Reviews Of White Metropolis
Dallas Morning News
Remembering what our city would rather forget
BOOK REVIEW: Author documents a legacy of racial and religious struggles
12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, March 1, 2006
By CRAIG FLOURNOY / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
A fire in 1860 destroyed almost all of downtown Dallas. City leaders, looking for a scapegoat, whipped every slave in Dallas County, save for three who were hanged.
In 1910, Dallas authorities accused 68-year-old Allen Brooks, who was black, of raping a 3-year-old white girl. A mob seized Brooks in a courtroom, threw him out of a second-story window, dragged him behind a car and left him hanging from a telephone pole.
In 1938, Dallas officials agreed to let Hispanic children swim in one city pool but only from 7 to 8:45 a.m. At that point, workers drained the pool and forced the Hispanic children to clean it before refilling it for whites.
These incidents have received little or no attention. Until now. In White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001, author Michael Phillips explores the racial and religious struggles that characterized much of Dallas’ history but have gone largely undocumented.
It is not a pretty picture. In the 1920s, Dallas had the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan chapter. Its executive committee included the city police commissioner and Robert L. Thornton, the legendary banker and civic leader who served as Dallas mayor from 1953 to 1961. John Owen Beaty, longtime chairman of the English department at Southern Methodist University, published a book in 1951 that argued that Jews started World War II and that the Holocaust never happened.
Why have these parts of Dallas history been overlooked? Dr. Phillips argues that city leaders wanted it that way. “In this obsessively image-conscious city, elites feared that a conflict-marred past filled with class and racial strife represented a dangerous model for the future,” he writes. “City leaders transformed the community into a laboratory of forgetfulness.”
This is not an easy book to digest. This is due partly to the nature of the subject matter and partly because the book’s narrative thread involves an idea rather than a person. That idea – “whiteness” – is fascinating. Dr. Phillips argues that Dallas leaders sought to divide and conquer Hispanics, Jews and working-class whites by effectively requiring them to adopt a white identity in exchange for small social and economic concessions.
The results could be heartbreaking. In the late 1930s, one Hispanic child in Dallas told a researcher, “I don’t like being a Mexican. I want to be an American.”
That is exactly the sort of statement that Dallas leaders have wanted the community to forget. It is Dr. Phillips’ great achievement to make sure that will not happen.
Craig Flournoy teaches journalism at Southern Methodist University. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.
People’s Weekly World
June 24, 2006
The truth hurts and helps, a review of ‘White Metropolis’
Honest Texas history, when you can find it, tends to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. So it is with Michael Phillips’ new history of Dallas, which pours salty truth into long-ignored wounds.
Almost any “official” history of Dallas, like almost all Texas history, misrepresents or ignores what really happened to hard-working Texans. Dallas, we are told over and over, is “a city with no reason for being” because it lies in an open prairie with no navigable river. The official story is that farseeing businessmen created the city from nothing and guided it through the happy decades to its present prosperous and peaceful bliss. Slavery was never important here. The Civil War and the Reconstruction period were almost unnoticed.
The only part of this myth that is true is that the business leaders, in 1870, did indeed bribe the railroad to divert its path through the city, and, in 1935, they raised enough money to get the state fair moved here. Michael Phillips shows that the rest of the Dallas creation myth is hogwash.
Phillips, like his University of Texas mentor Neil Foley (“White Scourge”), makes civil rights the axis of Texas history. Texas was, after all, taken from Mexico primarily in order to legalize slavery. Dallas was just as fanatically devoted to racial oppression as any city in the Confederacy. That racism persists to this day.
The murders and beatings in Dallas parallel those in Houston or any other part of Texas. The Ku Klux Klan’s national revival in the 1920s had its center and its largest Klavern in Dallas, where mayors, sheriffs and a university president showered it with favors. In the 1950s, the John Birch Society, Sen. Joe McCarthy and other extreme anticommunists were funded from Dallas. Democratic Party leaders Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Baines Johnson and John Kennedy were physically attacked here. The rabid fundamentalists taking over American churches have a strong base downtown.
Native Americans, who were driven out or exterminated in Texas, and Mexican Americans suffered the same in Dallas as they did elsewhere. To a large extent, they still do.
Our side of the story, that of resistance and hard-won civil rights victories, is well told in “White Metropolis.” For example, the Dallas NAACP, after a very difficult period of repressive police supervision, became the pride of the state’s civil rights movement. The big legal fights in Austin, El Paso and Mansfield drew their strength from the Dallas organization. Desegregation in education and the right to vote were won from field headquarters in this city. The League of United Latin American Citizens and the GI Forum had strong chapters in Dallas. The progressive movement, which shook the electoral world on behalf of poor farmers in 1894, had its headquarters downtown. The “Deep Ellum” section of Elm Street made an enduring contribution to jazz, soul and folk music.
“White Metropolis” is a core necessity for every Dallasite who hopes to go beyond omissions, distortions and lies in their city’s history. It is a fundamental tool for everyone who would make Texas better.
Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas
and North Central Texas
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall, 2006)
Michael Phillips, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006, 299 pp., $60 cloth, $19,95 paper.)
Dallas’s racial politics have always seemed a bit unusual. Why can’t minority coalitions be formed? In a city that likes to point out that it did not have the civil rights struggles of other major Southern cities, why do we have a school board and a city council divided by race? While Michael Phillips’ new book, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001, certainly doesn’t answer all of these questions, it does provide context for Dallas’s ongoing struggle with racial equality and political control.
Race is a flexible category. Over the past 150 years, those in power have periodically both given and taken the privileges of whiteness to those on the borderline — Jews, Mexican Americans and recent immigrants. Indeed, “the uncertain promise of whiteness made to Mexican Americans, Jews and working class Anglos proved a powerful tool of division, effectively blocking coalitions for social justice.” (7-8) The politically powerful have long emphasized racial differences. If class ever became a unifying factor, the political balance of the city would shift.
In Phillips’ narrative, many familiar episodes of Dallas history are recast and retold through the lens of race: the 1860 fire that destroyed much of downtown, the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, and even the Texas Centennial in 1936 were all efforts to solidify elite white control against various perceived threats. Phillips also addresses the historiography of the city, countering the idea of the Origin Myth — that this city was created out of nothing, just the vision of a small group of businessmen. This Origin Myth shaped the consciousness of the city, and not always to the general public’s benefit. For instance, Phillips argues that in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, when the city of Dallas was largely blamed for Kennedy’s death, “elites were victims of their own mythology . . . They had willed Kennedy’s murder just as surely as they had earlier summoned into existence the ‘city with no reason for being.’” (159)
Although at times Phillips stresses his whiteness theory too much, he does provide important contextual background for issues that still face the city today. Unfortunately, a lack of connection to larger political trends in the United States during many key turning points makes Dallas seem more unique than it is. Although the presence of a large Mexican-American population is certainly a key difference from other Southern cities, a comparison of the brokering of political power between elites whites, Jews, and recent immigrants in other cities, such as Chicago or Los Angeles, would have been helpful.
Many may balk at Phillips’ theory that the idea of whiteness has so definitively shaped Dallas political history. His case and evidence are convincing though at times a bit forced. Phillips does an able job of addressing the triumphs and challenges of all of Dallas’s minorities — not just African Americans. In so doing, he might have ruffled a few historical feathers, but he has given our city a far more interesting history.
— Melissa Prycer
Dallas Heritage Village
Journal of Southern Religion
Volume IX, 2006
Michael Phillips. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. 267 pp. ISBN 0-292-7127-X. Reviewed by Guy Lancaster, for the Journal of Southern Religion.
“This work ultimately is a case study on the evolution of white identity in American politics,” writes Michael Phillips of his book, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001 (179). The result proves to be a great application of modern “whiteness studies” (as it has emerged from social and literary theory) to the history of a particular city. Phillips’s intriguing study of Dallas from its founding to the turn of the twenty-first century invites others, by dint of its fine example, to attempt their own studies tracking the interaction of race and religion in other parts of the country. The author writes the history of Dallas in much the same way that Howard Zinn writes the history of the United States, aiming for the untold story—in this case, the means by which elite powers have conceptualized and implemented their dominance through the artificial construct of white identity.
Of course, the assertion that certain elite powers have long dominated political affairs can still result in rolled eyeballs or accusations of communist sympathies from some, but Phillips does not hesitate to call things as he sees them, noting that, even in the first few decades of Dallas’s existence, “wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a small, slaveholding elite” (21). In the beginning, the city’s leaders were working to convince lower-class whites that the only divisions of importance were those between black and white. This race-based division would be the primary means of controlling lower-class whites through much of Dallas’s history, and as the elites had control of the formal mechanisms of memory, they have been able to project backward the image of a city free of racial disturbances, a city of people content with their place in the scheme of things. Phillips makes a convincing argument for whiteness being the means by which power was formulated in Dallas, with the tantalizing prospect of conditional white identity held out to certain non-black minority groups in return for conformity on larger issues, just as whiteness could be conditionally denied to lower-class Anglo-Saxons who bucked the trend and thus revealed themselves to be “white trash,” creatures apart from the elite Anglo Saxon race. “Divide and conquer” never had a better example than Dallas, and Phillips notes that these practices continue today as African Americans are forced from neighborhoods condemned to make way for new high-value urban housing. Furthermore, black and Hispanic residents continue fighting each other for bare bits of privilege.
