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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 483

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This is the grave of Dan Moody.

Born in 1893 in Taylor, Texas, Dan Moody’s father was a local political leader and his mother was a school teacher. He went to the University of Texas and then its law school, moving back to Taylor in 1914 to join a law practice there. He took some time off to serve in World War I, then returned to Taylor. In 1920, Moody became the Williamson County Attorney and became the district attorney for that part of Texas.. While it is exceedingly rare for a district attorney to become famous in that role, Moody did. That’s because he took on the Ku Klux Klan.

The KKK was at the peak of its power in the 1920s. Perhaps oddly at first glance, it largely wasn’t all that strong in the South. It had much more power in Oregon, Colorado, and especially Indiana than most of the South. The exception was Texas. There, the KKK became a huge organization–perhaps 150,000 members–and controlled a lot of local offices, including the mayors of both Dallas and Fort Worth. The KKK at this time was anti-black, sure, but it was really more a middle-class organization of very angry white people outraged by the social and cultural changes taking place in the nation. In effect, there is very little real difference between the KKK of the 1920s and the modern Republican Party. Anyway, in Williamson County, four Klansman beat up a white traveling salesman. In 1923, Moody tried the case at the courthouse in Georgetown and won a conviction, a direct rebuke to the KKK. This helped to bring down the Klan in Texas, as people began standing up to these thugs. This really did take actual bravery at this time. The KKK was openly threatening anyone who got in their way. People were legitimately scared of them. Moody faced them down and got the first convictions against them of the era.

In many of these states with a strong KKK presence, the Klansman were usually Democrats and they were brought down by Republicans. This helps explains the Klan phenomenon generally. Ultimately, it had a strong partisan reflection. But this was Texas. White people almost had to be Democrats. That included Moody. The Democratic Party was split between reformers and non-reformers. Moody was as ambitious as anyone and was elected as the state’s attorney general in 1925. He had another big target–the massive corruption of Pa and Ma Ferguson. Ma was governor at this point. Moody investigated all their theft and recovered about $1 million in stolen taxpayer money. He then parlayed this into defeating her in the Democratic primary for the governor in 1926. That happened in no small part because of Moody’s alliances with the state’s leading suffrage organizations. He repaid them for their rallying for him by naming leading state suffragist Jane McCallum as Secretary of State.

Moody was pretty conservative in his politics. The Fergusons were opposed to prohibition. Moody was a huge supporter of it, which is also why the suffragists were behind him. He was very unhappy when Democrats nominated Al Smith to the presidency in 1928, but he did support him against Hoover, with the Fergusons did not do, I think because Smith was Catholic. There is fact so much anti-Catholicism in Texas that the state actually voted for Hoover in the general election, the first time it had ever voted for a Republican. Moody served two two-year terms in Austin and left office in 1931.

Moody’s later years were most known for his hatred of FDR. Basically, he despised the New Deal in its entirety, as did many of the Democratic elite of the South, including Roosevelt’s own vice-president, the detestable John Nance Garner. Despite his previous career prosecuting the KKK, Moody was also a staunch supporter of segregation. After he left office, he opened up a private law practice in Austin, prosecuted tax evasions, represented the Texas business and political elite in a variety of court cases, and lost the 1942 Democratic primary for the Senate to Pappy O’Daniel. In the legendary 1948 Texas Senate race, Moody was the main counsel for Coke Stevenson in his case to hold off Lyndon Johnson. By this time, the Democratic Party was too liberal for Moody, especially on racial issues. He endorsed Eisenhower in both 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960. Moody died in 1966 in Austin.

At least some people think Moody was pretty hot.

Dan Moody is buried in Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas. Also buried here is his wife Mildred Paxton Moody, who, like many women, saw a promising career in the public life end when she married. She was a young reporter from Texas with degrees from Hardin-Simmons, Texas, and Columbia who got a job teaching at Hardin-Simmons and also reported on women’s issues for the local newspaper in Abilene. She wrote a little bit after her husband left the governor’s office and served on a commission to oversee the governor’s mansion, but definitely stayed largely in a traditional gendered role for the rest of her life.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions, which I am very thankful for. If you would like this series to visit some of the other characters mentioned in this post, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Pappy O’Daniel is in Dallas and Jane McCallum is in Austin. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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