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.

San Jacinto Day and the Temple Houston Morrow Papers

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San Jacinto Day is today, Monday, April 21st, and that’s why we’re sharing with you our Temple Houston Morrow Papers. Morrow was a longtime president of Traders and General Insurance Company of Dallas, Texas, and more importantly the grandson of Sam Houston. Sam Houston was a leader of the Texas Revolution (which we also wrote about here), the 1st and 3rd President of the Republic of Texas, a U.S. Senator, and the 7th Governor of Texas. Forces under his command defeated the Mexican Army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21st, 1836. Among other things, the Papers contains letters to and from Houston, his wife Margaret, and his son Sam, Jr.

The letter above is one of the most precious of our materials related to Sam Houston. Written by Governor Houston on December 2nd, 1860, to state Comptroller Clement R. Jones, this letter requests the transfer of funds from Texas University Land Sales in order to supply soldiers fighting along the frontier, which was, in Houston’s words, “being savaged by Indians.”

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As you can imagine, Houston was a national celebrity for much of his life as evidenced by this March 1861 note. Theo Sutherland (about whom our collections sadly provide no further mention than this note) asks herein for Houston’s autograph. Note Sutherland’s use of the title “General” when addressing Houston. This title, rather than Governor or Senator, is by far the most frequently used in any our documents written after 1836 regardless of the office he held at the time.

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Correspondence between Sam Houston, Jr. and his father and mother comprise more than a third of the Papers. This is one such written in Huntsville, Texas, the city in which Houston would eventually retire in the midst of the Civil War. Houston passed away in Huntsville in 1863, and not coincidentally Sam Houston State University is now located there. In this 1859 letter, Sam Jr. encourages his father, who had been absent from home for some time while serving as a Senator and campaigning for Texas governor, to return for a visit with Sam Jr. and his mother.

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Not all items in the collection were familial. This is a receipt of purchase written by F. D. Elberfield. Apparently the Houston family needed a sewing machine, and they got one for a mere $125 (which might correlate to as much as $2,000 today, although calculating currency across 150 years is not an exact science.) Elberfield also provided a warranty for replacement of the machine…provided it “is kept clean and oiled, the loop check is in order, the tension and lenght [sic] of stitch properly regulated.”

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Our final example comes from the hand of Margaret Lea Houston, Sam’s wife. It was written on April 18th, 1837, nearly a year to the day after the Battle of San Jacinto. Fittingly, Mrs. Houston mentions a speech that Sam was recently invited to give at Independence, Texas on the anniversary of the battle a few days later.

There are so many more incredible items in this collection that this blog could easily stretch much, much longer. Rather than do that, however, we encourage you to get ahold of our Reference Staff to arrange a look the Papers. Fortunately, many of them may soon be digitized and made available online among our many other digital holdings. Keep an eye out for that!