A former meeting hall for the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) in Fort Worth, Texas, is the focus of plans to create an international centre for arts and community healing, according to local paper, The Star-Telegram.
The Klavern 101 hall on North Main Street was used by the Tarrant County branch of the KKK for only two years, between 1925 and 1927, after which it became a warehouse, before falling into disuse in the 2000s.
Prior to the building of the hall, the klan had met in the nearby Tarrant County Courthouse – a convenient location as most of the sheriff and police department were klan members, as was a co-founder of one of Fort Worth’s oldest law firms.
The klan gave up the hall after membership and funding dwindled in the late 1920s. However, it has remained a symbol of intolerance in the city, and was judged an ideal venue to showcase Texas’ many cultures, as well as its history of racial discrimination.
The project is being developed by DNAWorks, an arts organisation in the city set up to promote social justice.
Daniel Banks, a co-founder of the group, says the building has been "a monument to anti-Blackness, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-LGBTQ people. We have the ability to change that message".
The plan is to set up the centre as an arts training resource for deprived children alongside mentorship and performance space for artists.
You can feel that there’s emotion contained in it, and you can feel that emotion around it when you spend time around the building– John Stevenson Projects Group
There would also be a civil rights museum and a marketplace for the works of local artists. A tool library and workshop would also be open for those needing access to such resources, as well as a live-work space for needy artists and entrepreneurs.
DNAWorks formulated these plans after learning that the present owner of the building had applied to have it demolished.
The group applied for a North Texas Community Foundation ToolBox grant to pay for a feasibility study. When that failed to be approved, a local project management firm called The Projects Group offered to carry out a pro-bono study, and a Boston-based architect, MASS Design Group, agreed to work on the design and handle the financial aspects of the scheme.
MASS had previously worked on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
John Stevenson, vice president of the Projects Group, told the Star-Telegram he had long known there was something "strange" about the building at 1012 North Main.
"You can feel that there’s emotion contained in it, and you can feel that emotion around it when you spend time around the building," he said.
DNAWorks plans to rename the building the Fred Rouse Centre, after an African-American man lynched in 1921.
A coalition of local history and culture groups has since joined the initiative, however they have limited time to raise the $10m that the project is likely to cost.
In July, a city commission voted to delay granting permission to demolish the building for 180 days.
The idea for the centre follows a report published in December that found that Fort Worth had a "systemic" problem with racism.
The report was written by a special task group set up after an incident in 2016 in which Jacqueline Craig, an African American woman, called the police to report an assault on her seven-year-old son, only to be arrested along with her two teenage daughters.
The Christian Science Monitor reports that African Americans make up 19% of the population of Fort Worth, but accounted for 41% of arrests in 2016 and 2017, and all 14 Fort Worth Independent School District schools classified as "improvement required" by the state were in minority neighbourhoods.
Image: The hall on North Main Street (Google Maps)