UWF Historic Trust issues report on Wentworth and KKK

Since the discovery of documents linking T. T. Wentworth Jr. to the Ku Klux Klan were uncovered in the UWF Historic Trust archives, UWF History Professor Dr. Jamin Wells has researched the history of the Klan in Pensacola.

In consultation with a community advisory group, Dr. Wells is sharing a report of his findings today. A new webpage with this information can be found here and the full report can be found here.

The advisory committee consisted of:

Teniadé Broughton, John Sunday Society
Jewel Cannada-Wynn
Tom Garner
Cheryl Howard, African American Heritage Society
Dr. Darlene Mosley
Robin Reshard, Kukua Institute
Scott Satterwhite, Department of English, University of West Florida Juanita Scott, Together Pensacola
Joe Vinson
Adrianne Walker, University of West Florida Historic Trust Sharon Yancey, T.T. Wentworth Jr. Historical Foundation
Dr. Marion Williams, African American Heritage Society

This collection is an example of the shame that hides our secrets and the secrets of which we are ashamed.

Here is the public statement from the advisory group:

Walk with us and do not turn away. This is such an important step in the difficult and necessary journey to healing the deep wounds of racism and intolerance.

Since October 2020, we have had a front seat to the exploration and analysis by Dr. Jamin Wells of the Ku Klux Klan-related materials in the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Collection. It has been a difficult but very necessary process to understand the strategies and tactics used by members of a terrorist hate group to wield social, cultural, religious, political, and economic power over others. Each of us feels the connection between T.T. Wentworth and this community, some more personally than others. We found ourselves emotionally attached to his development, rise, and influence in the Pensacola area and surrounding communities. After all, we live here, too, and although a certain emotional disassociation is needed in observing history, we could not deny that we felt the pain of the immediate and lasting effects of his work.

At times, we were conflicted as our emotions battled against our professional selves as researchers, historians, teachers, and archaeologists. We felt empathy at times, pity at others at the documented hate and terror that was wrought with egregious, inhumane actions. And yet, we had to keep looking and keep exploring and keep analyzing the facts before us.

To be sure, we did not always agree on facts, even when presented with the evidence. Our covert and overt biases reared their heads at times, and during those times, we relied on the moral compass and compassion of the other group members to challenge our thinking. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it did not. Nevertheless, we stayed with it and brought our hurt feelings along.

As historians, researchers, and community members, we recognize that this collection is a historic treasure. It is history about the Second Ku Klux Klan that we have not acknowledged. Members and associates of other Klan and domestic terrorist organizations destroyed everything that would reveal their deeds, including documents, photos, and artifacts that would have verified their existence, thinking and work. As challenging as it was – and is – to view this collection, we had to look to hold ourselves accountable to the public and to give objective insight and constructive feedback to Dr. Wells. To be sure, while we all agreed that this information should be made public in the interest of research, history, observation, analysis, and education, we did not all agree on what to share or even how to express the content and context of the information. That is what makes this report so very critical. Our discussions were robust; our opinions and insights were diverse; and all of it was needed and necessary.

This collection is an example of the shame that hides our secrets and the secrets of which we are ashamed. Within our families and organizations, there resides historic collections that give insight to ways of thinking and acting during a period of time or under circumstances that no longer exist. Collections like this allow historians, researchers, educators, and the general public to see the manifestation and embodiment of a broader culture of white supremacy. These collections also allow for a more rounded viewpoint and perspective on the effects of racial bias in voting, education, religious organizations, healthcare, economic development, media, real estate, and law enforcement. It shows how individuals, organizations, institutions, and systems profited from the work of the Klan, even if they were not members of the Klan. They still held these beliefs and ideologies – some publicly, others through complicit silence. This is called being Klan-adjacent.

We do not ascribe the whole of racism, racist attitudes, white supremacy, and other overt and covert attitudes and actions to Wentworth or the Klan. Yet, we do believe that his work and the organization were united in leading and influencing a terrorist culture against inclusion and were very much for uplifting an environment of hate and disparity. While Wentworth did not lead all of those to the proverbial waters of hate, he did put out a welcome mat and invited all who fit into his idea of an ideal American: white, Protestant, native born men. And many came and waded in those waters, picnicked on the sands or provided a ride to the shores.

There are those who still have a general acceptance of these beliefs. Others are unrepentant about their past actions. These stories are important and valuable to hear. We reject the dismissive attitude that “it’s not important because it’s no longer important to me, or that it happened in the past, so let it stay there.” We believe the ripple effects of this attitude are destructive if unheard and unchallenged. We did not want our ancestors dying with unrepentant sins. The reality is that some of them did. We recognize that some of us will. We have to purge ourselves of a laissez faire social and cultural attitude of whatever happens, happens and that there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of our individual and collective history. We must lament, individually and collectively. In that lamentation, we must tell the truth. We cannot let ourselves – or our ancestors – off the hook and will not let this history be romanticized any longer. Our vision has been distorted by ourselves, organizations, institutions, and systems that have embraced hatred. It is time to clear our vision and make room for the truth.

There is so much more to learn. We need your help in collecting memories, stories, photos, documents, and materials to be a part of this historic journey. This report is not the final word on the Klan in this area. We need to hear from the voices of people who were affected by the Klan’s attitudes and activities. There are stories that we don’t know. Many in the Klan and those who were Klan-adjacent thought that they were on the right side of history and were living their truths. Many were born into this climate and have never challenged these beliefs. Others disavowed these beliefs. They need to be heard, as well. In reliving these memories and sharing these stories, some will have uncomfortable moments. This discomfort is necessary for healing and growth.

Our community must come to terms with the fact that we never came to terms with racism. We must address it within our families and communities. We recognize that while this is a work in progress, we can no longer put this conversation on the shelf. Systemic racism is historic fact. These findings support that and still exist today in government, politics, business, religion, media, law enforcement, healthcare, and our homes.

Walk with us and do not turn away. This is such an important step in the difficult and necessary journey to healing the deep wounds of racism and intolerance.


Community Advisory Group

July 2, 2021