Two Collections, Two Perspectives

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Today we’re contemplating two new-ish, seemingly unrelated collections that each portray wildly opposite views on the same topics. In this case: socialism and communism. One collection–the papers of early 20th-century activist Thomas Hickey–was chock full of cartoons like the one above, as well as pamphlets and letters advocating for labor unions, socialism, and similar propositions.

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The other collection came from Texas women’s rights activist Hermine Tobolowsky. Her primary focus was on the Texas Equal Legal Rights Amendment for women. 99% of the boxes and folders in her collection are had nothing to do with Hickey’s raison d’etre. But that 1% was anti-communism through and through. Items such as the image above suggest she was dead-set on educating the population against the communists.

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Hickey was the private secretary to Eugene V. Debs, who was a founder of the IWW, found himself before the Supreme Court on one occasion, and more than a few times ran for the office of U.S. President. As a result of their close connection, Hickey’s papers contain many pamphlets published by Debs, his family members, and others.

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It’s a fairly safe bet that Tobolowsky would not have been a Debs fan. While socialism and communism are two distinctly different philosophies, Tobolowsky’s papers don’t bother with the distinction. Teaching materials for K-12 students, anti-communist mailings and pamphlets, and a host of other items testify to that fact. The above warning from J. Edgar Hoover is the most classic of its kind, however. Vintage Red Scare!

Both collections also contain a whole lot more about the rest of their lives and careers. You can find Tobolowsky’s finding aid here, while Hickey’s materials have been digitized in their entirety over here.  Take a look through them, and if you see something you want to see more of, give us a call!

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Governor Coke Stevenson vs. The Communists!

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Born in 1888, Coke Robert Stevenson was a prominent Texas politician. How prominent? First off, he was Texas’ Governor from 1941 to 1947, but before that he served as a Kimball County Attorney and Judge, member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1929 to 1939 (four years of which he served as Speaker,) and also did a stint as Lieutenant Governor under Pappy O’Daniel. He was the only 20th century Texas politician to hold all of those statewide offices during a career. More importantly (to us!), the SWC is currently processing his papers. Among them we found a couple of small items concerned with a pressing issue in the United States during Stevenson’s years: communism.

The pamphlet above is one example. “A White Paper on the Black Pages of the Red Menace;” that’s one heck of a subtitle, and a stern indictment of communism to say the least. It does make sense to find it among Stevenson’s possessions. He consistently and vocally opposed communism and its attempts to creep into the U.S. But this pamphlet wasn’t by far the wildest material tucked into his papers.

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First, a story: in 1948, at the end of his governorship, Stevenson ran for a U.S. Senate seat against Lyndon B. Johnson. Although Stevenson had lead the race by a small margin, he ultimately lost by only 87 votes. He immediately cried “foul,” and challenged the results, claiming that Johnson had stuffed the ballot. By an equally narrow margin (29-28,) Texas’ Democratic Central Committee declared the election for Johnson despite Stevenson’s appeal. And so Coke retired to his ranch near Junction, Texas, and left elections (but not politics, per se) behind.

Communism was probably not involved in the ballot box issue, but one riled-up citizen of Pampa, Texas, thought otherwise, and in the above letter explained how communists had “stole, or feloniously miscounted” votes. His “facts, true facts!” were one voice among many concerned about America’s future. For example, Pappy O’Daniel, under whom Coke served as Lieutenant Governor, had hunted communists as well, focusing particularly on suspicious academics at the University of Texas. Lt. Governor Stevenson had supported that policy, and this letter writer knew it. Sadly, LBJ did not, and in Senatorial campaign speeches he accused Stevenson of being soft on the “red menace.” One more bit of evidence that one man in Pampa, Texas, believed pointed toward the Democrats’ “subservience” to the “COMMUNIST PARTY.”

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Setting election controversy aside, we turn again to Jack Gardner’s booklet. First, it’s signed to the governor by the author. That’s an exciting find in any collection! Gardner wanted to place it in the hands of those who could best prosecute the communism that he so despised. The booklet was actually written in the form of a speech to be given by the President of the United States, or “some patriotic statesman.” Because this item is dated 1964, however, it’s unlikely that Gardner’s dream of the “preservation of the sacred fire of liberty” in memory of George Washington, to whom the pamphlet is dedicated, was within the retired Stevenson’s power.

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The rhetoric in the pamphlet is intense. Whether by President or patriot, the words should be delivered at the United Nations. If “made available to all citizens of the Planet Earth,” Gardner’s rhetoric would send commies running and reignite the fires of liberty worldwide. Drawing from previous presidential speeches ranging from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to those of Franklin Roosevelt, the dozen or so pages of this pamphlet suggest a world of concentrated, fanatical anti-Communist sentiment in the mid-20th century.

The Coke Stevenson Papers are not yet available, as they are copious and have to be arranged, described, and inventoried correctly to be of any use to researchers. In the meantime, interested folks can feel free to take a look at the papers of other prominent politicians in our collection, such as Representative George Mahon and Governor Preston Smith. Our Reference Staff would be happy to facilitate that.