grand Saline’s legacy does not exist actually within the truth of their history; rather, it exists within the perception of the town’s residents. And for most of my adolescent years growing up in Grand Saline, I knew the stories of Clark’s Ferry, Poletown, and the sundown town to be true because everyone told them as truth. All of my friends and peers told them as truth. Someone had to tell them these stories as truth. And over the years, likely multiple decades, stories and legends that contain little historical evidence became truth.

As a scholar interested in rhetoric, race, and perception, I would be less intrigued with my hometown if it had a long history of racism. But the perception of the town now as racist, by some residents and by many outsiders, tells me more about how Grand Saline’s folklore persuade people. Sometimes truth doesn’t have to be historical; it can be perceived. And for the residents of Grand Saline and the town’s culture, they have a perception problem, one that still looms in the present. One that will never go away unless they consciously, explicitly attempt to eradicate it.

Michael Hall, the writer for Texas Monthly who wrote a biography on Charles Moore, also searched for history on Grand Saline and race and came up empty handed. He told me in an interview, “Usually when you see smoke, you find fire nearby. But I was not able to find that fire.” Like me, Hall had also heard many legends of Grand Saline and believed the town had a rich history of racism. But little historical evidence shows this. Hall and I both agree on this.

The fire we were searching for disguised itself as history when really it was perception and culture. Thus, as the history of Grand Saline’s racism wanes to lack of findings in recorded evidence, its perception continues on in an unrelenting, burning flame.


32 thoughts on “The Historical Truths of Lynching, Racism, and the KKK in Grand Saline

  1. when I moved there around 1999 students at school were bragging about how racist the town was. I even heard a rumor that G.S. made it onto 20/20 for being in the top 20 of America’s most racist cities. I wasn’t there 7 days before I heard about pole town and why people called it that. I never really saw any acts of racism besides the use of derogatory words toward black people. Interesting that these stories are still told and that it’s hard to find evidence. Racism can lay in the hearts and minds of the people even though they may never act on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am a 71 year old born and raised till 18 in Grand Saline … my buddy and I were exploring on a ranch that was north of hwy 80 and came upon a hidden cemetery of what appeared to to black graves … some with make shift stones and some with just rotting wood for all these years I believe these are from the era of Kkk and hangings. This location was maybe 2-3 miles from pole town and was grown up near a very small creek anyone ever hear of this ?


  2. I started kindergarten.In gs and still live in the area. The town was very racist when I was growing up. Even though the town has Chilled out some it still has some issues with racism.


  3. I lived in GS from birth until high school graduation. I have a degree in history from Texas A&M. One of my projects was to research local history. I researched GS and could not find evidence of the KKK. The only hanging was a white doctor charged with stealing horses. As for the sign I could not find any evidence of it in GS; however it is rumored to have been posted in Greenville in the 1930’s -1960’s


  4. Most of the racist history of Grand Saline is, well, off the books. Back in the old days, there were most assuredly lynchings, but as time moved on the locals became more subtle in their doings. Locals didn’t get strung up as they might once have; instead, they just disappear.


    1. Dear “Nobody in Particular [I do realize you left your note over three years ago]:

      Your note perpetuates a modern myth… with the help of the Internet – the oracle of all knowledge (not)…. The ” back in the ‘old’ days” you anonymously speak of with your vague, ambiguous references, the heyday of which occurred perhaps 80 to 150 years ago from 1876 to the late 1930s. A period when intimidation and lynchings of blacks (African-Americans) with the KKK running rampant in the South was actually happening – I submit you never have seen this. The elderly African-Americans interviewed had never seen it. By their own testimony, this oral history was passed to them by their parents. In much the same way, Mr. Sanchez infers that racism is handed down by the white people of G.S. If in the 1940s or 1950s, heck even in the 1920s or 1930s, Grand Saline had a “sundown” sign, surely ONE photo would have survived – there is not one except for the photo-shopped one appearing above. And yes, I have just watched Mr. Sanchez’ documentary on PBS. I would give the documentary a C+ at best because it appears to have a conclusion in mind from the beginning that the people of G.S. are racist and rumors and myths of the current day reflect a current reality of racism there. There are other explanations to almost every question postulated by Mr. Sanchez and he barely, if at all, considers any of those – that is what disappoints me in his documentary – along with, in my opinion, to much “dramatic license” taken by the film producer surrounding the suicide of Rev. Moore, and the basic underlying supposition Mr. Sanchez presents that because Rev. Moore took his own life that there must be racism, somehow, somewhere, in present day Grand Saline…..


