Hiram Wesley Evans (September 26, 1881 – September 14, 1966) was the only dentist to appear on the front cover of Time Magazine. Evans was born in Ashland, Alabama, on September 26, 1881, and moved to Hubbard, Texas, with his family as a child. He was the son of Hiram Martin Evans, a judge, and his wife, Georgia Evans. Evans attended Vanderbilt University and became a dentist. He operated a small, moderately successful practice in downtown Dallas, Texas until 1920, when he joined the Klan’s Dallas chapter. Rumors later arose that his dental qualifications were “a bit shady”. He quickly rose through the ranks and became Imperial Wizard, the national leader, in November 1922. Evans transformed the group into a political power. He was the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan from 1922 to 1939.
Evans had led kidnapping and torture, but he publicly discouraged vigilante actions for fear that they would hinder his attempts to gain political influence. In 1923, Evans presided over the largest Klan gathering in history, attended by over 200,000, and endorsed several successful candidates in 1924 elections. He moved the Klan’s headquarters from Atlanta to Washington, DC, and organized a march of 30,000 members, the largest march in the organization’s history, on Pennsylvania Avenue. Evans’ efforts notwithstanding, the Klan was buffeted by damaging publicity in the early 1920s, partially because of leadership struggles between Evans and his rivals, which hindered his political efforts.
In addition to his white supremacist ideology, he fiercely condemned Catholicism, unionism, and communism, which were associated with recent immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Historians credit Evans with refocusing the Klan on political activities and recruiting outside the South; the Klan grew most in the Midwest and industrial cities.
Evans described himself as “the most average man in America”. Of average height and somewhat overweight, Evans was well dressed, a skilled speaker, and very ambitious. He was also a Freemason.
In his writings on the subject, he cited the nation’s illiteracy rate as evidence that American public schools were failing, and he considered low teacher salaries and child labor key obstacles to reform. He supported the idea of a federal Department of Education, hoping that it would lead to improvements in public schools. Evans wrote four books in the mid to late 1920s: The Menace of Modern Immigration (1923), The Klan of Tomorrow (1924), Alienism in the Democracy (1927), and The Rising Storm (1929).
In 1924, the group convinced Republican Party leaders to avoid criticizing it, prompting Time to put Evans on its cover. That year, the Klan supported Calvin Coolidge in his successful candidacy for president of the United States. Although Coolidge opposed many key Klan platforms, with the exception of immigration restrictions and prohibition, he was the only major-party candidate who did not condemn them. Nonetheless, Evans declared Coolidge’s victory a great success for the Klan. Evans’ attempts to elect Klansmen to public offices in 1924 saw limited success except in Indiana.
Evans’ service as Imperial Wizard proved to be a lucrative position, allowing him to maintain a large residence in a prestigious Atlanta neighborhood. In the mid-1930s, however, Klan funds dwindled, and he worked for a Georgia-based construction company selling products to the Georgia Highway Board. In 1940, the state of Georgia charged Evans and a member of the state highway board with price fixing. The Attorney General of Georgia, directed legal proceedings against Evans that resulted in a $15,000 fine. As late as 1949, Evans served as a commentator on Klan activities, speaking as the former Imperial Wizard. He died on September 14, 1966 in Atlanta.