Evangelist Frank Norris, the most famous fundamentalist U.S. preacher in the 1920s. Wikimedia Commons.
Early 20th-century naked bigotry, sectarianism and misogyny were on prominent display in the Toronto Star, August 30, 1924, with the reported teaching and preaching of U.S. evangelist and self-styled “Texas Tornado,” Frank Norris (1872-1952).
“SAYS KU KLUX KLAN KEPT OUT MANY CATHOLIC IMMIGRANTS. Rev. J. Frank Norris Praises the Hooded Order,” proclaimed the Star’s headline above a 1,200-word, top-of the page report of a speech by Norris to the Catholic-bashing Orange Luncheon Club at Toronto’s posh King Edward hotel.
Among other things, Dr. Norris told the Toronto Orangemen that:
- In the Roman Catholic Church “we are facing a powerful enemy.”
- The Ku Klux Klan had “shut the gates” of American immigration “against the dregs of southern Europe” and stopped the “floods of Italians who were coming in, taking our institutions and making America the vassal of the Pope.”
- The influence of the Catholic Church had delayed for two years United States participation in the First World War on the side of Canada, Britain and their allies.
- The Roman Catholics had taken “millions out of the public treasury and put it into the treasury of the parochial schools.”
- Candidates in the up-coming U.S. presidential election “had made cheap bids for the Catholic vote.”
- The KKK “have accomplished a great educational result” in their anti-Catholic crusade, while “a lot of things said about the clans are absolutely malicious falsehoods.”
On the Star’s editorial page, an unsigned column (“The Spotlight”) regurgitates an earlier misogyny blast from the past by the Texas Tornado. “The modern woman,” Dr. Norris predicted in 1922, “will bring on the next war… The flapper [women] will bring about this country’s [U.S.’s] downfall, just as surely as Delilah caused Samson’s. Every great war has been traced to the depravity of women; and they were never as bad as today… The modern girl is 100 times worse than the girl of the last century.”
Norris was the most famous fundamentalist U.S. preacher in the 1920s, the forerunner of TV evangelists. With his Fort Worth congregation, said to be the largest in the country, his newspaper and his radio station, Norris railed against sin, Catholics, Communism, and evolution, while defending the KKK, whose local leader was a member of his congregation. John Birch—later a Baptist missionary and namesake of the John Birch Society, a radical, far-right organization— was another member.
Norris was the son of an alcoholic Texas sharecropper, by whom he is said to have been beaten. When Frank Norris was 14, he and his father were both shot by a neighbour. Frank survived, but he says it took him three years to recuperate.
Norris became pastor of a Baptist church in a small Texas town at age 20, later earned a degree in theology from a Baptist ministry, and became pastor of the Fort Worth Baptist church in 1909.
In 1912 his church auditorium was burned to the ground and his house damaged—possibly in retaliation for his preaching against the city’s bars, brothels and gambling dens, from which city leaders reaped revenue. But it was Norris who was charged with arson and perjury. He was acquitted, but 12 years later his church was again burned down. Worse was still to come. Two years after his Toronto preaching, Norris was charged with murder, resulting in a trial that was the sensation of the nation.
In a 1926 sermon, Norris accused Fort Worth Mayor H.C. Meacham of misappropriating funds for Roman Catholic purposes. A reputedly belligerent friend of the mayor, lumberman Dexter Chipps, confronted Norris in Norris’s church office. Norris shot and killed Chipps. Tried for the murder, he was acquitted on grounds of self defence, despite the fact Chipps was unarmed.