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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Memories of father's job and involvement with the Ku Klux Klan

Kester discusses his father's job as a merchant tailor (the family business) and his involvement in the Ku Klux Klan during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Kester recalls his father as a man of integrity with a fierce temper. Although he does not believe that his father was involved in racial violence with the Ku Klux Klan, he describes how his mother and siblings learned of his involvement in the Klan when they found his regalia.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Howard Kester, July 22, 1974. Interview B-0007-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

My father, he had some Quakerism in him, but Mama was a Presbyterian, a Southern Presbyterian, and he joined the Presbyterian Church, became an elder and a Sunday School teacher in Church . . . and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, too. (Laughter)
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was he an active member of the Ku Klux Klan?
HOWARD KESTER:
Well, he was never a leader, but people relied on him, they had so much respect for him. He was the kind of man who rarely, if ever, signed a contract. He said, "My word is as good as my bond." And there are some people around like that today, too, who, if they give you their word, that is all that is necessary, and . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were you aware of him going to Klan meetings, or being involved in disciplining . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, through my mother. My mother found the regalia.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Oh, she didn't know he was in the Klan?
HOWARD KESTER:
She found it, yes.
JACQUELYN HALL:
She didn't know it until she found the Klan regalia?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and it nearly broke her heart. She didn't like any part of it, and I don't believe that Papa ever engaged in any violence. He had a fierce temper. (laughter) It was his principle, he told you to do something once and that was all. You'd better do it. And for the survey of Pennsylvania, I don't thing the two brothers did that much, some of the relatives say that they surveyed the whole state. Well, I just can't believe it. And they were given land. I guess that after all Penn had to give them land . . . in what is now Chestnut Hill near Philadelphia. And either Williams . . . Williamsburg, I believe or Williamstown, in Pennsylvania and my father was a merchant tailor, it had been the great tradition. Some say it goes back five hundred years to a merchant tailor. Do you know what a merchant tailor is?
JACQUELYN HALL:
No.
HOWARD KESTER:
A merchant tailor is a man who makes men's clothes . . . has the whole cloth, and he fits them and puts the garment together and they come in for fittings to see that everything is all right, you know. And my father didn't want to be a tailor, but his father wouldn't have it any other way. The tailoring trade had been in the family for generations. My Father wanted to be an engineer and he had the mind for it. You go to Cologne today, or at least it was the last time I was in Cologne and you can see the names and they are all tailors.
JACQUELYN HALL:
They are all tailors?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, and my father wanted to be a mining engineer, but my grandfather said, "No, absolutely not, you're going to be a tailor." And he attended school. He went to what they called a Cutting School, in New York City, and became a first-rate tailor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did he have a shop in his home, or where . . .
HOWARD KESTER:
Before I was born they lived in Bristol, and Roanoke and finally Martinsville, and then he ran into financial difficulty and we moved to West Virginia; Beckley in Raleigh County. And I have a brother, who is retired, living in Florida, near Orlando, and a sister who has the old home place in Beckley, and that's it. I came along in 1904.
JACQUELYN HALL:
He was a tailor when you were born?
HOWARD KESTER:
Yes, he was a tailor, never anything but a tailor.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Beckley is a Mining community.
HOWARD KESTER:
That's right, and I caught on while . . . Mama inadvertently, I suppose, showed us the regalia as children. My mother was really an angelic woman, and I don't ever remember her whipping me. (Laughter.) I couldn't say that about my daddy.