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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 >>

The Carters help found Young Democrats in Texas

After he was pushed out of the established political scene, Jack Carter and a few other younger politicos established the Young Democrats in Texas. Carter describes what the clubs did and how they were eventually destroyed.

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

After my husband became the county chairman in '44, he was too old to go to the war, and of course, the younger men who might have been active in politics were in the war in '44. And in '45, a young man from Georgia came into Texas because he was part of the staff of the Democratic National Party, to organize some Young Democrats. By that time, we had elected a staunch New Dealer from Dallas, Mr. Harry Seay who was president of the Southland Insurance Company, as state Democratic chairman. And Bill Kittrell, who was Mr. Rayburn's man in Texas, was the secretary of the state party when the national committee sent this young staff member down to get Young Democratic clubs organized. Their thinking was that they wanted to be able to receive the veterans as they returned from the Second World War and to make sure that young people stayed faithful to the Democratic party. My husband was able to help and by December, 1945 we had a good many Young Democratic clubs formed. That was when I travelled for the Young Democrat and my husband was elected president of the Young Democratic Clubs of Texas. Jim Wright was elected national committeeman.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Jim Wright who is presently a congressman?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. And Bob Eckhardt 5 was active in that group and so was Stewart Long 6 and so was Chris Dixie 7 and Bob Slagle … well, Bob Slagle flaked in '46 and gave us trouble. 1 A Houston labor attorney who later served in the Texas House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress 2 Long an Austin newspaperman, and his wife, Emma, have long been associated with the liberal movement. 3 Dixie is a Houston labor lawyer and statewide liberal strategist.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Bob Slagle?
MARGARET CARTER:
S-L-A-G-L-E. He was from Sherman and he was also at one point the statewide manager of the Ralph Yarborough campaign. The first campaign that Senator Yarborough won was run by Bob Slagle.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
What do you mean when you say that he "flaked?"
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, we knew that we had something, and we did have something. We had a very good organization, a very lively organization and the establishmen began to infiltrate it. And Slagle and Joe Kilgore 8 were flaked by the time of the '46 convention. 4 An Austin attorney, former Congressman, and political fund-raiser for such conservative candidates as U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Governor Dolph Briscoe. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Would you like to continue?
MARGARET CARTER:
I'm not sure where I was … I think that I was telling you about my husband and the Young Democrats. After we had had a highly successful convention in '45, that is, highly successful from the point of view of people who were interested in issues, we got a great many of the returned veterans into the organization and they were on fire about issues. They wanted to know, "what did we mean pretending that China didn't exist," or "why in the world weren't we doing more about getting ethnic minorities interested in politics," and all kinds of questions that our elders and betters didn't want brought up. I was on the resolutions committee. We adopted a bloc of resolutions which were much tamer as we adopted them than they were as they came into the committee. [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You say that this is '46?
MARGARET CARTER:
'45. And Jim Wright was chairman of that resolutions committee. The reason why it is rather fresh in my mind is because he is writing an autobiography and …
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Jim Wright is?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, and he sent me a rough draft of a chapter for which he asked me to check the exact dates of that state convention and if possible, to send him a copy of the resolutions we adopted. I found it and xeroxed it for him. So, I have just been over the resolutions and the 18-year-old vote was one of them. There are several things which have been achieved in the years between then and now. Some of them have not yet been achieved but will be. By '46 of course, Bill Kittrell at least was wishing that they had never seen the man from Georgia who started all this. [Laughter] Of course, Mr. Kittrell had to answer to Mr. Rayburn for any disturbing influences in Texas and when we had an even more successful convention in '46, the national committeeman, whose name was Myron Blalock, from Marshall, tried to buy it with paper clubs. We didn't let him … our credentials committee sat down and called all people whose names were listed as members and said, "When did you join the Young Democratic club?" You know, it was just paper organization in most instances.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
You are suggesting at this point that the Young Democratic clubs in Texas were essentially a progressive network of organizations?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. We were able to keep our statewide organization or network of only bonafide clubs. They didn't have to all agree with each other, but they did all have to be Young Democrats who were actually organized. That was the point when Bob Slagle and Joe Kilgore rose up, after the credentials report, and said that they were leaving us and they wanted their money back. Chris Dixie rose and made a fiery, eloquent speech in which he said with great dignity that there had been many reasons why Democrats had had to bolt in the recent past and there might be other reasons why it would be necessary to do so serious a thing as to bolt, but this was the only occasion when people had bolted because they wanted their money back. [Laughter] And he moved that the money be returned to the persons who provided it and that money was never claimed.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Who did Chris Dixie suspect had provided the money?
MARGARET CARTER:
Mr. Blalock.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
I see.
MARGARET CARTER:
So, in 1948 when Truman announced for president and the establishment in Texas was not for him, he had no money with which to open a state headquarters and Marion Storm was the secretary, my husband was then the president. She was then in charge of a local liberal office which Mrs. Cunningham had encouraged her to open back in 1944.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
This is Minnie Fisher Cunningham?
MARGARET CARTER:
Minnie Fisher Cunningham. 9 1 Mrs. Cunningham was a leading liberal figure in Texas for many years. She was a woman suffragist leader in the teens, a staunch Progressive and Prohibitionist, and a New Deal Democrat. She ran unsuccessfully for governor in the 1944 Democratic primary. Marion saw my husband and said, "We still have this $2,000 in the bank that nobody ever claimed from the '46 convention. Why don't we contribute it to the Truman campaign and they will be able to open a statewide headquarters?" So, that was what we did, because long before '48, Myron Blalock had persuaded the national committee to lift our charter.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
On what grounds?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, they didn't have to have any grounds, as far as I know, there never were any. Of course, he had not approved our organization in the first place.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
To go back one step, you give the impression that Rayburn was not pleased by the Young Democrats.
MARGARET CARTER:
Mr. Rayburn didn't mind our organizing in the first place, or Mr. Kittrell wouldn't have encouraged us. You see, we thought that the proper auspices were the secretary and chairman of the state Democratic committee. We didn't even know Mr. Blalock and you know, we're not much for looking up influential perople. [Laughter] . We didn't see the need to, which I suppose we should have. The first that we heard from Mr. Blalock was that Mr. Rayburn was disatisfied on account of the content of these resolutions.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
In other words, on account of these rather progressive resolutions?
MARGARET CARTER:
They didn't suit his friends over the state. And he was blamed for not having ridden herd on us before we gave publicity to these wild ideas like the 18-year-old vote.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, in various accounts of Rayburn's political career, he is often described as a New Deal liberal, but what you seem to be suggesting here is that at least by this point in his career, he was of a more conservative view.
MARGARET CARTER:
No, Mr. Rayburn was involved in a dichotomy. He was one person in Texas and another person in Washington. In Washington, he was Roosevelt's faithful organizer of the majority in the House. Since he and Roosevelt were elected and reelected in the same elections, on the same ticket, he felt that it was his duty to give the president practical support and he did. Except, of course, the depletion allowance could not be touched. He was there to see that the Texas oil industry was not offended. But in Texas, he was the man who extracted the checks from the millionaires. And everyone in Texas who disturbed the sensibilities of the millionaires had to be repressed so that he could get the credit for bringing substantial sums of money to the national party and also be free to give the president practical support of the kind that most ordinary voters don't understand.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So what happened when you incurred the ire of Rayburn?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well of course, in the process of taking the charter away from us they did have the grace to organize a Young Democratic club. [Laughter] They organized rival clubs, a few, which they recognized and as soon as they were recognized, they stopped meeting.