Profiles in OC Pioneers Who Were Klan Members: Dr. Roy S. Horton and Marshall Keeler, Santa Ana Unified Trustees
Are you like me and laugh when historical conservationists give names to buildings based on people who once lived there or commissioned said structure? Probably not. Anyhoo, the Dr. Horton Building stands on Third Street in downtown SanTana, a pretty brick creation built in 1928 in the Mission Revival style. It's now law offices, but it originally housed the optometry practices of Roy S. Horton, a former trustee of the Santa Ana Unified School District who personified all that is duplicitous and evil about Orange County's so-called non-racist version of the Klan.
In the spring of 1923, the Orange County district attorney's office was at war with the Klan, which was actively trying to overtake city councils, police departments and school districts. DA Alex P. Nelson's investigators were able to procure a list of all the Klan members registered in Orange County, which caused an immediate sensation in Santa Ana. It was election time, and candidates started throwing Klan accusations at one another.
The Horton Building: KIGA once reigned here...
A group of candidates slurred as Klansmen gathered themselves in a slate and announced to voters in a mailer they weren't Kluckers. "A last-minute attempt by certain churchmen is being made to defeat others whose names apear on the ballot by insinuating that the candidates are members of the Ku Klux Klan," it stated. "Don't be deceived by such propaganda." It then listed a group of people who supposedly weren't Klan--Horton, who was running for a seat on the Santa Ana school board, among them.
Only problem? Nearly all of the people on the list were Klan, Horton among them (we'll get to the rest later in this series). And Horton wasn't just any Klan member; he was the Cyclop of the Santa Ana klavern.
Horton ran into controversy quickly, along with fellow Klan member Marshall Keeler. Just a year into his tenure, Horton began threatening Santa Ana teachers with their jobs if they didn't join the Klan; to their credit, the district's board of trustees issued a resolution condemning Horton's actions and promising teachers they didn't have to join the Klan. But Horton was unrepentant.
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"He was proud of his membership in the Klan," the Los Angeles Times wrote, "and he asserted it was gaining control of boards of education throughout the United States. In fact, he added, it was his prediction the Santa Ana board would be in control of the organization at the next election."
That didn't happen: While Horton won re-election in 1927, Keeler lost; Horton then lost in 1931. The 1920s, of course, saw Santa Ana create more Mexican-only segregated schools than any other school district in Orange County, and it also collaborated with citrus growers to allow Mexican schoolchildren to get out of school early so they could pick in the orchards alongside their parents. In Horton's defense, however, the segregation began before he joined the board--just further proof that only in Orange County can the Ku Klux Klan seem moderate in comparison to the general population.
Oh, and Keeler? He co-founded the Santa Ana Wholesale Grocery, which eventually became Smart & Final.
Tune in every Monday at 5 p.m. for the latest entry exposing Orange County city fathers who were Klan members!
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