With regard to the subject of religion, which will be of most interest to readers of this journal, Phillips tackles the subjects of Jewishness and Catholicism as they have related to the privileged position of whiteness. As Eliza R. L. McGraw has noted, “southern Jewishness reinforces the idea that the South is not a monolith,” and the monolith which the Dallas Jewish community undermined was that of white identity, thus resulting in the powers that be essentially “bestowing” whiteness upon those Jews who accommodated elite demands.(1) Many Jewish groups therefore adopted more Protestant forms of worship and distanced themselves from the black civil rights movement even though they continued to be excluded from country clubs and other elite groups, given the formulation of civil rights as a zero-sum game. A similar dynamic was at work in the city’s various immigrant communities, as well as its Hispanic population, whose Catholic religion had long been marked as foreign in origin; acquiring tentative whiteness for many required not just turning their backs upon the Catholic Church but also fighting African-American aspiration for greater freedoms and opportunities.
However, it is Phillips’s analysis of the racial and class framework of the theology of native Dallas citizen Cyrus Scofield that feels most relevant to the twenty-first century, given the popularization of his brand of dispensationalism. Not only did his eschatological views allow Jews a pivotal role in God’s plan, thus allowing them to achieve some conditional whiteness outside of Protestantism. Scofield’s End Times scenario also posited the rise of the Antichrist by the very democratic measures that Dallas elites, who had long distrusted democracy, termed mob rule or “the political mobilization of dissenters, working-class whites, and blacks” (51). Indeed, Phillips rather successfully links the concept of whiteness, which is formulated as a Manichaean opposite to blackness, with Scofieldian eschatology: “Whiteness, like pre-millennialism, was a theology based on visions of Armageddon. It was not just the desire for the wages of whiteness… that motivated oppressed Jews, Mexican Americans, and white laborers to disdain their black neighbors. If marginalized whites united on any issue, it was to prevent the rule of black undermen, an outcome depicted in the popular culture as a collapse into savagery” (178).
If there is one problem with the book, it is that Phillips sometimes reaches for similarities of situation across Texas or the nation and loses sight of his subject, Dallas. Part of the author’s aim is to show that Dallas can be seen as representative of national trends. For example, he makes a convincing argument that the in-migration of non-Southern folk into the city, which essentially “nationalized” Dallas, only seemed to hasten the extirpation of the black community. These trends, Phillips argues, indicate that Dallas’s racial problems were more than simply Southern. However, his writing on occasion tends toward a “Dallas, too” construction. For example, after noting that Houston school officials fired those teachers who backed the New Deal or Democratic candidates and delayed the teaching of world history and geography until tenth grade to avoid mentioning Karl Marx and the Russian Revolution, he adds, “Such actions took place all over the state, including Dallas” (139). While possibly true, his venture outside of Dallas for examples of what was happening in the city might leave the reader to wonder whether or not his city-specific case is really that strong.
This criticism aside, Phillips has created a tremendously readable and relevant book. Given the increasing influence that Texas has exerted upon national politics, especially with the rise of George W. Bush to the presidency, as well as the replication of the Dallas model of urban race relations across the country, White Metropolis can help to illumine current trends in conservative political thought and fundamentalist religion as they relate to the construct of whiteness. Though whiteness studies certainly has its detractors, Michael Phillips shows the wonderful doors that can be opened with new and emerging theoretical frameworks, and if his study of Dallas is any indication of what is coming down the pike, then the next few years are certain to be exciting times for many academic fields: history, sociology, political science, religious studies, and more.
Guy Lancaster, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Journal of the American Studies
Association of Texas.
Volume 37. November 2006
Phillips, Michael. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. Austin. U of Texas P, 2006. 267 pages. $19.95 paper, ISBN 0-292-71274-X.
This first book by Michael Phillips, a researcher at the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, makes an important contribution to the history of Dallas and to the understanding of race in America and the Southwest. Previous studies of Dallas race relations have treated the issue as part of the narrative of Dallas history and have often been swayed by the city’s prevailing image as a progressive business center focused on growth and development and relatively untroubled by racial conflict. Phillips shows how this image itself evolved as part of the social construction of racial identities that avoided conflict by assigning each group a role that had its place in a civilizing, even religiously redemptive mission overseen and ordered by a benevolent, but all-powerful white elite.
Phillips regards race as a social construction, rather than a fact of birth or genetic inheritance, so he is primarily interested in how individuals are assigned to racial groups and how these groups relate to one another socially. From the earliest settlement, Dallas whites defined their position in racially polarized terms, with African Americans representing the antithesis of their own virtues, rights, and powers. In Dallas, however, this typically Southern construction was complicated by large numbers of Hispanic residents, some Native Americans, and a white population which, even before the Civil War, included many newcomers from Northern states. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the business expansion encouraged by the white elite also brought more European immigrants to Dallas than to other Southern cities, and growth also drew a significant Jewish population, immigrant and American-born.
Part of the success of the white elite in maintaining control over these changes involved the construction of racial identities that admitted newcomers to the white group, based on their willingness to maintain elite power and racial segregation. Supporting labor organization or opposing segregation, by contrast, could result in whole groups of Jews, Hispanics, or European immigrants being socially redefined as not white. Phillips convincingly shows how this structure, supported by conservative religious and political ideas and occasionally reinforced by violence, persisted into the late twentieth century. Dallas today, he believes, has not addressed this past so much as it has chosen to forget it, but it endures in tensions between African Americans, Hispanics, and white business elites in the city, and in the isolation of growing suburbs from the city center.
ROBIN W. LOVIN
Southern Methodist University
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Vol. CX, No. 3 (January 2007), 425-426.
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. By Michael Phillips. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006, Pp 300. Acknowledgements, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index, ISBN 029271274. $19.95, paper.)
An ambitious work, White Metropolis deserves attention from historians interested in the history of Texas, urban studies, and southern culture. Phillips examines the city of Dallas through the lens of whiteness studies juxtaposed against United States frontier mythology as presented in the pioneering work of Richard Slotkin. In seven chapters Phillips integrates the political and economic development of Dallas within the changing cultural demographics of the city. He provides a description of the complicated political alliances that resulted from a power structure determined by the politics of whiteness.
In his prologue, Phillips prepares the reader for what he argues is a case study of white identity politics. He notes that most historians of the city ignored the ideological conflicts created by the interplay of race, gender and class. In fact, Phillips points out that Dallas leaders deliberately sought to remove from the city’s memory any notion that significant conflict of any sort ever troubled Dallas. Their creation myth of the city suggests that Dallas had no practical reason to exist, as it was not located near a major river or on rich agricultural land. The origins and success of Dallas was a result, therefore, of “macho will” (p. 3) by a handful of white Anglo-Saxon businessmen who created a consensus that only they knew what was good and proper for the city. This leadership sustained their position of power by creating a series of shifting alliances with different ethnic and religious groups over the next one hundred and fifty years.
The basis of these alliances was the acceptance of Dallas as a city defined by a particular brand of whiteness that demanded allegiance to white racial superiority, corporate capitalism and the tenants of Social Darwinism. These articles of faith were the keys to membership within the exclusive club of the Dallas elite. In other words, “Whiteness was most clearly defined by what it was not: it was not black, communal, or socialist” (p. 12). Thus, Dallas leaders feared most the emergence of a unified, color-blind working-class partnership that challenged the political and economic ideologies of the city.
To avoid the development of such a partnership, Dallas leaders held out the promise of membership within their club by offering a whiteness card to groups who otherwise might not normally qualify: specifically, Mexican Americans and Jewish immigrants. Phillips makes a persuasive argument about the success of such an offer to the Tejano community in his chapter, “White Like Me.” Most disturbing is the story of Pete Garcia, who assisted in the bombing of a South Dallas neighborhood in 1950 and 1951 in order to prevent African-Americans from becoming his neighbors.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book is Phillips’s discussion of the osmosis of the Jewish community into Dallas Protestant leadership groups through pre-millennial dispensationalism. Phillips argues that Jews, normally seen as the “Other,” become acceptable to Dallas leaders because of the work of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield and his best-selling Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield’s dispensationalism “gave modern Jews a pivotal role in God’s plan of salvation” (p. 51), thus, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants no longer had to fear the presence of Jews within their communities. Phillips argues that Scofield paved the way for Dallas Jews to become white as long as they, of course, adhered to the political and economic consensus of the city’s leaders. Phillips’s examples of those who accepted this agreement were department store pioneers Philip Sanger and Stanley Marcus.
Foreshadowing a challenge to his thesis, Phillips closes the book with an afterward that acknowledges there are critics of whiteness studies. His best argument against these critics is his case study of Dallas as an example of white identity politics in action.
Collin County Community College David O’Donald Cullen
The American Historical Review
Vol. 112, No. 3
Michael Phillips. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2006. Pp. ix, 267. Cloth $60.00, paper $19.95.
A pungent prologue and an acerbic afterword constitute the more memorable parts of Michael Phillips’s study of race in Dallas, Texas. At the outset, in a critique of the historiography on Dallas, the author judges other accounts as variously mythical, Whiggish, fantastic, simplistic, or neglectful; in a rare positive concession he observes that one “narrative makes for poor history, however, at least it is coherent” (p. 6). To establish the importance of his own work, Phillips makes large claims for the historical significance of Dallas. The modern partisan realignment in southern politics “began in Dallas,” and the connection between right-wing Republicans and conservative Christians also started there, especially with the First Baptist Church led by W. A. Criswell (p. 2). The city’s “unique geographical position” at the edges of both the South and the West should have made it a “tantalizing” historical subject (pp. 3, 2). Phillips attributes the relative neglect of the city’s history to an “amnesia by design” that created instead “a myth of consensus … in which a white male elite, ruling for the good of the ‘city as a whole,’ created a community ‘with no reason for being’ as an act of macho will” (p. 3). Philips calls it the Origin Myth, and his book seeks to overturn it by putting conflict among races, ethnic and religious groups, and social classes at the center of the city’s story. According to Phillips, the concept of whiteness provides the key to his analysis.
