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.

51 Years Later: the JFK Assassination and the Congressman George Mahon Papers

JFK-Tx BreakfastLast year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Southwest Collection installed an exhibit of our materials related to the tragedy. Although no exhibit is on display this year, we have dug up more related books, documents, photographs, and other materials from the papers of then-Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr and Congressman George H. Mahon .Connally letter-darkened sentenceThis letter from Texas Governor John Connally and the accompanying tickets are from our George Mahon Papers. After a long legal career, in 1934 Mahon won the congressional seat for Texas’ Nineteenth Congressional District. Below is also a picture showing a White House greeting between President Kennedy and Mahon in 1962, not an uncommon sight in Washington at that time given that Mahon served as Texas’ Representative for over forty-four years. Because he ranked as one of the most influential Texas Democrats, Mahon joined the Texas delegation that traveled with the President throughout Texas and attended the event held the night before the assassination, for which the tickets above provided admission.  JFK + Mahon cropt

Ntbk p.1+++On November 22, 1963, Mahon found himself riding through Dealey Plaza only five cars behind the President. During the flight back to Washington, D.C. after the assassination, Mahon recorded his recollections of the event. “I heard the shots fired which killed the President of the United States,” begin these notes, a sample of which can be seen above. Correspondence and other documents related to the event are a significant part of our collection of his papers.Jackie Kennedy note 12.17.63Lastly, we have this thank you from Jacqueline Kennedy that was mailed to Mahon after he had provided to her and her family his condolences. Although it is a small, simple item, it was one that Mahon kept for the rest of his life and was generously included among his papers as a unique token of this pivotal moment in United States history.

Those interested in other archival collections related to the JFK assassination might also take a look at our Waggoner Carr Papers. The Attorney General of Texas in 1963, Carr was a key figure in the early days of the assassination investigation. For a look at his papers, Mahon’s, or any of our other many collections, feel free to contact our Reference Department. They are always happy to get you set up.