  5. I know the lynching and hanging happened. Two former law enforcement officials who were family members both told me the stories and showed proof of it happening.


  6. I lived in Edgewood at various times, West of Grand Saline about ten miles on highway 80. I have an interesting story from a black Dallas policeman and Grand Saline I can share with you, if interested. Edgewood seemed a bit of a contrast with Grand Saline. The schools were integrated before the 1953 (I think) Supreme Court decision, partly because it was a poor town. Edgewood has had a black police chief, and in the early 90’s a black mayor. My former father-in-law’s ( he’s now deceased) parents sharecropped a farm there. He went to A&M corps and joined the military. Although quite conservative and against marriage between the races, he made donation to a black church there. I am a retired English prof from Texas A&M sitting at the moment in a coffee shop in Santa Fe. I want to thank you for your research. There story was that a “hanging tree” existed on the south end of Edgewood. I drove by it a few times but don’t recall where exactly it was. In the late 80’s some interracial data was going on but the rock and roll music hippies of Edgewood were agin’ it. I used to hang out some with them, being an old hippie myself. Sorry you have run into some blowback from the Grand Saliners.


  7. I find it hard to believe you can produce more information on this topic. I was born and raised there and I promise you racism is strong there. I moved as soon as I could make my own decisions. I remember a lot of racial turmoil in town, maybe mid 1980,s or so, when the first Government Apartments were built and would not be segregated. My entire school age life, we had zero African Americans in our schools. Once I got away and cleared my head of my upbringing, it made me so sad. It really is a wonderful place, for the most part.


  8. I worked at the local grocery store in GS 1985-95. During that time I remember a local farmer allowed a KKK rally in his field outside of town. The Klan obtained permits from the town to have a parade and set up tables on the street corners to sell their t-shirts and push their pamphlets. A CBS show, “Eye On America” with Connie Chung came to tiwn to report that federal housing had no black families living there. After that aired, one black family moved in. I think there was one black student in the high school at that time. All their sports teams were all white athletes and they were proud of it.


  9. My entire family is from Grand Saline although I grew up in Dallas. I remember as a child being shown an old tin-type photo of the heads of 2 blacks on top of fence poles and being told that was what happened to blacks found in town after sundown. My father recalled the sign posted at the edge of town. Family members living in the town at the time of the government apartments being built told of one black family that did move in for a short time. I did not see for myself but was told of a KKK rally that took place soon after they moved in with a full cross burning and all. They also told of security being kept on the street 24/7 to protect the family during their short stay. My mother who was born and raised there did not physically lay eyes on a black person until a visit to Houston when she was 5 yrs old.


    1. I too vividly remember as an elementary-school aged child passing a crudely painted billboard-sized sundown sign in deep all-white Varina, Virginia on the way to my father’s place of work. Despite searching years for evidence on the internet, none can be found. Yet I saw it over and over & can still recall my young horror that not a single.decent.white.person had the strength and fortitude to tear it down. I did not have contact with black people until 1st grade elementary school in the mid-60s.. I was so fascinated by the little girl’s spongy pigtails in front of me that I secretly squeezed one to feel it as she bent over the water fountain to take a drink. Of course I followed her to sip without a qualm. Little kids are taught to be racist not born to be. Despite my parents’ constant indoctrination that I was of a “superior race,” I thank God their attempts completely backfired.