In his afterword Phillips defends whiteness studies and historian David Roediger against the attacks of their critics. In discussing Eric Arnesen’s assessment of whiteness, Phillips claims it “too often degenerates into wildly inaccurate ad hominem attacks” (p. 179). He damns Arnesen’s essay as a “prima facie absurdity,” and he attributes to him an “obsessively empiricist literalism” (pp. 180, 179). In regard to Arnesen’s “ally Barbara Jeanne Fields,” Phillips claims she “cannot simply disagree with whiteness scholars; she attributes to them malevolent motives,” and he “suspects she is not very familiar with the literature” (pp. 180, 181). (Phillips refers to essays by Arnesen and Fields in International Labor and Working Class History 60 [Fall 2001].)
Phillips does concede that some good works have been written, among them Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation: The Politics of Race in an American City (1986), and he acknowledges that he seeks to “extend upon, revise, and counter” Schutze’s “groundbreaking work” (p. 183). Only at the end of the book does Phillips declare that he took from Schutze the concept of an Origin Myth to describe Dallas’s past. He also credits the influence of scholarship by Harvey Graff on Dallas’s lack of history and by Richard Slotkin on frontier violence. Although Phillips chides one author for using a photograph of Dallas on the cover of his southern history textbook but not including Dallas in his book’s index, Phillips’s own index inexplicably omits any references to Roediger, Arnesen, Fields, Graff, or Slotkin.
Between the prologue and afterword, Phillips quickly surveys 160 years of Dallas’s history in as many pages. In each period he finds that the white elite used its varying definition of whiteness to retain power and to support capitalism. After the Civil War, for example, the elite defined whiteness to exclude blacks, Mexicans, and immigrants, but the elite also employed premillennial dispensationalism to convince the poor to wait for Christ’s return and to allow increasingly influential Jews to become partially white. Around the turn of the century, the elite tried to use white supremacy to satisfy lower-class whites stripped of political power. Phillips sees that the “elite agenda became tangled in its own contradictions,” with the distinctions among groups often challenged and frequently changing (p. 77). Jews, for example, sometimes were, and sometimes were not, white; “philo-Semitism existed side by side with anti-Semitism” (p. 122).
As the civil rights movement emerged, Phillips shows the conflicts and rivalries among blacks, Jews, Catholics, Mexicans, and lower-class whites; each group’s efforts to become white often prevented it from aiding the black freedom struggle. While the white elite allowed some conservative blacks to exercise power, it “continued to see the Anglo working class as uncivilized barbarians, outside the norms of whiteness” (p. 147). Besieged by an influx of midwestern immigrants, the divided elite struggled over any change in segregation, while blacks and Mexican Americans fought. By the 1990s Phillips sees a “grim future” for all because whiteness, “an effective tool for controlling dissent,” had been “poison for community building” (p. 177). “Under the influence of whiteness,” he concludes, “Dallas learned to forget the past, regret the present, and dread the future” (p. 178).
Charles W. Eagles
University of Mississippi
Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Spring 2007. Volume 105 No. 2
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. By Michael Phillips. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006; vii, 267. $60 cloth; $19.95 paper.)
Whiteness studies date to the early 1980s, when scholars developed a new approach to understanding the powerful racial constructs that have shaped American government, politics, economy, and social class. Almost no category of society may elude these studies since it entails the racialization of minorities of all backgrounds and national origins. Michael Phillips uses the scaffolding of whiteness studies to understand and interpret the complex weaving of class, ethnicity, and religion in Dallas, Texas.
Persisting well into the twentieth century was a quietly determined group of white leaders so firmly in control of Dallas that under their watchful eye the civil rights movement unfolded peacefully and without incident. Phillips decries this simplistic view of the city’s history and pulls out the threads of social difference for examination. He begins by explaining the “Origin Myth,” perpetuated by Dallas leaders as collective memory that included tales of a well-meaning elite able to withstand any challenges to its benign rule (p. 3), Phillips makes it clear that the history of Dallas should include protests, demonstrations, labor strikes, and resulting backlashes – from far-right conservatives – as part of its true history.
Certainly the business elite, labeled the Dallas Citizens Council, held sway during the city’s huge centennial celebration in 1936. Dallas, an upstart city compared to the more historic San Antonio or Houston, won the bid for the Texas Centennial Exposition thanks to the machinations of this entrepreneurial group led by ex-Klansman Robert L. Thornton. It sought to enhance Dallas’ business prospects by presenting the city in its most sophisticated light, ignoring the depredations of the Great Depression, segregation, and the shabby treatment of its minority residence. When African Americans demanded to be represented at the exposition with a Hall of Negro Life, white leaders denied them money, and persuaded the Texas legislature to do the same. Funding came, however, through a federal grant and a federal presence, presaging the rise of a more active coterie of civil rights activists that included A. Maceo Smith and Juanita Craft, who through their work with the NAACP brought an end to the white primary via Smith v. Allwright in 1944.
Phillips tackles the intricacies of discrimination towards Jews and Mexican Americans, who both vied for consideration as white when it came to privileges but who eventually reacted against the vitriolic rhetoric directed towards them. Jews with “muscle” such as Stanley Marcus, creator of the Nieman Marcus Department store, survived the prejudice (p. 136). Other Jews, particularly immigrants from Eastern Europe, were labeled radical when labor strife hit Dallas during the 1930s. Mexican Americans disagreed on whether to focus on assimilation or confrontation, but their Catholicism made them a target for fundamentalist bigots. Chief-architect of a count-inclusive campaign was First Baptist Church pastor W.A. Criswell. Criswell railed against Catholics, who by 1961 constituted the largest denomination in the state, and, with the help of oil billionaire H.L. Hunt, defended segregation. Far-right outrages from red-baiting “Minute Women” in the 1950s meant that the ruling civic elites had lost a measure of control; in 1963, with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Dallas looked more like a pariah than a paradise.
Although focused on including minorities, Phillips ignores scholarship on progressive white women: Neither Elizabeth Enstam’s fine history of Dallas women nor Jacquelyn McElhaney’s biography of Dallas columnist Sara Isadore Callaway is cited. Yet Phillips offers a grand sweep, and one senses in this well-written and controversial history that he wishes minorities and marginalized whites had crossed boundaries and stood together to transform Dallas from a conservative stronghold to a mecca for liberal forces. Instead, as the “capital of the ‘red states,’” the city led the way in the election of George W. Bush (p. 184). Here Phillips offers a warning: the rest of the U.S. is becoming a lot like Dallas.
Elizabeth Hayes Turner is associate professor of history at the University of North Texas. She is the co-editor of Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas (2007) and is currently working on a history of Juneteenth.
May 2007, Vol. 76
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. By Michael Phillips. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.) 267 pp. $60 cloth. $19.95 paper.)
Michael Phillips examines race relations in Dallas from its founding to the present, an ambitious project for 178 pages of text. Unlike other explorations of the Dallas past that have touched on the relationship between blacks and whites, this book also includes an examination of how Mexican Americans, Catholics, and Jews fit into the racial landscape of the city. Indeed, the author’s exploration of the evolution of white identity in Dallas is clearly influenced by a growing number of studies in whiteness, a field that Phillips feels compelled to defend in an afterward. The author contends that “whiteness proved an effective tool for controlling dissent” (p. 177), not only among minorities but from among the city’s white laboring classes, since they too felt compelled to prove their whiteness by supporting elite notions of race and class hierarchy. The book starts with a prologue that strikes a familiar note to those familiar with Patricia Hill’s book, The Making of Modern Dallas (1996). It decries the lack of serious scholarship about the city and suggests that this is a result of a conspiracy by the elite to promote the myth that Dallas prosperity came only from strong civic leadership and a spirit of consensus. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that since 1990 scholars have written at least eleven books and fifteen articles on Dallas.
The book’s first chapter examines the mistreatment of slaves in antebellum Dallas, particularly in response to the burning of the county courthouse in 1860, which led to rumors of slave conspiracy. The book’s central focus, however, is on what happened after the Civil War with the development of “a more fluid concept of race in which white status could be gained or lost based on acceptance of elite social norms.” (p. 19). Equating whiteness with elite social norms appeared to be the best way of controlling the wage-earning classes that threatened the social order of Dallas. “Whiteness” was so important for success in Dallas for Jews, light-skinned Mexicans, and others, including poor whites of Eastern and Southern European descent, that elites believed that social order could be controlled with the carrot of whiteness. Dallas Congregational pastor Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, whose dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible rejected political activism for an otherworldly focus, also helped control dissent in Dallas.
The emphasis on whiteness proved particularly useful for the city’s elites during the tumultuous twentieth century. So did the eugenics movement and the Klan, which expanded the definition of non –whites. According the Phillips, the lure of whiteness for some frustrated coalition building by those without power. Dallas elites, then, controlled dissent by their definition of whiteness, as well as by promoting a history that ignored the very real social tensions and diversity in Dallas history.
The book does a good job of documenting how Dallas reflected the racism and fear of diversity common to much of the twentieth century by discussing the various attacks on diversity within the city. It is also the first book on Dallas to try to tackle the role of religion as an influential element in the city’s history. Still, the author fails to substantiate his claim that elites orchestrated the emphasis on whiteness as a divisive factor. Although the book provides some helpful insight about race in Dallas, it is in no way the final word.
