opinion | If you save a symbol of white supremacy, you can fight back

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Then followed nine frustrating months of unsuccessfully trying to reach the owner — until Banks, a “bi-monthly” Twitter user, received a notification while he and McKinney happened to be visiting the building. It was from historic Fort Worth. She informed them that the owners had applied for a permit to demolish the building.

“I didn’t know if it was a cosmic coincidence or if I was delusional,” McKinney told me.

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The rest is history, so to speak.

At a time when the country is rightly being pressured to dig up its brutal past, it’s staggering to realize just how much of Texas’ historic atrocity has remained hidden from plain sight at all times.

As a native of Dallas, I never knew that I grew up just 40 minutes away from one of the oldest purpose-built KKK headquarters in the United States.

Nearly 100 years ago, Ku Klux Klan Klavern 101 — a Klavern was a local KKK unit — built the hall as a space for marching practice, minstrel shows, and other events. The auditorium held an estimated 2,000 people. The ground floor alone is 22,000 square meters.

Over time, the racist beginnings of the building faded from view. It burned down in 1925, although the Klan was quickly rebuilt. But in 1927 it was sold to the Leonard Brothers department store, after which it was used as an auditorium and dance hall. In the 1940s, the Ellis Pecan Company bought it for storage. In 2004 it was bought by a company called Sugarplum Holdings and the hall, despite its past, continues to attract the interest of artists and art groups. The Texas Ballet Theater once took an interest in the rehearsal space.

I visited the building this winter. The roof is crumbling and a door was forced open so I could see inside. There were clear signs that homeless people had found shelter there. The graffiti also impressed me, I even thought it was beautiful – it was a sign that colorful new energy could emerge from the remnants of hatred.

This is where McKinney, Banks and DNAWORKS come in.

That random text two years ago started an epic repurposing. City regulations required the building’s owners to explore options other than demolition with the municipality. Banks and McKinney went to work holding meetings and gathering support, eventually partnering with eight other nonprofits representing groups formerly affected by KKK hatred.

Through grants and donations, the coalition calling itself Transform 1012 N. Main Street purchased the hall in January.

According to local historian Richard Selcer, there is little evidence that violence or rallies took place in the hall itself. But the massive stage within is a reminder of how the production of arts, including dance and choreography, was an integral part of the Klan’s dual need to foster belonging to its ranks and project strength.

The hope is that black dancers like McKinney, along with dancers from SOL Ballet Folklorico, will use the space for dance, resistance and art. But it’s not about romanticizing the pain. “Our goal as artists is never to re-traumatize, because that leaves us disempowered,” McKinney told me. “We want to activate change.”

For now, the coalition is focused on raising money to stabilize the building and begin work. They plan to name what will later become the arts center after Fred Rouse, the butcher who was lynched 101 years ago.

All of this raises a fundamental question: is removing symbols of white supremacy the path to healing?

Texas removed 15 Confederate monuments in the past year, including renaming schools and streets, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. On the other hand are those who argue that removing symbols — even those meant to glorify white supremacy — is tantamount to erasing history.

We are familiar with both of these viewpoints, but Transform 1012 points to a third: Fighting and healing white supremacy can also be about redirecting resources to vulnerable communities and their needs today.

Transform 1012’s efforts show what’s really at stake in this tug of war. Who gets to write America’s history? Official audiences in America are demanding a say in shaping history and memory. And we should support the artists, dancers and poets to lead the way.

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