  10. James, I thought you did a very good job on this story. There are folks who just want to believe all the folklore stories and refuse to listen to reason. Although I’ve only lived in GS 10 years my heritage in GS goes back to well before my Grand Parents (who all grew up there). Sometimes simple minded and uneducated people just want to believe what they want to believe.
    To those who argue with these researchers:
    I grew up in Dallas in the 80s and 90s where surprise, rasicism existed heavily. IT EXISTED AND STILL EXISTS IN EVERY TOWN PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!! You think burning crosses was just in Sundown towns?!?!? Think again, it happened in every town across this great nation. It only stands out to folks who believe the stories or have convinced themselves they’ve seen things they haven’t seen. It’s a part of life. You can accept it and move on or dwell on it and continue your life of misery and cry about it. Now, let’s get ready for some BASEBALL!!!!!


  11. My mother was born in 1922 in Van Zandz Co and grew up there. I have relatives there still. She told of the sign ar the city limits many times. I received the Canton Herald for years while living elsewhere. Each week there is an article History of Canton with copies of the paper from years past. Reading from 1930’s there were numerous reports of local Klan activity including district-like meeting in Tyler and a decision to send a group to march at the State Fair in Dallas. Both of my grandfathers, parents, aunts and uncles have passed away so no one to ask but I believe them to have been members. It appears it was an accepted membership in the community. Makes me sad as I knew both men as a young child, loved both dearly.


    1. Saundra and others. I have a friend in Bryan, Texas whose great-great grandparents owned a plantation on land now covered by the northern part of Lake Conroe. He had relatives who taught at A&M. He told me that the pressure was on faculty to join the clan, or lose their jobs. I imagine a lot of people joined the clan so they would not have their businesses targeted for boycott. I am not making excuses for these people, just bringing to attention how things were. I lived in Edgewood ten miles west of Grand Saline.


  12. I find it amazing that someone could claim to have researched the presence of overt racism in a town, and came up with zero evidence therein, only to have non-Black natives from said town tell of the overt racism they witnessed as children.

    Isn’t it something how someone can be willfully ignorant of documented World History because it suits their need to feel righteous and holier than thou?


  13. I never knew this town existed til I met my now ex husband. He and his mother,and grandmother told of stories of the sign, the hangings and kkk, I have seen pictures of the sign, I was there when the first black family moved into housing. And the clan rode that night tho not through town but the outskirts. And yes there was security, hence That’s y they now have security cameras. There were elderly that said they didn’t want them there living by them and the reason. They were set against it n yet the ones that moved in were wonderful people. If u would listen to the elderly of that town you would have more evidence. Most have been dead n buried. But the history lives on. I was raised in South Texas where there was all races mostly Mexican, but GS has a history. (There were tales of y this hanging started in the first place.) That’s nothing new. But as others have posted it was everywhere back in those days. And the KKK was very proud as well. I had heard tales of Clark’s ferry, Pole town n the like. And I had heard tales of other things just as dramatic in that town. But GS isn’t that way now, as most cities. It has a past. That’s y it’s called History.


  14. I live in nearby town canton and I have been told these stories about pole town. I was in high school in 2000s and we would play grand saline in sports even then the black kids on our teams would get called the n word get kicked while down this was even something the coaches warned us about before playing them. My family has told me about the sundown sign and pole town explaining to me to not go to grand saline there isn’t anything but hate there. So it’s not just history it’s still today in grand saline and nothings going to change with everyone passing down hate n derogatory names for people who aren’t white.


  15. With the new lynching memorial opening soon in Alabama, I checked to see if Van Zandt county was listed. It was and stated there was one lynching. I was curious because my mother, a Grand Saline native, told stories. She was born in 1937. She said at some point in the past (she was unclear exactly when) there had been a lynching in Grand Saline or just out of town. She said that as a result of this, black people would go out of their way to avoid passing through town. She also stated she had not personally seen a black person until she left home to go to college. I always wondered about veracity of these stories. Now I see that at the very least there is an oral culture related to this. She never said anything about the KKK.


