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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 >>

Homer Rainey campaigns for academic freedom at the University of Texas

In 1944, the University of Texas Board of Regents fired Homer Rainey in what became a celebrated case of academic freedom. Following that, Rainey ran for governor, and though he lost the race, Carter claims that he was successful because his progressive slate of programming forced the victor Beauford Jester to adopt a more liberal agenda.

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:
Well, you are speaking here when you say the Rainey affair, you're talking about President Homer Rainey who was fired by the board of regents at the University of Texas. Could you describe a little bit about how the Rainey bid for the governorship, the entire Rainey affair there, served as a focus for liberal organizing energies at that period?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. If you want to know where I knew Rainey, he was the youth director for the Baptist church that I attended as a little girl in Sherman. He went to Austin College and his wife taught in the high school that was a block from our house. He left Texas soon after he graduated and went into religious education rather than the ministry. At the time that he was youth director of our church, he was a ministerial student and it was a long time before he came back to Texas as the president of the University of Texas. When we were organizing the Young Democrats, many people thought and some were candid enough to say that they thought we were only organizing the Rainey campaign for governor. You may not remember, I don't know whether you were here then, that after he was fired-and of course, he realized fully that the course he was following for at least a year before he was fired was leading to that,-he became a regular radio commentator with the support of a man who had invented a power mower, Jacques was his name, from Denison, which was just ten miles from Sherman. Mr. Jacques had made a good deal of money with this invention. He was a good mechanic and he had had enough good business advice after inventing something good that he did reap the profit himself. He was embarrassed because he couldn't find enough things to spend his tithe on and there was a Baptist minister named Blake Smith who was pastor of the University Baptist Church and Homer Rainey belonged to the University Baptist Church.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
In Austin?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, in Austin.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
He was a rather liberal minister, too, wasn't he?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, he was.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
I don't believe that he was a Southern Baptist, was he?
MARGARET CARTER:
I'm not sure of that, but he was nonabrasive and quite dependable in a controversial situation. He persuaded Mr. Jacques that the Lord wanted him to use the rest of his tithe to subsidize Home Rainey in a series of radio programs. I heard Dr. Rainey say once that now that the regents had fired him from the University of Texas his classroom was the state of Texas. [Laughter] They were excellent radio broadcasts.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Why was Rainey fired, incidentally, by the regents?
MARGARET CARTER:
Oh …do you really want to go into that? [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, if you could just briefly …
MARGARET CARTER:
For protecting the rights of his teachers to academic freedom, for one thing, and for insisting that the University of Texas Medical School should attempt to train as many doctors as Texas needed and …
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Wasn't there an academic freedom case involved with some English professor who was teaching John Dos Passos in the classroom and people were …
MARGARET CARTER:
That was an excuse, it was not the reason, really. Because those Dos Passos books which were made the campaign issue, although I'm sure they were really an issue at the time that he was fired, were on optional reading lists for a sophomore course. No one was required to read Dos Passos.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
Well, what was the key academic freedom issue, then?
MARGARET CARTER:
It was a matter of the faculty members excercising their rights as citizens. During the war, there were three young teachers who did not have tenure, they were not professors, who had gone to a meeting that was being held by … I'm not sure which business group, but whichever group it was, it was misrepresenting … [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MARGARET CARTER:
I knew the name of one of those instructors. His name was Peach, I don't remember the names of the other two. Large newspaper advertisements, sometimes full page, were being bought … I think that it was the National Association of Manufacturers, by one of the business groups and the advertisements completely misrepresented the impact of the federal forty-hour-week law on the war effort. They said that our soldiers were out there facing the enemy without enough bullets and people back here in the war plants were not being allowed to work more than forty hours a week. Well, that was a lie. After they had worked forty hours a week, they had to be paid overtime. These three young men had gone very quietly to a mass meeting called by this rabble rouser for the business group and asked for a brief time to explain his misunderstanding of the forty-hour-week, of the provisions of the forty hour week law. He had immediately set out to get them fired at the University. The AAUP investigated that case and as I remember, Dr. Rainey was not able to protect their jobs because they didn't have tenure, but he took their side.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And it was the regents who insisted on their being fired?
