Red or Blue: How republican is Texas’ history?


    Before you read, test some of your knowledge on Texas’ political history:

    Modern day Texas is portrayed in a particular political light.

    “Texas has this image of being characterized by cowboy conservatism,” assistant professor of history, Max Krochmal, said. “It never changes over time. Certainly, it’s a red state today.”

    In actuality, Texas’ history has more blue than you would think.

    “In fact, Texas has a robust liberal and progressive tradition really going back to the 19th century,” Krochmal said.

    For the past eight years, he has been researching this “robust liberal tradition” in preparation for his book, “Blue Texas: Labor, Civil Rights and the Making of the Multiracial Democratic Coalition.”

    The book is scheduled to be published by spring of 2016.

    It is about the liberal Democratic history of Texas through the eyes of the African-American and Mexican-American civil rights movements in the 1940s through the 1960s.

    A timeline of some major, Texan civil rights movements throughout the 20th century.

    Information courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association and the History Channel website.

    These movements, Krochmal said, were born from the Democratic Party.

    However, the party’s values at this time weren’t what we think of in regards to democrats today.

    While the Republican Party retreated into the shadows, the democrats had almost all of the political control. Throughout the 20th century, the party started to split.

    There were the conservative democrats:

    Krochmal said they were known as “the party of white supremacy–a party that was committed to maintaining what they called the traditional, southern way of life.” What we think of as Jim Crow segregation was actually invented around the late 1890s and 1900s, rather than being an old-age thing.

    “And the Democratic Party was the vehicle for much of that change. All these kinds of barriers for blacks and poor whites voting, they all happened under the democratic administration,” Krochmal said.

    And there were the liberal democrats:

    “Gradually, more a liberal wing of the Democratic Party came to be a gathering of civil rights activists,” Krochmal said. “There were African-Americans, there were Mexican-Americans, there were whites for union leaders, as well as sort of independent liberals.”

    “Blue Texas” examines these civil rights movements – of African-Americans and Mexican-Americans – and analyzes how they started to work together towards a common goal.

    Krochmal said the importance of these movements in Texas is that they consisted of people in the community involving themselves in political discussion.

    “The same people who were going and sitting in at the lunch counters are also the people leading the fight for better job opportunities,” he said, “and the people who are organizing the precincts and ultimately participating in the state-wide coalition.”

    And it was community people who did not have much in common culturally.

    “One of the key points that I’m making is that coming together was not natural or foreordained,” Krochmal said. “In fact it was fraught with peril and danger at every turn.”

    “And it takes them years of relationship building and experimentation before they really come together in common cause.”

    How Krochmal discovers the blue in Texas

    Research for the book was collected in several ways.

    Krochmal examined published records from various activists and organizations throughout Texas.

    He examined papers of activists as well as correspondence between them to collect information on their involvement in the civil rights movements.

    “They are all just little snippets of letters that they wrote to each other, minutes of a meeting,” Krochmal said. “All of these different activities that allowed me to reconstruct the way that these different activists were interested in building their base of their respective groups.”

    He also examined “big chucks of evidence” to support these correspondences such as newspapers from the time period.

    But the search for “Blue Texas” goes a little deeper than meeting minutes. It’s on a more personal level.

    “I do a lot of oral interviews,” Krochmal said. “I find people who are involved in these movements, or in some cases that are children or relatives, the oldest people I can find, and I go and I talk to them about their lives.”

    Krochmal has done more than a hundred interviews for the book. Some of them may not even make it into the book at all, he said.

    All of the interviews have been broken up into topics relating to the Mexican and African-American civil rights movements in Texas and shared at Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project.

    Interviewees were asked various questions regarding topics from their or their family members’ involvement with civil rights movements to their views on racism and segregation in general.

    Brenda Fields when asked about how people can be involved in contemporary activism, replied:

    “You have to give back. Freedom ain’t free.”

    Bob Ray Sanders, one of the first black reporters from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, talked about the effect of the mass media on the civil rights movements as well as his experience working as a black reporter in Fort Worth.

    Interviews courtesy of Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project.

    Krochmal said he hopes that “Blue Texas” can be relatable to different kinds of people and shed a particular light on the civil rights movement through the Texan prospective.

    “This book helps to explain the dramatic transformation and changes of the civil rights activists and the unfinished business,” Krochmal said.

    “The great inequality that we still have.”

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