R.L. Moore and His Fight for Justice
by Dr. Douglas Matlock
A few years after my grandpa, James Lee Moore died, my family and I came across a box where he had placed several pieces of personal history. Several Bibles and journals gave me a glimpse into ancestors that I never met, and one laminated newspaper article told a story from the life of my great, great grandfather, Rex Lee (RL) Moore. Without much context, the article detailed an account of masked men forcing RL Moore into a car at gunpoint and taking him into the woods to whip, tar, and feather him. Although the identities or affiliation of these men were never discovered, the author of the article presumed the attackers to be members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), because of Moore’s outspoken opposition of the KKK while operating as the editor of the Drumright Post.
Recent events in our country, such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have highlighted the continued struggle of racism and hate within humanity – and I began to remember the story of my grandpa’s grandpa. Even more, a friend or our family, who is a journalist, had faced strong criticism while sharing news stories online. Moreover, these events took place almost 100 years ago during the era of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which occurred on May 31, 1921. All of these circumstances compelled me to look deeper into Moore’s story and learn more about my family’s legacy.
RL Moore was born on March 22, 1869 near Unionville, Tennessee, as chronicled in his Bible. My search online began by looking for Moore’s newspaper connections, because I was not entirely sure which newspaper he edited during this altercation, nor did I know the precise date of the attack. A simple online search of his name led me to an entry in a book by Victor Harlow that indexed influential figures in Oklahoma’s early history. Harlow’s entry listed RL Moore as a resident of Davenport, Oklahoma, who had moved to Oklahoma in 1903 and was very involved in politics. In addition to family and career details, Harlow also provided places where Moore lived, including Chickasha – where my family and I now live.
Searching for newspapers near Davenport led me to the Oklahoma Historical Society’s online database of digital archives, containing thousands of photos and newspapers. My initial queries of Moore’s name did not lead me to any articles referring to him, but I did find several other newspapers in the archives that were written by members of the KKK. These publications, such as the Oklahoma Herald, contained articles describing KKK activities and interactions with local organizations, as well as editorials meant to guide other Klan members. The amount of printed material meant to further the KKK image and message painted a bleak picture of the culture of the day. This was the society that RL Moore sought to reform, as well as the evil he rose up to fight. Even though reading through these dreary pieces was disturbing, it helped to provide a context for the time in which RL Moore wrote and some reason for why he was attacked.
Continuing to search online led to a New York Times index of published articles from January – March of 1922. A short description the story provided by the index said, “RL Moore of Drumright, Okla, taken to woods and flogged.” This helped me identify where Moore lived and the location of his newspaper. Investigating newspapers from Drumright, Oklahoma, I found that RL Moore served as editor of the Drumright Post. According to this site from Creek County Genealogy, the Drumright Post was established in 1919 by a group of local citizens who were discontented with the main paper of the town, the Drumright Derrick. These unnamed citizens financed a new paper that would speak out against the corruption of the local government and lawlessness of the area, which the Drumright Derrick often favorably portrayed. Moore was asked to serve as editor of the Post, and the paper became well-known for its criticism of the status quo, especially the mayor of Drumright, W.E. Nicodemus and the KKK.
RL Moore also organized a group of Drumright citizens who desired to see change in the community. Pictured here in front of the First Baptist Church of Drumright, these men and women were known as the “Overall and Hickory Shirt Brigade.” According to other stories that followed the attack on Moore, this group had a membership of up to 800 individuals at times and met in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Drumright.
Eventually, I discovered issues of the newspaper, the Oklahoma Leader. The first story of Moore’s attack was featured on the front page of the Leader on January 31, 1922. Other papers around the state picked up the story that same day and the days that followed. The story featured Moore’s account of the attack. He was accosted by a man reading a newspaper, then surrounded by masked men and forced into car as they held a gun against his ribs. The cohort of attackers drove out into a wooded area, hung Moore up in a tree, took off his shirt, and whipped him. Then they covered him in tar, cut off pieces of his hair, and threw the hair on the tar. He was warned to leave town, or else he would face an even worse fate. His beaten body was dropped near the edge of town.
Moore did not leave town. In fact, he continued editing the paper, and story in the Oklahoma State Register a couple of weeks later described him working under guard out of defiance of those who threatened him.
Another perspective of Moore’s attack was documented by the Drumright Derrick on January 31, 1922. The author of this article not only described the incident, but he also painted Moore as a man intent on undermining the government and destroying the community. The Derrick’s emotional and biased writing clearly displays a hostile environment that did not want to see reform. The headline of the article even listed the Drumright Post as a “Radical Sheet,” refusing to use its actual name.
The story continued to unfold in an issue of the Oklahoma Leader on February 3, 1922. The pastor of First Baptist Church of Drumright, Rev. R.W. Lackey, called on the Oklahoma governor’s office to investigate the attack on Moore. However, the investigation was delayed by the governor, and the article connected the relationship between the Governor Robertson and Drumright’s mayor, W.E. Nicodemus. The mayor had been in court for legal issues, but never convicted. Even more, Nicodemus was a friend of Robertson, including a potential candidate for the office of lieutenant governor. As I read through these stories, I began to see a bigger picture of this era. Corruption and negative influence were exhibited by many in positions of power, and the KKK had a strong hold over many in society. Men like RL Moore fought such injustice, facing physical consequences. The task seemed quite difficult, especially with voices like Moore speaking against a powerful establishment.
RL Moore’s courage and tenacity in his fight for justice inspires me to fight for justice even more in my time. With certainty I know that the Gospel of Christ is the core foundation for real change in our world, and I use my leadership to lead people in the love of God for all, because the Gospel is for all – no matter one’s race or status. My great, great grandfather’s courage inspires me to speak out against evil and hate, even in the midst of fierce opposition.
My quest for his legacy led me to a few details that bring this story full circle for my family. Before my family moved to Chickasha to serve as the Associate Pastor for First Baptist Church of Chickasha, I had only once before traveled to this city. Now, years later, I found that RL Moore lived in Chickasha before his time in Drumright. Even more, the Chickasha Daily Express reported the story of Moore’s abduction and attack on January 31, 1922. His leadership of the Overall and Hickory Shirt Brigade also connected him to First Baptist Church of Drumright, which reasonably connects him as a member at some time in the past of the church where I serve as a leader in the present! At the time of writing this, I am currently searching for member records of First Baptist Church of Chickasha, Oklahoma between 1903-1922.
The story of my grandpa’s grandpa reminds me of the words found in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” May that be true of me, and may I lead my family to continue this legacy of loving God and loving others, seeking his justice and kindness.
 Victor Emmanuel Harlow, Makers of Government in Oklahoma: A Descriptive Roster of Oklahomans Whose Influence and Activity Make Them Significant in the Course of Public Events in Their State (Harlow Publishing Company, 1930), 354, accessed online at https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=1U4XAAAAIAAJ&rdid=book-1U4XAAAAIAAJ&rdot=1