OPINION

Bridges: Dan Moody took on the Klan in Texas and won

KEN BRIDGES

Doing the right thing is easy when it is popular and everyone supports it, but doing the right thing is very different when fighting people who have a vested interest in letting evil prevail or when your life is threatened.  Dan Moody, a one-time Texas governor, rose to fame as a vocal opponent of the violence and corruption of the Ku Klux Klan when it was at the height of its power.

Daniel James Moody, Jr., was born in Taylor, northeast of Austin, in 1893.  His father was a co-founder of their community when it was organized in 1876, often serving as mayor, school board chairman, or justice of the peace.  He attended local schools and graduated high school in 1910, just shy of his 17th birthday.

Bridges

He enrolled at the University of Texas in the fall of 1910.  He graduated with a law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1914 and returned to Taylor to practice law.  Moody joined the Texas National Guard when the United States entered World War I in 1917 and fought in Europe as a second lieutenant. 

In 1920, he made his first run for office.  He was elected Williamson County Attorney, the youngest ever elected to that office.  In 1922, he was appointed District Attorney for the judicial district that included Travis and Williamson counties. 

At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan was reaching the height of its power nationwide. It infected the country with its virulent hatred, and in its wake, countless minorities were assaulted or murdered for no other reason than their skin color. White opponents of the Klan were assaulted or threatened as the Klan sought to take over both Republican and Democratic organizations. Bribery, rioting, and assassinations were common tools in their terror. 

A case that could have potentially ruined the Klan came before Moody. Other prosecutors and judges would have avoided such cases, either out of fear of retribution or out of sympathy for the wave of violence against minorities they had unleashed. Moody took several cases to court in 1923 and 1924, successfully prosecuting dozens of Klansmen and Klan sympathizers for assaults and corruption. The exposure of Klan crimes greatly weakened its political influence in the state.

In 1924, Moody ran for attorney general.  He ran what he called a “poor boy’s campaign,” driving across the state in his Ford Model T. The Klan attempted to run candidates against him but failed miserably. Moody won easily, and by the end of 1924, the Klan was, in Moody’s words, “as dead as the proverbial doornail.” He quickly took on several cases involving corrupt highway contracts. In one famous incident, he retrieved $400,000 in kickbacks that had been stored in a Kansas City bank.

In 1926, he announced a run for governor against incumbent Gov. Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson. Campaigning on the slogans of “Dan Moody is your friend” and “Dan’s the Man,” he won the first primary with 49.9% of the vote. Because it was not a majority, the race went to a runoff between Moody and Ferguson. Moody captured the Democratic nomination with 64.6% of the vote and won the general election with ease. 

At the age of 34, he was the youngest man ever elected governor of the state. He reorganized the highway department, dramatically cutting costs and created the office of state auditor. He was re-elected in 1928. He proposed a series of other sweeping reforms to prisons and the structure of state government but was unsuccessful in implementing them.

Moody stepped down from politics in 1931 and began practicing law in Austin.  In 1935, he was named a special prosecutor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prosecute a series of tax evasion cases in Louisiana and was later hired by the State of Texas to defend the state in a boundary dispute case with New Mexico. 

He attempted a political comeback with a run for the U. S. Senate in 1942, but lost to popular Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.   He quietly returned to his Austin law practice for the remainder of his years.  Moody died in Austin in 1966 at the age of 72.  His childhood home in Taylor has since been converted into a popular local museum.

Dr. Ken Bridges is a writer, historian and native Texan. He holds a doctorate from the University of North Texas. Bridges can be reached by email at drkenbridges@gmail.com.