The University of Texas at Arlington ROBERT B. FAIRBANKS
East Texas Historical Journal
Vol. XLV, No. 2, Fall 2007
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001, Michael Phillips, The University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX, 78713-7819) 2006. Contents. Illus. Notes. Biblio. Index. P. 267. $19.95. Paperback. $60. Hardcover.
As the writing of Texas history has grown increasingly sophisticated in recent years, relatively little of this new scholarship has been directed at the history of Texas cities. Michael Phillips addresses this shortcoming in White Metropolis, his study of Dallas from its founding to 2001. Phillips’ focus is race, but not as it is usually conceptualized. This is not a history of African Americans in Dallas, or for that matter a study of Dallas race relations. Instead Phillips organizes his study around the concept of race in all of complexity. Influenced in part by Neil Foley’s tri-racial study of black, Mexican American and poor white workers in Texas agriculture, Phillips broadens our usually narrow concept of race to include blacks, along with Mexican Americans, immigrants (especially those from southern and eastern Europe), the white working class, Jews, Catholics, and even women. These otherwise disparate groups share the fate of having been marginalized and oppressed—sometimes violently—by the white power elite that dominated Dallas’ political and economic development and controlled its history and its image of itself.
Central to Phillip’s analysis of Dallas history is the theory of “whiteness,” which the author defines as much as an attitude as a complexion. “Whiteness rested on a steadfast belief in racial differences, support of capitalism, faith in rule by the wealthy, certitude that competition and inequity arose from nature, and rejection of an activist government that redistributed political or economic power.” (12) It was more an economic and political ideology than a biological or anthropological construct. It was anti-socialist and anti-collectivist. Using “whiteness” Phillips presents Dallas history as the largely successful struggle of Dallas elites to establish and maintain their power over the vast majority of Dallas citizens through the use of racism and violence. Challenges occur and they are largely defeated; even the civil rights revolution did not radically alter power relationships.
Phillips concludes his history with the observation that Dallas escaped the violent urban riots and decay of cities like Detroit, not because it enjoyed a more dynamic leadership than those failed cities, “but because a self-induced paralysis left the structures of oppression soundly intact. Under the influence of whiteness, Dallas learned to forget the past, regret the present, and dread the future.” (178)
White Metropolis will not please all of its readers. It is a highly ideological and sharply critical study of Dallas, and by implication, all of urban Texas and the urban South. Its focus is clearly on oppression and injustice, not success and accomplishment. It is thoroughly researched and documented, although hardly balanced in its approach or its tone. Like it or not, this book needs to be read by anyone interested in Texas history.
Cary D. Wintz
Texas Southern University
The Western Historical Quarterly
Volume 38, No. 3
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001. By Michael Phillips. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. xxxii + 267 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $19.95, paper.)
Many Texans born after the 1980s would be astounded by ethnic prejudices evident throughout Michael Phillips well written and researched study of race, ethnicity, and religion in Dallas from 1841 to the end of the twentieth century. Phillips’s central thesis is that the “obsessively image-conscious” Dallas “elites feared that a conflict-marred past filled with class and racial strife represented a dangerous model for the future,” which caused the white elite to try to make the “community into a laboratory of forgetfulness” (p. 3). The goal of those white elites was to link success “with a white identity.”
“Since Dallas’ founding in the 1840s, the uncertain promise of whiteness made to Mexican Americans, Jews, and working-class Anglos proved a powerful tool of division, effectively blocking coalitions for social justice” (pp. 7–8). Whiteness, the mythical symbol of success, did not include being black, but rather meant “faith in rule by the wealthy, certitude that competition and inequality arose from nature, and rejection of an activist government that redistricted political or economic power” (p. 12).
To accomplish their goals, the conservative white elites had to tread carefully inking alliances with the white lower and middle classes as well as the more prominent Jewish business class and attempted to play off against one another the increasingly restless poor white, Mexican American, and black populations. In the process, the white elites in striving to “de-Southernize” Dallas had to gloss over or try to erase from public memory any ethnic conflicts of the past so as to attract needed northern capital for the city’s growing economy in such areas as banking and insurance—much like the examples of Houston and Atlanta.
Especially noteworthy was a lack of cohesion among minority groups in Dallas to combat discrimination against them. This was evident among the more conservative blacks, Mexican Americans, Roman Catholics, Jews, and southern and eastern European immigrants or their children, who sought a more gradual assimilation into the white elite-dominated government and economy. In opposition were those within the same minorities who wanted a more rapid transition to overcome the effects of discrimination, incredibility evident in such dehumanizing statements, for example, as what appeared in school textbooks and statements in the Dallas Morning News.
Eventually, the elite white leadership, seeking “whiteness,” succumbed, among other things, to a civil rights revolution, to white flight to the suburbs, and to a form of consensus rule of the city which by the mid- to late-1990s made Dallas represent “a dispirited collage of mutually antagonistic fragments, a sum much less than its alienated parts” (p. 177).
Allan O. Kownslar
Volume LXXIV, November 2008, Number 4
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001. By Michael Phillips. (Austin: University of Texas Press, c. 2006. Pp. xxxii, 267. Paper, $19.95, ISBN 0-292-71274-X; cloth, $60.00, ISBN 0
Michael Phillips provides an excellent, informed history of Dallas, Texas, buttressed by a social scientific methodology but laced with counterpoints if not contradictions. Despite providing the integument for his central thesis, race remains enigmatic. In his effort to negotiate the hectoring historiography of “whiteness,” Phillips cannot avoid Barbara J. Fields’s assertion that “[r]acism has been America’s tragic flaw” involving ideology that cannot escape “the contagion.., of the material world,” thereby contributing to the vocabulary of class (“Ideology and Race in American History,” in J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson, eds., Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward [New York, 1982], 143, 153). In Dallas, as elsewhere in America since the colonial period, republicanism masked as populism disguised both class animosities and virulent racial antagonism.
Phillips identifies the Gilded Age as an arena for race, class, and capital, engineered by the railroads that brought profits as well as the trappings of northern identity and a veneer of ethnic diversity to Dallas. In its train, immigration introduced Poles, Sicilians, and Jews. Among those who cushioned the shock of “Moses” in Dallas was the Reverend Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, whose best-selling Scofield Reference Bible helped transform the host of Christian fundamentalism and the unleavened bread of Judaism into “an aggressive philo-Semitism” that “paved a way for Jews to achieve a conditional whiteness” (p. 51). The social-political alignment of Jews, Mexicans, and blacks along a spectrum of class and color is more topical and descriptive than crisply analytical and does not fully explain the toxicity of those relations or the impact of whiteness. All ethnic groups created their own enclaves and institutions to foster identity as well as to serve as a bulwark against discrimination. Those identified as “Afro-Texans,” however, do not have a locale outside of Phillips’s lexicon (p. 106).
The Dallas social Darwinist Lewis Dabney, a self-appointed critic of “[t]he ‘African Hottentot,’ the ‘American Indian,’ and the ‘Mongrel inhabitants of South and Central America,'” showed how “[b]iology trumped politics” in the determinist unfolding of America (pp. 73, 74). The twentieth-century Klan, inflamed by class and “racist discontent,” still smoldered (p. 79). “Once a hobby of the rich and powerful,” the Klan was also touched by the “hands of grubby … hoodlums” who threatened Jews, Catholics, and blacks alike–whiteness redivivus (p. 87).
In his prologue Phillips invites the reader to look “Through the Glass Darkly” for imperfect perceptions of reality and as a lens for locating Dallas. However lyrical that allusion to St. Paul, a persistent question remains regarding Dallas as a particular prism for memory and race. As Phillips even suggests, the matter of “black and white hands locked in a Faustian grasp” or making a “deal with the devil” suggests a level of intellectual barter that is not borne out (p. 7). In this otherwise fine piece of urban history the terms of whiteness by which “Dallas learned to forget the past, regret the present, and dread the future” remain a cautionary tale (p. 178).
THOMAS C. COX
University of Southern California
“White Metropolis” a history of Dallas by Michael Phillips
August 11, 2009
I finished this last weekend reading “White Metropolis,” which is a history of Dallas, by Michael Phillips and published by the University of Texas Press. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the history of Dallas, and anyone who wished to understand how race can be used to pit one group against the other for the advantage of a ruling elite.
The web page for the book is at http://www.whitemetropolis.com/
The university press web page for the book is:
At this page you can browse the book.
I have been aware of different aspects of Dallas history as I have done my researches, but I never had the complete picture. This book gives a fairly complete picture. Also it is not a book of Dallas historical curiosities or a book of Dallas boosterism.
I especially liked his “caustic” review of some of the Dallas histories. Bad history needs to be publicly challenged and historians engaging in boosterism need to get castigated.
Since the Dallas elite has used race successfully to defeat democracy, I think that anyone living anywhere who is a supporter of democracy would find this book worth reading.
For your amusement, a local Dallas crackpot, Sharon Boyd, has her take on the book.
Pioneer America Society:
Association for the Preservation of Artifacts and Landscapes
PAST Journal, Volume 32, 2009
The South’s Tolerable Alien: Roman Catholics in Alabama and Georgia, 1945–1970
by Andrew S. Moore
Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007
xii + 210 pages. Notes, bibliographic references, and index
$35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-3212-8
The “Christ-haunted” South has not always been so simply divided between white and black, as a number of recent studies of race and religion in the South have shown. Eliza R. L. McGraw’s Two Covenants: Representations of Southern Jewishness (2005) demonstrates how the physical presence of Jews in the South, coupled with representations of Jews in the Southern Protestant theological system, effectively undermined the ability of the white South to portray itself as a monolithic whole, while Michael Phillips’s White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001 (2006) details the means by which various non-black minorities—most notably Jews and Hispanics—struggled for the privileges that being seen as white would confer. In All According to God’s Plan: Southern Baptist Missions and Race, 1945–1970, Alan Scot Willis (2004) looks at how the duality of Christianity versus communism slowly moved to the forefront of the thinking of Southern Baptist leaders, even ahead of the traditional black-white dualism, much to the chagrin of some believers.
