In 1921, Fred Rouse, a Black packinghouse worker, was brutally lynched in Fort Worth, Texas in front of a crowd of over 100 onlookers. He was first assaulted with iron bars by a mob of White union workers, who accused him of breaking their strike. Then the White mob pulled him out of the hospital where he was receiving treatment and killed him. Last year, a century after his death, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Tarrant County Coalition for Peace and Justice, with the help of Rouse’s grandson, created a memorial for the slain man.
Now, Fort Worth is again reckoning with its racist past as the former Texas headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is being transformed into the Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing. The initiative is spearheaded by the Texas arts nonprofit Transform 1012 N. Main Street, which purchased the building in 2021. The center is expected to open in 2025.
“In 2018, we learned about the former Ku Klux Klan auditorium and immediately had the identical response — This needs to be a center for arts and healing,” board Chair of Transform 1012 N. Main Street Daniel Banks told Hyperallergic in an email. “Having visited sites of conscience around the world, we intuitively understood the power of transforming a monument to hate and violence into a space for reparative justice.”
The Fred Rouse Center will host performances, racial equity workshops, a “small business incubator,” a DIY “makerspace,” and will include living and work spaces for artists-in-residence. The planned center will also feature displays from which visitors can learn about this dark aspect of Fort Worth’s history.
The building’s auditorium was built in 1924 to seat over 2,000 people. That’s where the Texas KKK held meetings and minstrel shows. In 1927, the building was purchased by a department store and was used as a dance and concert venue. In 1946, it became a pecan warehouse.
Transform 1012 N. Main Street was founded in 2019 by eight local organizations. Rouse’s grandson, Fred Rouse III, sits on its board. The project to transform the building received funding from local and national sponsors including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation.
Other cities have repurposed sites with racist histories: Alabama’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery stands on the site of a warehouse where enslaved people were held, and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was built into the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.
“Fort Worth, as with many US cities, is siloed in ways that can be traced back to the KKK and White Supremacy,” Banks said. “The Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing will be a vibrant cultural center, a big tent for people of all backgrounds to come together, listen, learn, collaborate, and heal these divisions.”