Hiram Wesley Evans
Hiram Wesley Evans (September 26th, 1881 - September 14th, 1966) was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, an American white supremacist group, from 1922 to 1939. A native of Alabama, Evans attended Vanderbilt University and became a dentist. He operated a small, moderately successful practice in Texas until 1920, when he joined the Klan's Dallas chapter. He quickly rose through the ranks and was part of a group that ousted William Joseph Simmons from the position of Imperial Wizard, the national leader, in November 1922. Evans succeeded him and sought to transform the group into a political juggernaut.
Although Evans had kidnapped and tortured a black man while leader of the Dallas Klan, as Imperial Wizard he publicly discouraged vigilante actions, fearing that they would hinder his attempts to gain political influence. In 1923, Evans presided over the largest Klan gathering in history, attended by over 200,000, and endorsed several successful candidates in 1924 elections.
He moved the Klan's headquarters from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., and organized a march of 30,000 members—the largest march in the organization's history—on Pennsylvania Avenue. Evans' efforts notwithstanding, the Klan was buffeted by damaging publicity in the early 1920s, partially because of leadership struggles between Evans and his rivals, which hindered his political efforts. In the 1930s, the Great Depression significantly decreased the Klan's income, prompting Evans to work for a construction company to supplement his pay. He resigned his position with the Klan in 1939, after disavowing anti-Catholicism. He was succeeded by his chief of staff, James A. Colescott. The next year, Evans faced accusations of involvement in a government corruption scandal in Georgia; he was fined $15,000 after legal proceedings.
Evans sought to promote a form of nativist, Protestant nationalism. In addition to his white supremacist ideology, he fiercely condemned Catholicism, unionism, and communism, which were associated with recent immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. He argued that Jews formed a non-American culture and resisted assimilation, although he denied being an anti-Semite. Many of his political and religious views were deeply unpopular among his contemporaries. Historians credit Evans with refocusing the Klan on political activities and recruiting outside the Southern United States; the Klan grew most in the Midwest and industrial cities. However, they note that the political influence and membership gains he sought were transitory. Some comentators argue that Evans was more focused on money and power than any particular ideology.
Downfall of the Klan
n the 1930s, the Klan's public support nearly vanished and their membership dropped to about 100,000 people, primarily concentrated in the South, having lost most of their members in the Midwest and West. James A. Colescott, Evans' handpicked chief of staff, then increasingly shouldered Evans' responsibilities .After the Great Depression further damaged the Klan's finances, the group's leadership sold their Atlanta headquarters in 1936. Around then, Evans announced his intention to retire.
Although anti-Catholicism had been a consistent platform of the Klan, before leaving the organization, Evans renounced his anti-Catholicism and pronounced a "new era of religious tolerance." In 1939, he said that "in no other time in history has there been more need for all people who believe in the same Father and same Son to stand together." That year, Evans also publicly expressed an interest in learning aspects of Judaism to understand the Old Testament better. Chester L. Quarles, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Mississippi, argues that Evans repudiated anti-Catholicism because of his desire to fight unions and communism and his fear of having too many enemies at one time.[
After Evans sold the Klan's former headquarters, it was purchased by the Catholic Church. The Cathedral of Christ the King was later built on the site. Evans attended the building's dedication and spoke highly of the service, surprising many observers. His attendance at the service was his last significant public appearance as Imperial Wizard: he stepped down soon afterwards, having become deeply unpopular with members of the Klan, who felt that he had embraced their enemies. He resigned on June 10, 1939, and was replaced as Imperial Wizard by Colescott.
Final years and death
Evans' service as Imperial Wizard proved to be a lucrative position, allowing him to maintain a large residence in a prestigious Atlanta neighborhood. In the mid-1930s, however, Klan funds dwindled, and he worked for a Georgia-based construction company selling products to the Georgia Highway Board. At the same time, he was a staunch supporter of Georgia Governor Eurith D. Rivers, whom he had previously employed as a lecturer. The political support that he provided the administration allowed Evans to sell to the highway board without bidding against other contractors. In 1940, the state of Georgia charged Evans and a member of the state highway board with price fixing. The Attorney General of Georgia, Ellis Arnall, directed legal proceedings against Evans that resulted in a $15,000 fine.
Meanwhile, Colescott attempted to resuscitate the waning second Klan by an "administration of action" and stricter enforcement of the Klan's stated policies and led extensive recruitment campaigns.Despite concerns by opponents that the Klan would regain full force after the conclusion of World War II, it was unable to improve its membership and was under pressure from the Internal Revenue Service for failure to pay taxes. Through a decree on April 23, 1944, Colescott formally disbanded the Klan. Locally-sponsored groups continued to use the name but lacked the united leadership of the earlier Klan.
As late as 1949, Evans served as a commentator on Klan activities, speaking as the former Imperial Wizard. He died on September 14, 1966, in Atlanta