Adding yet another piece to our increasingly multifaceted view of this American region is Andrew S. Moore’s The South’s Tolerable Alien, which examines the place that Catholics held in the predominately evangelical Protestant world of Alabama and Georgia—a place that, ironically enough, was fairly precarious until the advent of the modern civil rights movement. But Moore’s study is not just a record of anti-Catholicism, for he goes deeper, trying to discover what being Catholic meant to those within this marginalized church, especially as reforms of the Second Vatican Council—and with them, new understandings of such stalwart concepts as “Church” and “justice”—found their way down to the level of individual parishes. This book proves to be a great contribution to the study of American Catholicism and Southern history, the intersection of which reveals the tensions of church and state, culture and conscience, that have been present all throughout the course of the American experiment.
Moore begins by examining the role of Catholics as an “other” in the South, noting that anti-Catholicism—which, in some respects, rivaled even anti-black sentiment—united “southern white Protestants and gave them common cause with non-southern Protestants,” thus creating “a Protestant heritage that transcended regional identity” and even denominational differences (11). In response, Southern Catholics “accepted their outsider status out of necessity and drew on the traditions and doctrines they shared with Catholics everywhere to reinforce their religious identity” (17). Given this wider identification, the sacred space of the neighborhood parish never became as central to Catholic identity in the South as it was the North. As anti-communism rose as the rallying cry for American society, Protestants sought to equate the hierarchical Catholic Church with communism, given its supposed foreign allegiances and its anti-democratic spirit; in turn, Southern Catholics painted their theological nemeses with the same brush, labeling Protestantism a stepping stone to the secularism that pervades communist societies. Christ the King observances became focal points around which, especially in the 1950s, Southern Catholics could exhibit their patriotic and masculine spirit.
When the modern civil rights movement got underway, it brought, in the minds of many Southerners, a new “outside agitator” enemy to the region. “In such an environment,” Moore notes, “religious differences were muted in favor of a concerted effort to defend the South from federal intervention to force integration. Indeed, any Protestant attack of a Catholic was more likely to come in protest of support for integration than for Catholicism’s sake” (63–64). Three of the book’s six chapters constitute specific case studies of how the civil rights movement divided Southern Catholics: first, there is a brief account of Father Albert S. Foley’s career as an activist for social change, followed by studies of how the ecclesial hierarchies of Atlanta and Alabama typified opposite ends of the question of race relations and the Church’s role in society. Moore skillfully uncovers several layers of tension within the experience of Southern Catholicism. Often, white Catholics who had worked so hard to be accepted in a hostile society were resistant to any stance that would endanger their social gains and so defined themselves by culture more than religion: “As the drama of the black freedom struggle intensified in the 1960s, it was more important for many white Catholics that they were white and members of the majority who sought to defend segregation” (84). The idea of the unchanging Church as an agent of social change struck many Catholics as an alien notion, and a number could not comprehend why it was that achieving models of integration was no longer as good as simply having separate black parishes. Black Catholics, on the other hand, found they had brethren in other denominations participating more fully in the freedom struggle, thus reinforcing black over Catholic identity; many African Americans thus resisted merging their parishes with white parishes.
The last chapter looks at the effects of the Second Vatican Council on Southern Catholics. While the Catholic Church’s official embracing of the ideals of integration drove away some, the slow pace of achieving those ideals dispirited others, especially those charged by the excitement of Vatican II. Given new conciliar definitions of Church as the people of God, many religious people, both male and female, “pushed the challenge to accepted authority” to its extreme end, rejecting “the exclusive religious claims of the Roman Catholic Church” in favor of a broad ecumenism (148). Given their positions as appointees of the bishop, rather than as a selections of their congregations, many priests were protected from parish disapproval and so could more forcefully advocate for change than their Protestant counterparts—a situation which further affected the relationship many laypeople had with their church for good or ill. A number felt themselves beset by the forces of change in almost all spheres of their lives.
“The civil rights movement changed the South and the Catholic Church,” notes Moore. “It linked Catholics to southern culture in a way not previously experienced, even as that culture was undergoing changes from which it would not recover” (161). The South’s Tolerable Alien is a record of that interaction between faith and the world at large as it affected a regional religious minority. It deliciously complicates our view of Southern history and gives insight into current religious and political trends, such as why the conservative realignment in this country has been predominately ecumenical, with Baptists standing alongside Catholics to advocate for or against certain issues. This is a brief but fantastic book that will shape our study of religion and regional culture for years to come.
McGraw, E. 2005. Two Covenants: Representations of Southern Jewishness. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press
Phillips, M. 2006. White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Willis, A. S. 2004. All According to God’s Plan: Southern Baptist Missions and Race, 1945–1970. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
White Metropolis by Michael Phillips is not a book you’d expect to find on an internationally oriented radio show like It Matters. It is an academic study of “Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001.” Were it not for the role of religion in Dallas and specifically the role of one Cyrus Scofield, this excellent academic study would not have a wider audience, but that grifter did make his way to Dallas, obtained the pulpit of the First Congregational Church, and published the Scofield Reference Bible. His millennialism teachings have (un)informed Evangelical American Protestants for the past century, creating a preoccupation with the “final days” and the “second coming.”
The academic term for what Scofield taught is dispensationalism, and that doctrine has been distorting American politics for years. It underpins both much of our nation’s racism and certainly the unwillingness of politicians from the right to value science and engineering.
Because it helps us to understand the dispensationalist approach to society and politics, White Metropolis is a book that serious students of American political science will want to read.
Review by Ken Weene, co-host of It Matters Radio
The House Will Come To Order
East Texas Historical Journal
Volume XLIX, No. 1, Spring 2011
By Archie McDonald
The East Texas Historical Journal continues to provide reviews of recently published Texana elsewhere in each issue, plus this column of personal reactions of a curmudgeon and notes on various media of interest to East and other Texans.
A case in point is The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas House Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics, by Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips (University of Texas Press, Box 7819, Austin, TX 787813-7819 $40). Cox and Phillips narrate the development of the office through the biographies of all the white males who have filled the post of Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from Reconstruction through 2010 – Ira Hobart Evans through Joe Straus – and at the same time trace the evolution of the nature of and power of the office itself. Speakers served only one term during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, essentially taking a turn presiding over debates and expecting to return to the ranks during the next session. The office – and the men who held it – gained greater power when Coke Stevenson stretched his tenure to a second term, and later speakers (especially Billy Clayton, Gib Lewis, and Tom Craddick) who served even longer reached the pinnacle of power in Texas politics. Conventional wisdom held that the state constitution, in effect since 1876, so limited the governor’s authority that the lieutenant governor actually wielded more power through the legislative process. Cox and Phillips believe that the Speaker of the House has surpassed both in determining the direction of state government. One way or another, I have met most of the speakers since Price Daniel the elder and liked most of them. I judged Clayton most knowledgeable about the state’s budget and affairs, Lewis the most fun to be around, but Craddick the most powerful and partisan. I recommend everyone interested in Texas politics read this book; it is the best analysis of our public affairs to appear in some time. I strongly recommend page 181; this is the best explanation of why things are the way they are that I have ever seen.
The Journal of Southern History
Volume LXXVII, No. 4, November 2011
The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. By Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips. Forward by Don Carlton. Focus on American History Series. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010, Pp. 254. $40.00. ISBN 978-0-292-72205-7.)
Following the U.S. annexation of Texas, the post of state House Speaker began in 1846 as a rotating, honorary position, held by a member elected from his small district and chosen by his peers to preside over debates during a single two-year term. The Texas constitution of 1876 placed no limitations on the Speaker’s powers over the House, eventually providing an opening for the Speaker to wield authority comparable to that of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, and the governor. The great expansion of the state’s government after World War II propelled the role of the Speaker. In Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips’s The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics, the story is well told, although it is not always clear when some particular privileges were acquired – for example the right to appoint chairs and members of House committees, and to interpret the chamber’s rules, which were listed among the Speaker’s power by the 1960s.
Given the book’s confined focus, a considerable amount of the history of the House itself is missing, especially before 1949, after which dynastic Speakers became the norm. One must beware critiquing a book that was not written, but the Texas House was a vital institution before the Speaker was powerful and the history of the House is more important than the history of the Speaker’s ascendency. Most readers will want to learn a bit more about the House itself in crucial earlier periods. Just by using a few newspaper articles and Robert C. Cotner’s James Stephen Hogg: A Biography, for instance, Cox and Phillips could have provided more background on the beginnings of Texas reformsin the 1891 and 1893. And with the same approach, drawing on James A. Clark’s The Tactful Texan: A Biography of of Governor Will Hobby (New York, 1958), the authors could have noted the transition of the House and the state itself into a more conservative era under Governor William Pettus Hobby (1917-1921).
