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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Amon Carter's political influence

Newspaper publisher Amon Carter exerted a great deal of influence over Texas politics throughout the mid-twentieth century. Carter uses her husband's experience with Amon Carter's political machine to describe how his system functioned.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Margaret Carter, October 25, 1975. Interview A-0309-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And was Amon Carter a Regular?
MARGARET CARTER:
I think that he tried to stay out of it personally, but most of his friends were in it. There is a group of privileged people in Ft. Worth who are civilized, and although they are not about to encourage anybody whom they consider radical or in any way unusual, they usually let social climbers and some true believers, carry the burden of prejudice.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Was he in what you would call an old family, wealthy …
MARGARET CARTER:
No. He was an upstart from Bowie who was brought up without a father, as my husband was, and who sold chicken and bread to the people who came through on the railroad at Bowie. There was no railroad cafe at the station in Bowie. So, his mother began to fry chicken and he took it down to the train and he sold it through the windows to the people who were hungry when the trains stopped there.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Is Bowie close to Ft. Worth?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. And he had little formal education, Much later, a high school in Ft. Worth was named for him, And he wrote a rather pathetic letter saying how much he appreciated having the high school named for him since he had never had the privilege of graduating from high school. He came to Ft. Worth and married the daughter of a very well placed lumber man who in local politics. Her name was Nenetta Burton and she is still active in Ft. Worth, not so much in politics as in general charitable projects. And it was her father's money and position that gave him his start. He built on the fact that he came into possession of a newspaper. Of course, he had to be a pretty good businessman to become a publisher of a newspaper, which he was, at the time when the oil boom hit Ft. Worth. He was a boss who used economic power to get his way in politics, too. He really had more interest in making sure that he controlled what went on in city hall than in anything else except national elections. He wanted to be sure that he was the man that campaign managers of national candidates came to in Ft. Worth. He raised the money for national candidates and not even the campaign managers knew from whom he got the money. He had the checks made to him and then he put them in the bank and wrote his check for the total amount that had been collected for Ft. Worth.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So he got the credit for it?
MARGARET CARTER:
He got the credit for it and there was nothing that Roosevelt could or would do … he probably wouldn't want to do anything to find out who were the dependable New Deal supporters in Ft. Worth. I remember one supporter who resented bitterly the fact that he raised more money for the national ticket than Amon Carter did didn't raise it in Ft. Worth, he went to East Texas, the oil boom had moved from West Texas to East Texas by that time and he raised the money in East Texas and in every other way made himself as useful to the national leadership as Amon Carter had. His name was Karl Crowley and he was very bitter because his service didn't gain him any access to national leadership when they won elections.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
What sort of coercion did Carter have at his disposal to force the people to channel their money through him?
MARGARET CARTER:
He was a very heavy-handed political boss. He was a benevolent despot, but he was a despot and we are still suffering from the lack of leadership that his period of leadership left us in.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
What was that period?
MARGARET CARTER:
From 1920 to 1955.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
That's a sizeable chunk of years.
MARGARET CARTER:
He allowed no one of an age to be his children the opportunity to show any leadership. The great mistake that my husband made, the reason that he had no political career, he ran for public office twice, was that he had the temerity to announce for public office without first consulting Mr. Amon Carter about whether it was a good idea to run. To tell the truth, he just didn't know that that was part of the procedure. [Laughter] He thought you went to the city secretary or the county chairman and got a blank and filed.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And when did he find out that he had made a mistake?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, he was told after his application hit the newspaper. The newspaper was Mr. Carter's eyes and ears.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Was his the only major newspaper in Ft. Worth at the time?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, except the Scripps-Howard paper … I can't say exactly when it came in, we had the Ft. Worth Press most of the time that I've lived in Ft. Worth. It was a Scripps-Howard newspaper for many years, but it was not long before the Ft. Worth Press began to follow the Star-Telegram's editorial policy on everything, except national and international issues.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, what happened then to your husband's career? In what way did Amon Carter influence it?
MARGARET CARTER:
He retired my husband. [Laughter] Without even taking the trouble to do it personally. Dr. Hammond had great difficulty on the city council. My husband had become a staunch admirer of his and a staunch follower of whatever tactics Dr. Hammond decided to use, which were sometimes rather dramatic and unconventional.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Would you say that he was a liberal?
MARGARET CARTER:
Oh, he was. He was a humanitarian.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Was he rather unique in that respect, so far as Ft. Worth councilmen went?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. So, of course, we were labelled as Hammond people. There came a time when the Star-Telegram had used its influence to persuade enough members of the city council to resign one by one, that there was no longer a quorum able to hold meetings and conduct business, or it had almost reached that point. They kept bringing economic pressure on Dr. Hammond who was vunerable to it. Dr. Hammond had run against the chairman of the board of the university where he was a member of the faculty, and beat him.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
He was at T.C.U.?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
A law professor, did you say?
MARGARET CARTER:
He was a history professor.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
That doesn't fit my image of the usual timorous faculty member.
MARGARET CARTER:
He was approaching retirement age and he would have been unable to get employment at another school had he been forced to resign from T.C.U. So, he stayed as long as he could and he was convinced that he would be fired at T.C.U. unless he resigned as mayor. He wasn't mayor at first; it was after two or three elections that he became mayor.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Was this a citywide election?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, it was.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And he ran on what, a rather humanitarian and enlightened platform?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. And he carried out the programs that he advanced, too.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And he was undoubtedly opposed by the Ft. Worth press?
MARGARET CARTER:
The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram all the way.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Were there any papers that supported him?
MARGARET CARTER:
No. Dr. Hammond reached the point where he needed to resign, which would have left the city council without a quorum. They couldn't have held meetings or conducted city business. The idea was to throw the city government into complete anarchy and he asked my husband if he would accept that seat by appointment.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
What year was that?
MARGARET CARTER:
I would have to check it. I think that it was '38. My husband accepted the appointment.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
As mayor?
MARGARET CARTER:
No, the replacement would not be mayor then, he was a member of the council. There had been a long series of recall movements. Dr. Hammond had never succeeded in electing the whole city council but he had succeeded in getting six of the nine members elected on a slate and then several of them had turned against him. My husband had been chairman of the recall movement to get petitions signed to remove these people who had double-crossed Dr. Hammond. When my husband took the seat on the council the very petitions that my husband had gotten signed against other councilmen were also used in district court in a law suit to unseat him. Not a single voter had ever signed a petition to recall my husband.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You mean that they just used the same list of names?
MARGARET CARTER:
They just used the same list of names. And when they held a special election to recall the people who had disappointed Dr. Hammond, they also put my husband's seat up for grabs. He took them as far as he could go in the courts to protest that illegal unseating and then when the regular election came around, he ran for the seat and was defeated. This was all before he ran for county chairman.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So again, this is pretty much the doing of Amon Carter?
MARGARET CARTER:
No, I wouldn't say that. Because it was a situation where practically abl the others interested in politics were sheep… Everybody who worked for a major oil company or a utility company or a bank or for a large business was automatically in the pocket of Mr. Carter. They were quite willing followers. There was very little rough pressure brought, it was just their finding out what the boss wanted them to do and that is what they did.