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes. I can't remember the details, but that was the power arrangement. One of the first things that happened after Dr. Rainey became president was that Professor Clarence Ayers, who was a professor, he was the head of the economics department … well, I'm not sure he was the head, but he was a tenured professor in the economics department, was making a routine speech at one of the businessmen's luncheons, I think that it was the Rotary Club, and W. Lee O'Daniel was the governor of Texas. O'Daniel was plugging his sales tax on every radio program. He was, of course, on the radio very frequently because he wanted to go to the Senate. He had promised that he would not seek any other office than the governor's office until he had brought this money in to pay the old folks' pensions and every effort was being made to get a general sales tax passed by the legislature, which was resisting vigorously. At the end of the program, one of the members of the club asked Dr. Ayers what were the provisions of this sales tax bill which was causing so much controversy.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
The members of which club, now?
MARGARET CARTER:
I think that it was the Rotary Club. It was a downtown businessmen's club in Austin. He told them and there was a reporter there who put in the paper the actual information that Dr. Ayers gave in answer to a question. And the lobbyist from the State of Texas Chamber of Commerce immediately demanded in print an investigation by the proper committee of the legislature of this information that this "radical professor" was giving out in opposition to the governor's sales tax program. But somebody pulled his coattails before the next edition of the paper and said, "For heaven's sakes, don't push for a legislative investigation, Dr. Ayers will tell everybody in Texas what is in that damn thing and that is the last thing that we want." [Laughter] Dr. Rainey had hardly gotten his feet under the president's desk at the time and as soon as it was apparent that there was a controversy, some reporter called him and asked him what he thought. Well, he didn't know and he asked a few questions about what had happened and as soon as he learned that Dr. Ayers had been a guest at a club meeting and had answered a question that was asked him, he said, "Did he answer it truthfully, were there any inaccuracies in the statement?" He was told that there were none and he said, "Well, he is a citizen of Austin and he was operating on his own time and not representing the University and I don't believe that it is any of my business." That sort of insensitivity to the interests of the privileged was unheard of.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
On the part of the University of Texas president. You mentioned also that he was for increasing the number of doctors that was produced by the University of Texas medical school branch and this was opposed by whom?
MARGARET CARTER:
By the medical school. The faculty was against it.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
And what was their purpose for opposing it?
MARGARET CARTER:
Well, doctors then and I suppose that still doctors now, wanted the number of doctors low enough to insure that each licensed doctor would have a chance for a good income and it didn't occur to them to look at their problem from the potential patient's point of view. The excuse that Dr. Rainey was given for resistance to his program for enlarging the student body at the medical school was that in Galveston, there were not enough opportunities for clinical experience for any larger graduating class than was now being produced. He said, "Well then, we'll need to move the medical school from Galveston, won't we?" [Laughter]
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So, eventually he was fired and it became a cause célébre so far as the liberals were concerned.
MARGARET CARTER:
Yes, and of course, the best people on the faculty left and it became a cause célébre nationally.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
So then he immediately ran for governor?
MARGARET CARTER:
That's right. And at the 1945 convention of the Young Democrats, he was the principal speaker at one of our sessions. We were most of us, Rainey supporters, but we had made every effort to gather in other Young Democrats. We didn't know who were Rainey supporters when we went out and looked for them to serve as Young Democratic organizers. I was the one who did the looking.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
He ran and he was unsuccessful and …
MARGARET CARTER:
But he was not unsuccessful. He only didn't get to be governor.
CHANDLER DAVIDSON:
In what way was he successful?
MARGARET CARTER:
In the process of running for governor, he was able to acquaint the population of the state of Texas with the basic issues and before Beauford Jester could win the governorship in the primary, he had adopted Rainey's program. Dr. Rainey led the whole field of thirteen candidates and by the time the field had been reduced to him and Jester, who had already, of course, won elective office in one statewide race before, he came from the Railroad Commission to the governorship, the whole state of Texas was familiar with Dr. Rainey's position on the issues and then in the runoff campaign, Jester took over every one of Rainey's principal positions on issues. So, by the time that he was elected, it was Rainey's program that people were expecting and they got it, which was something that Rainey could not have accomplished had he been elected governor. Because Rainey would not have had the cooperation of the legislature. That was why my husband ran for the senate.