There is much more background material for the last seventy years, so the book takes on some of the characteristics of a general political history of Texas in that period. The unavoidable linkages between the House and Senate, the governorship, and the lobbyists are fully displayed. Cox and Phillips denote the many scandals and zany incidents, including Speaker Gibson “Gib” Lewis’s numerous gaffes such as when he told an assembly, “I am filled with humidity.” (p. 139.) The authors adroitly use a wide variety of secondary sources as well as the audiotaped interviews with Speakers housed at the University of Texas at Austin. Cox and Phillips could have used H.C. Pittman’s Inside The Third House: A Veteran Lobbyist Takes a Fifty-Year Frolic Through Texas Politics (Austin, 1992) and they could have made greater use of trenchant analysis from The Texas Observer and the Texas Monthly’s ranking of the ten best and worst legislators.
Although the authors notes that regressive taxation has remained securely in place all along, they do not specifically address whether the establishment of a third power nexus within the government by the 1960s has made any appreciable difference in the lives of Texans. A comparison of various states’ lower houses and their Speakers also awaits a future work, but it will have to take into account this able study of the Speaker of the Texas House.
University of Texas at Arlington George N. Green
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume CXIV, No. 3, (January 2011)
Sean P. Cunningham
Texas Tech University
According to authors Patrick L. Cox and Michael Phillips, “institutional changes in the Texas House and larger social changes in the state since World War II transformed the speakership from a rotating, largely honorary position charged mainly with presiding over House debates to an office in which individual Speakers have wielded tremendous power and even control over state policy” (2). Drawn from an impressive collection of oral histories, most of which were conducted by the authors themselves, Cox and Phillips attempt to trace the evolution of power emanating from the office of Texas Speaker of the House. In so doing, they have made a valuable contribution to the study of Texas politics. At the same time, however, flaws in the contextual framework and overarching structure, as well as consistently fragmented chapter outlines, distract from that contribution. What readers are left with is insight on how the Texas legislature works, how it has changed, and how variant the personalities, motivations, and temperaments of the men occupying the Speaker’s office have been.
The book’s scope is broad and ambitious. Cox and Phillips effectively trace the origins of the office of Speaker, recalling the tumultuous power plays that shaped Texas during the years of Reconstruction, Redemption, and the writing of the sadly flawed state Constitution of 1876, out of which future visionaries constructed power in the absence of prescribed limitations. Readers are subsequently treated to solid, though perhaps not new, overviews of Texas political culture, including Progressive Era reforms which, the authors argue only somewhat convincingly, reflected the most influential political movement in state history. From there, Cox and Phillips provide a narrative of twentieth-century Texas legislative history that blends biographical and anecdotal histories of each Speaker with accessible, if sometimes simplistic, overviews of the policy debates that emerged during each Speakers’ tenure and how those debates shaped each Speakers’ legacy.
Solid research and skillful writing save a book that otherwise might have been undone by flawed organization and argumentation. Rather than focus their analytical energies on the evolution of Speaker power, as the book ostensibly aims to do, the authors’ arguments to that end are distracted by the insistence on presenting biographical overviews for each Speaker. While nice, these background checks are too long and distracting and contribute little to the overall argument. The analytical momentum of each chapter is further (and unnecessarily) interrupted by discussions designed to ground and contextualize the narrative within the broader framework of American and Texas social, cultural, and economic history. Particularly disappointing was a late chapter couched as a study of gender and women in Texas politics. Most of the chapter deals with the seemingly unrelated history of remodeling the Speaker’s apartment within the Capitol building. Following that is a bifurcated discussion of how Speaker families have coped with living in the Capitol and a much more salient assessment of women in Texas legislative history, though even that important discussion fails to connect with the evolution of Speaker power.
Ultimately, the book offers an informative and accessible overview of the individuals holding the office of Speaker, as well as the legislative body over which those individuals presided. However, as an analysis of the Speaker’s office, and specifically the evolution of that office into one of national power, the book’s argument is unconvincing and ambiguous. In fact, what one might take from this book is that the Speaker’s office has been relatively powerless and lacking influence until very recently. One wishes, then, for a tighter analytical focus on the past three to four decades and a greatly condensed overview of the office as it evolved until well after World War II. Still, as a collection of miniature political biographies and a broad overview of Texas legislative history, the book succeeds nicely.
Beyond Texas Through Time:
Breaking Away from Past Interpretations
Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume CXV, No. 4, (April 2012)
Texas Christian University
Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away from Past Interpretations. Edited by Walter L. Buenger and Arnold De León. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011. Pp. 318. Tables, notes, index. ISBN 9781603442350, $24.95 paper.)
For many of us who teach, write, and think about Texas history, no single book has proven most valuable than a volume of essays edited twenty years ago by Walter L. Buenger and the late Robert Calvert. Texas Through Time: Evolving Interpretations (1991) featured a cast of that generation’s best Texas historians writing critical, sometimes damning, essays on the past and present state of Texas historiography. With a balanced mix of chronological and topical chapters, tied together by a provocative introductory essay by the editors, it painted a picture of Texas historical writing that had been characterized by a century of hero-worship, mythologizing, and cultural chauvinism. When its essays were being written in the late 1980s, the “new social history” was no longer very new in the American historical profession, but it was not yet in the mainstream in the Lone Star State. Texas Social historians, many of whom contributed essays to this volume, were still fighting an uphill battle to debunk old myths and to include the stories of women, Indians, Tejanos, African Americans, and ordinary Texans in the grand narrative of the state’s history.
As a sequel to that book, Beyond Texas Through Time takes stock of the field two decades later. With only six chapters compared to the original’s twelve, the strictly chronological chapters have been dropped, leaving Buenger to write the lead essay on the overall current state of Texas historiography, Pekka Hämäläinen on Indians, Keith J. Volanto on political, economic, and military history, Michael Phillips on race and gender, Carlos Kevin Blanton on diversity and “Historical Imagination,” and Nancy Beck Young on modernization. All are valuable contributions.
Historians who concentrate on a specific area will wish that the chronological chapters had remained, but perhaps the new organizational scheme reflects the disintegration of tradition that characterizes the profession as a whole in recent years. For example, a casual browser might wonder how Michael Phillips’s essay subtitled “Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans” will differ from Carlos Blanton’s on “The Diversity of People, Place, and Historical Imagination.” And indeed, these two essays do cover much of the same ground (which occasionally brings them into interesting conflict with one another.) To cite specific examples of repetition, Neil Foley’s The White Scourge is discussed in five of the six essays; individual books by Juliana Barr, Pekka Hämäläinen, and Judith MacArthur all appear in four different chapters. Of course, any editor who has ever commissioned a volume of essays know the difficulty of predicting, much less directing, what any group of independent scholars will write, and I would be surprised if the final product bears a very close resemblance to the outline the editors drew up when the project was conceived.
What unites the six essays is their conclusion that much has changed since 1991. Buenger’s nuanced introductory chapter deftly summarizes these changes. First, the old triumphalist Texas history is still alive and well, albeit stripped of its most blatantly racist and sexist trappings. Second, social history has gone mainstream and exists in fairly robust quality and quantity alongside the older forms. But the most striking development is the extent to which a “third truth” (Buenger’s term) has joined the first two – the rise of what might be called the “new cultural studies,” a set of approaches influenced by the broader currents of recent postmodernist thought. All of the essays cite examples of how the best new works on Texas place the state in broader regional, national, or even international context; how our understanding of Texas has benefitted from comparisons with other places; and how it has become more theoretical and interdisciplinary. Above all, these essays demonstrate how we have moved away from chauvinistic notions of Texas exceptionalism, with a corresponding ability to separate myth and memory from historical reality, even while acknowledging the subjectivity of and mutability of that reality. The result is an anthology nearly as important as its predecessor twenty years
The Harlem Renaissance in the American West:
The New Negro’s Western Experience
Journal of American Studies
Volume 46, No. 3, August 2012
Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (ed.) The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Art, and Letters (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2010, $60.00). Pp. 272. ISBN 978 0 8018 9461 9.
Bruce Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz (eds.). The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro’s Western Experience (New York: Routledge, 2012, $34.95). Pp. 264. ISBN 978 0 4158 8688 8.
Alain Locke’s proclamation in The New Negro (1925) that “we shall let the Negro speak for himself” rested on an assumption of shared ideals and identities that continues to shape our understanding of what has come to be known as the “Harlem Renaissance” (109). But it is an assertion that is largely debunked by two new edited collections on the period, which instead unearth many of its conflicts, contradictions, and elisions. In the first of these texts, The Harlem Renaissance Revisited, the writers show how class consciousness and the conservatism of leaders such as Locke operated alongside white patronage to commodify Harlem as a site of fascination for white cultural consumers while constraining the outputs of black artists and obscuring the voices of ordinary Harlemites. However, they also evidence the movement’s diverse and far-reaching implications, which helped situate the “Renaissance” within a much broader national and international framework of cultural and social transformation and anticipated change, but whose radical potential was overtaken by an artistic mission, led by Locke, which sough to project an unthreatening image of black culture to mainstream America.
One of the key strengths to this study is the wide range of disciplinary approaches that it incorporates in order to complicate our understanding of the era. Across fourteen diverse chapters, The Harlem Renaissance Revisited provides multiple perspectives on some of the complex themes of race, nationality, gender and sexuality which fueled the movement, and also precipitated its undoing. At the heart of almost all of the essays are issues of skin-tone prejudice and class conflict, as well as divisions between southern and Caribbean migrants (who comprised as many as three-quarters of Harlem’s inhabitants in 1930) and northern city-dwellers.
