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.

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Painstakingly Preserved Political Paraphernalia

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Election Day is coming up (or might have just passed, depending on when you’re reading this!) The SWC has a tremendous number of political collections, but some of the coolest parts of those aren’t correspondence or signed proclamations or whatever else it is politicians wind up gathering during their careers. No, the best things are the memorabilia!

Take these buttons and pamphlets attempting to drum up support for Gordon Barton McLendon. “The Maverick of Radio,” McClendon nailed down the Top 40 radio format in the 1950s and through that made a fortune. He didn’t stop there, though. As an offshore pirate radio broadcaster, he bombarded the coasts of Scandanavia and Great Britain with the music he loved, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Most of this is documented in his papers (which we have), as is his heavy involvement in politics during the 1960s. In 1964, for example, he ran in the Democratic primary against U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. He lost, but on the trail he managed to bring along some famous folks, including John Wayne! The buttons above are from that campaign. 2AFL1398Scattered cross various collections are campaign relics related to four-term U.S. Congressman Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. From 1948 to 1955, Bentsen served Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then in the Senate from 1971-1993. While a Senator he chaired the Senate Finance Committee, which he parlayed into a position as U.S. Treasury Secretary during Bill Clinton’s early years as president. He even accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for Vice President of the United States in Michael Dukakis’ failed campaign against George H. W. Bush in 1988. But to do all that, he first had to get elected, and so his understated buttons and bepamphleted, smiling face grace the SWC’s collections.catalystV2I4-1-2Here’s an alternative view of campaigning, presented by Texas Tech’s own The Catalyst, a controversial, underground student newspaper during the 1960s and 70s. It contained articles, reviews, editorials, satires, parodies and political statements about the Vietnam War, racial discord, and drug use, among other topics. It was also the cornerstone of a 1970 lawsuit that became one of the most notable court cases in the area of freedom of the press for school newspapers. Legal problems aren’t surprising, given the anti-establishment tone of the articles in this October 22-November 5, 1970 issue. Check out the decidedly irreverent account of Spiro Agnew’s visit to Lubbock. They also editorialize on the senatorial contest between George H. W. Bush and Lloyd Bentsen. Those parts are good, but the rest of it is even better, rambling across a boycott of Purex products, campus police acquiring tear gas, and the benefits of hallucinogens.2AFL1401 We’ve saved the Presidential stuff for last, and boy do we have a slew of it! First up is a message card from LBJ’s 1964 campaign. It’s hard to tell whether or not this item is arguing for or against a vote for him. We’re open to your interpretation, if you’d like to comment below. Next, in direct opposition to The Catalyst’s viewpoints, we have a small button supporting the Nixon/Agnew ticket. Lastly, a run-of-the-mill bumper sticker for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign against Gerald Ford. Our American Agricultural Movement Papers suggest some definite opposition to Carter after his election, but the owner of this bumper sticker, at least, felt that Jimmy was the man to beat.

Interested in taking a peek at any of our numerous political collections? That’s what our Reference Staff is here for. Give them a call, before or after you’ve voted. They’d be happy to help you out.