  16. I say Blacks move in, white trash move OUT. I lived my whole life in that town and there is nothing but bigoted hatred there. The KKK meets regularly and they collect money on Highway 80 right outside of Fruitvale which is also a Sundown town. I know many many black people I prefer over some of the named white trash families in that town. Drug dealers prostitution, thieves and unemployed idiots make up the bulk of that town.


  17. When i was a kid back in the mid to late 90’s there was a kkk meeting in grandsaline over in pole town were the burnt a cross and all


  18. Good to know ,I have heard of Grand Saline like Visit being a very Racist town .I am also aware that this is wide spread in America not just the south ,the issue of race is universal in most white mind’s it is a psychopath problem deeply rooted ..


  19. Had I not seen the documentary Man on Fire I would have not known about the amount of racism that went on and still goes on in Grand Saline . One thing I must say is if any minorities or non minorities please do not buy Morton Salt (yes the salt you season your food with I believe is ran by the KKK . The Salt mine is located in this town so please stop supporting this company due to the history of this towns history


  20. i moved to grand saline when i was a teen,stayed here during the summers when i was just a kid at my grand parents house never ever saw a KKK sticker or never ever met anyone who was in the KKK here..sure there was racsim and still is some here today just like all over america..youtr article is full of shit,just like you and some of these other post on here..some people just like to start trouble and have nothing better to do in life than to get in other peoples buisness…if ya dont like grand saline stay your dumbass away from it..its like tv,ya dont like the channel,dont watch it..same with guns,ya dont like em,dont buy one..


  21. I know for a fact the KKK set up tables at Hwy 80 and 19 in the early 90’s trying to recruit people. They even had a deal for kids to be apart of it. I know of black people I have worked with from surrounding states that knew about the racism there and said that they would never drive through the town. I remember when the black family moved into the government apartments with 24/7 security in front of their apartment. If someone drove through the apartments the police would pull you over and ask why you were driving through there. I also remember the black kid that went to school from that family got threatened and beat up. I know these things to be true because I witnessed them. As far as all the other stories I don’t know for a fact but just hearing them from others and family members that go back to the 1930’s. Some probably not true but I’m sure some have truth to them cause if I seen things in the 90’s you can bet there was a lot more that went on in the previous years. Yes a lot of it is passed down racism because I was very racist myself. I grew out that ignorance and hate and now have friends from all different races. I am also a supervisor in the oilfield and have had different race people work for me. As a matter of fact I’m the only white person on my crew and I’m fine with it cause they are good hard working men heck I’ve fired white men and not others because they were lazy. I treat anyone that comes to work for me the same no matter what color, age or whatever.


  22. My dad was born in Grand Saline in 1934 and I grew up listening to the stories of racism in GS. I remember one of a lynching in the very early 1900s. I was told that, after that, it was decades before another black person entered the town. Later the “leave before sundown” rules went into effect. There may be no physical documentation, but rumors and stories all have a beginning.


    1. When I was a kid growing up in Fruitvale in the mid to late 90s I heard rumors of the KKK still having meetings etc. from my friends who probably heard it from their parents. I know I didn’t meet a black person until I moved to Lubbock around 1999.


  23. In defense of the author, he is only stating what he CAN prove. Everyone has stories they grew up with and memories of the past, but couldn’t in a court be proven.
    So cut him a little slack there.
    About 10 years ago, my wife worked in a small office in Tyler with an older black lady. My wife told her that she had accepted a county job in Grand Saline. The woman looked at her in shock.
    My wife asked what was wrong.
    The lady replied, you don’t know about Grand Saline? (my wife not from this area)
    My wife said no.
    The lady said “they don’t allow black people there.”
    She then told my wife some stories she remembered (none of which are anything other than stories passed down)
    All I will say is, my wife worked in the county office for several months and never encountered a black person.

    Personally, I love learning history, especially local history, good and bad. If we don’t learn from history, we will repeat it.

    Thanks for the informative article.


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