Two chapters are particularly effective in unpacking the human realities and dispelling the fantasies that continue to dictate depictions of the period. Jacob S. Dorman’s “Back to Harlem: Abstract and Everyday Labor during the Harlem Renaissance” critiques scholarship on 1920s Harlem for “having paid little attention to the masses of people who lined its streets, as opposed to the few people who lined its poems” (75). His sociological studyb depicts a burough characterized by poverty and social exclusion and thus far removed not just from the fantasies of white Americans who went “slumming” in venues such as the Cotton Club but also from Harlem’s art establishment. Perry A. Hall’s examination of recent scholarship on the period, “Perspectives on Interwar Culture: remapping the New Negro Era,” unearths the militant political background of the movement. Through scrutiny of recent critical texts, he argues that the Harlem Renaissance reveals itself to be an elitist response on the part of a tiny group of mostly second-generation, college educated, and generally affluent African-Americans – a response, first to the increasingly raw racism of the times, second, to the frightening Black Zionism of the Garveyites, and finally to the remote, but no less frightening appeal of Marxism . (208)
The – perhaps inevitable – consequence of the sheer range of analyses in this study is that some chapters subtly contradict others. For example, Monica Gonzalez Caldeiro contrasts Zora Neale Hurston’s plays with a Harlem theater circuit, which she dismisses for adhering to minstrelsy-derived representations of black life, yet Frank A. Salamone argues that Duke Ellington brought a sacred message to even his Cotton Club compositions. Similarly, Martha E. Cook situates The Blacker the berry (1929) as formative in its exploration of skin-tone prejudice among African Americans, but Claire Oberon Garcia shows that such a theme was an important feature of much earlier work by Jessie Redmon Fauset, such as in her 1913 short story “Emmie.” There is also little agreement amongst the contributors as to how the term “Harlem Renaissance” might best be defined and explored. While some of the articles unpack the orthodoxy of the “Renaissance” as a primarily Harlem-based literary movement of the 1920s and position is art as conveying merely a “symbolic abstraction” of the actual Harlem (76), others continue to interpret the movement in these terms. Such a reading is largely reinforced by a study in which literature remains the main focus. Although the collection features sections on theater and music, more than a third of the chapters are devoted to texts by some of the movement’s key literary icons.
However, the text’s contradictions should not necessarily be read negatively as they open up dialog between contributions and the themes they explore. In fact, the great value of this collection lies in the multifaceted perspectives that it has assembled, and the Harlem Renaissance Revisited should be applauded for its wide-ranging contribution to the scholarship on the movement. Although Ogbar’s collection does not wholly sweep away perceptions of the era of the ‘New Negro” as primarily literary, middle-class, Harlem-based, and a “high-water mark of black creative expression,” it provides readers with new directions for considering both its origins and its cultural impact.
By contrast, Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz’s collectioin downgrades the role of Harlem in early twentieth century black creative expression. The book’s hypothesis is that the “Harlem Renaissance, or the New Negro literary and artistic movement, was a truly national phenomena and must be understood as such” (2, emphasis added). Glasrud and Wintz observe that very few African American artists from the era were actually from Harlem, some major artists never visited the borough, and those that did often spent a great deal of time elsewhere. As the contributors to this study also note, many of the events that gave rise to the “New Negro” era – including race riots, lynchings, and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as resistances to these abuses, such as the campaigns to prevent screenings of the southern propaganda film The Birth of a Nation (1915) – occurred, or at least were felt, nationally.
Key to Harlem’s significance to African American artistic expression in the 1920s was its status as a literary and networking centre. Glasrud and Wintz’s study, therefore, challenges more substantially than does The Harlem Renaissance Revisited tendencies to interpret the “Renaissance” primarily as a literary movement. By instead exploring art, music, and musical theater, The Harlem Renaissance in the American West succeeds in shifting much of the movement’s impact westward and in demonstrating how African American cultural establishments in urban centres such as Kansas City and Minneapolis and states including California and Oklahoma in turn influenced Harlem’s cultural outpourings. The text concentrates chiefly on Texas and the states north and West of it, together with Minnesota. The rationale for such a geographical focus is that these areas were popular destinations for participants in the Great Migration of the early twentieth century. Although their local African American populations had traditionally been small, they grew by as much as 60 percent between 1900 and 1930.
Each contributor provides rich and insightful details of forgotten artists and obscured cultural centres. Key to all of the chapters is the emphasis on reciprocal creative interaction between Harlem and the American West, and particularly in Douglass Flamming’s claim that Los Angeles took over from Harlem following the Great Depression and enjoyed a temporary, if unsustainable, cultural renaissance. Jean van Delinder draws important attention to filial and artistic links between Native and African American communities in Oklahoma. Michael Phillips’s persuasive contention that Dallas continues to ignore its African American art heritage at least partly out of cultural anxiety points up the extent of black artists’ critical neglect and is a powerful reminded of enduring racist attitudes towards cultural production.
Due to the overall smallness and geographical isolation of many of their black populations relative to Harlem, the western centres explored in this study failed individually to rival the borough’s cultural impact. A concluding chapter, which could have drawn together some of the contributors’ claims for the artistic importance of such communities would therefore have been welcome in underscoring the American West’s significance during the “New Negro” era. Douglas Henry Daniels does acknowledge that ragtime was performed in the San Francisco Bay Area at the beginning of the twentieth century. Elsewhere, historians such as Marshall and Jean Stearns and Herbert Asbury have claimed that ragtime dances such as the Turkey Trot and Texas Tommy were first executed publicly along San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Such assertions suggest that Los Angeles’ cultural offerings were not only comparable to Harlem’s, but anticipated them and that the American West may in fact have made vital contributions to jazz music and dance. A concluding chapter could also have better explained why the notion of a specific “renaissance” is still relevant when many of the artists discussed in this study were active outside the 1920s and 1930s.
Yet the most surprising omission of a text dedicated to breaking down the geographical boundaries by which early twentieth century black cultural expression has traditionally been defined and understood is that it fails to grapple with such creativity’s international ramifications, characterizing it instead as a national movement. As noted above, a sizeable proportion of Harlem’s population in 1930 was Caribbean born. In this respect, the text compares less favorably to The Harlem Renaissance Revisited, which, while continuing to privilege Harlem as a cultural centre, does feature a chapter that scrutinizes black artists’ interactions with Soviet Russia and another that emphasizes connections between the writings of Jessie Redmon Fauset and three of her Caribbean contemporaries, Suzanne Césaire and Paulette and Jane Nardal. Two of the contributors to The Harlem Renaissance in the West do acknowledge that Garveyism enjoyed support in African American communities as far afield as Dallas and Los Angeles, but much more could have been made of its impact in these areas.
Nevertheless, The Harlem Renaissance in the West does an important job of recovering artists and communities traditionally obscured in cultural histories and also of challenging a too-easy privileging of Harlem as the primary site of African American cultural production in the interwar era. As chapter-length studies, both books, inevitably can only begin to explore complex social interactions and artistic careers, but they do provide vital starting grounds by which to unearth the multifarious cultural outpourings – and diverse human experiences – of a broad range of African American communities during the early decades of the twentieth century.
University of Nottingham HANNAH DURKIN
The Harlem Renaissance in the American West: The New Negro’s Western Experience
Glasrud, Bruce A., and Wintz, Cary D. New York: Routledge, 2012.
As scholars of the New Negro movement have long realized, the term “Harlem Renaissance” is a misnomer. The renaissance was not produced by native-born Harlemites only, nor was it confined only to Harlem itself. Instead, it was a national phenomenon. While most treatments of the renaissance period focus on the Eastern Seaboard, the impact of the renaissance on the West and Southwest have been neglected. Editors Glasrud and Wintz and the contributors to this collection do a superb job of filling this gap. Apart from entries in the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Wintz and Paul Finkelman, March CH, ’05, 42-3662), there have been relatively few sustained, book-length treatments of the subject. Most people forget that Langston Hughes was born in Missouri and spent his early years in Kansas; that artist Aaron Douglass was born in Kansas; or that Wallace Thurman hailed from Utah. The contributors examine writers, artists, and musicians in venues as diverse as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Denver, Helena, and Laramie, reminding readers that Melvin Tolson wrote in Marshall, Texas, and sculptor Sargent Johnson lived in San Francisco. A must read. Summing up: Essential. All levels/libraries.
- Gasker Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, Camden
The Texas Right: The Radical Roots
of Lone Star Conservatism
Fort Worth Weekly
Posted July 9, 2014
by JIMMY FOWLER in Arts
The Tea Party is just the most recent radical-right movement to grip Texas.
Now that the country has reacted with disgust and amusement to the extremist 2014 Texas Republican Party platform, the next logical question is: Where did that platform’s piquant combo of modern alienation, paranoia about the federal government, and antagonism against women, gays, and immigrants originate?
Obviously, hard-right politics in Texas started long before the national emergence of the Tea Party in 2009 and even earlier than the 1980 rise of the evangelical right in the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan. The Texas Right: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Conservatism, a sharply written new collection of essays on post-Civil War Texas history from Texas A&M University Press, entertainingly illustrates how a wacky strain of hardcore right-wingers has flourished (if not always succeeded) alongside mainstream Texas conservatives for a good 150 years now.
George Clark, a Democratic primary contestant for the 1892 gubernatorial nomination, ran aggressively on a “Turn Texas Loose!” campaign that rejected all federal taxes and regulations on Lone Star industries and championed the always vague concept of “personal liberty.” Sound familiar? Clark lost the nomination, but over the course of the 20th century, his radical-right descendants — and a lot of other conservatives — jumped ship from the Democrats to the Republican Party and gained control over the convention and primary processes there.
The scholars and journalists who’ve contributed pieces to The Texas Right, edited by Collin College history professors David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison, cover some of the familiar rogue’s gallery of Texas reactionary groups –– the Jeffersonian Democrats of 1936 and Texas Regular movement of 1944 (both of which despised and worked against FDR’s New Deal federal activism); the Shivercrats of the 1950s (Democratic supporters of Texas Gov. Allan Shivers, a man famously too right-wing for even U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy); and the state chapters of the John Birch Society that flourished especially in North Texas until the 1970s.
In the opening essay, Cullen carefully distinguishes what the book calls “the radical right” from garden-variety conservatives. Texas’ most reactionary groups and leaders, Cullen insists, have always combined “a conspiratorial worldview” with “a suspicion of the democratic process, an emphasis on personal liberty over equality, and on economic individualism over community interests.”
The radical right in Texas also has tended to eschew public debate and discourse, preferring a tactic the book’s contributors call “eliminationalism” –– the systematic “suppression, removal, or extermination” of the political opposition. (Shuttering most of the state’s abortion providers by legislative fiat, anyone?)
All nine essays are persuasive and informative, and, though The Texas Right was published by an academic press, the pieces were written with a general audience in mind: They make you want to learn more about the highlighted individuals and groups. Michael Phillips’ opener, “The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” explores how far-right businessmen and politicians handled both immigrant communities and the state’s African-American population once Reconstruction commenced. Some radical-right leaders worried that newly freed slaves and poor uneducated whites would form a political coalition based on shared economic interests. In an effort to quash that, influential Texas U.S. Rep. John H. Reagan lobbied Gov. J.W. Throckmorton in 1866 to include “racially inferior whites” along with blacks as targets of IQ tests and poll taxes.
In fact, there was a biracial socialist movement called the Populist Party in the 1890s, though it didn’t get very far. As editor/contributor Wilkison shows in his piece “The Evils of Socialism,” reactionary Baptist preacher J.R. Burnett waged a 1900 public war for the souls of poor white and black sharecroppers who’d fallen under the spell of Christian socialist preacher Morgan A. Smith. (There really was such a thing as Christian socialism back then.) In his widely read 1914 book The Devil and Socialism, W.F. Lemmons, another radical- right minister of that era, definitively linked Marxism, Darwinian evolution, and all preferences for “scientific materialism” over a Christian God as interrelated evils. Contemporary evidence of climate change would presumably not fare much better in Lemmons’ eyes.
And the flamboyant hatemongers just keep on coming in The Texas Right. Keith Volanto’s “The Far Right in Texas Politics during the Roosevelt Era” chronicles how Texas oil baron John Henry Kirby co-founded a 1934 precursor to the Tea Party, the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution (SCUC), to combat Roosevelt’s anti-poverty, pro-labor programs. SCUC eventually fizzled, in part because the group’s Southern members discovered that “Northern elites” like the DuPont and Sloan families were helping prop it up. (Apparently, the only thing worse than an FDR socialist was a Yankee of any political persuasion.) Nancy E. Baker’s “Focus on the Family” spotlights Pauline Wells, the wife of a wealthy Brownsville rancher who campaigned passionately against women’s suffrage, warning the Texas Legislature in 1915 that giving “hysterical” women the vote would also lead to “Negro rule” in parts of the state where black women outnumbered white women. George N. Green’s “Establishing the Texas Far Right” recounts how, in 1944, University of Texas president Homer Rainey was fired after a coalition of hard-right Texas businessmen and legislators went on a well-funded tear to purge state universities of liberal elements. Rainey was accused, among other things, of harboring “a nest of homosexuals” in the faculty. (On the bright side, no one suggested the alleged nest-dwellers seek reparative therapy for their sexuality.)
In light of the aggressively reactionary 2014 Texas Republican Party platform, The Texas Right feels like required reading, if only to get a better handle on how far the roots of hard-right ugliness reach down into the history of the Lone Star State. As always with the radical right, the motto seems to be: so many groups to hate, so little time.
Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
The Texas Right: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Conservatism, ed. by David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison. Texas A&M, 2014. 191p index afp (Elma Dill Russell Spencer series in the West and Southwest, 39) ISBN 9781623490287, $50.00; ISBN 9781623490294 pbk, $24.95.
The essays comprising this fantastic anthology provide fascinating insights into the rise of Texas conservatism during the 1900s. The contributors note that Texas conservatism preceded the oft-cited appearance of post-WW II Sunbelt conservatives, pushing the movement’s origins back to the radicalization of blacks after the US Civil War and the fears of Texas socialism during the early 1900s. Right-wing megachurch ministers such as J. Frank Norris mobilized Texas religious conservatives during the early 1900s, well before the better-known televangelists of the mid-20th century and prior to the economic conservatives who criticized President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s–all carefully analyzed in this volume. In addition, the Texas Republican Party prospered during the early 1950s, in large part by realigning itself with the anticommunist hysterics of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. In sum, each essay in this volume is indispensible in placing the modern Texas Right in its proper historical context, showing that the concerns of today’s Tea Party are, in fact, little different from the concerns of conservative Texans who preceded them as far back as a century ago.
–T. P. Bowman, West Texas A&M University
Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.
Texas Books in Review
Volume XXXIV, No. 1 (Spring 2014)
The Texas Right: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Conservatism edited by David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison
College Station: Texas A&M Unviersity Press, 2014. 191 pp. $50 cloth, $24.95 paper.
Reviewed by Christine Lamberson
This new volume sets out to explain “what informed, influenced, and shaped the Texas Right” from the late nineteenth through the twentieth century. In the opening essay, David O’Donald Cullen argues that the Texas Radical Right both foreshadowed recent national political changes, particularly the break up of the “Solid South” and the subsequent regional rise of the Republican Party, and played an important role in shaping the modern right. Cullen begins by updating explanations for the Radical Right from those focused on post-WWII status anxiety. Instead, he asserts that though a conspiratorial worldview in response to perceived threats was indeed a hallmark of reactionary conservatives, such “class warfare, racial prejudice, and gender bias” were a feature of the Radical Right long before the postwar era. The book aims to show that the origins of the Texas Right are in a much older, Radical Right than what is commonly believed.
After the short introductory essay, the volume features three chapters on the Radical Right before the New Deal era. They discuss strong reaction- ary groups aimed at maintaining the economic and racial power structure in the face of reforming efforts by the poor, immigrants, blacks, and other disenfranchised groups. Two essays
focus on religion and provide detailed examinations of the role played by sev- eral preachers in the Radical Right at the time. These groups used racial and religious rhetoric in ways that are very familiar today, showing how concepts like the religious right are not nearly as new as is often assumed.
The next essays trace the rise of anti-New Deal conservatives in state politics. The essays highlight just how influential wealthy elites were in driv- ing the rightwing response to the New Deal despite the programs’ general popularity. These articles, along with Sean Cunningham’s excellent essay on the paranoid style of the postwar Far Right, bring the narrative into the 1950s and 1960s. Two essays provide a detailed and often overlooked story of the way that Kennedy’s death also seriously hurt the Texas Far Right because of its record of extreme, vocal opposition to JFK.
The final two essays look at the Right throughout the century. Nancy Baker joins recent scholarship in focusing on conservative women. She persuasively shows Texas women’s consistently influential role in shaping the movement. Michel Lind looks at the intellectual traditions of Texas politics arguing for an “ethnocultural explanation” for the rise of the right. He also illuminates the role of oil money in creating an unusual blend of a modern economy with an undisrupted strong strain of traditionalism.
In the opening essay, Cullen writes that understanding the transformation of the Texas Republican Party, of course, requires knowledge of the changing national political landscape as well as developments in Texas. Yet, he says, “the Texas details do remain crucial, and the historical Texas political land- scape rewards its viewers with some of the starkest and most riveting scenery there is.” This volume does an excellent job with the latter. The stories are indeed rich, full of interesting details, and illustrative of important personalities in Texas politics. Unfortunately, it is weaker on the former as those stories are often not clearly connected to the broader national context. For instance, several essays talk about fears of social- ism and unions during the early and mid-twentieth century, fears that were hardly confined to Texas.
Still, the collection’s stated focus is more on illuminating longer roots for the modern right than on making national connections. It is successful at this task when showing how the weakening of the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on the state was a longer process than is often recognized. The essays show that wresting the Solid South from Democratic hands started with the Radical Right long before the Civil Rights Movement. On other topics, with some exceptions, most of the essays show precedents rather than origins. The volume variously claims to be arguing that modern conservatism “echoes” the past and that it has its “origins” in the early Radical Right. The two are not precisely the same. Cunningham’s essay explicitly grapples with this issue, explaining that though there are many similarities between the post-1980 Right’s central tenants and those of an earlier Radical Right, a linear relationship is hard to establish. Yet, few of the other essays are as open in discussing this challenge and they would be stronger if they could be more explicit in showing legacies of the earlier right or considering the limitations of the precedents.
Ultimately, this volume will be useful to scholars and students of Texas his- tory, US political history, and conservative politics throughout the twentieth century. Individual essays make connections between those fields and women’s history, religious history, and early twentieth-century racial politics. The historiography of modern conservatism has been slowly lengthening its origin story. This volume successfully pushes that story much further back, but there is still more work to be done in determining the precise relationship between the early Radical Right, in Texas and elsewhere, and the modern conservative movement.
Christine Lamberson is an Assistant Professor at Angelo State University. Her research focuses on the relationship between American culture and politics during the twentieth century. Her manuscript examines how politicians and the American public responded to violence in the 1960s and 1970s and the influence of those responses on American politics.
The Journal of Southern History
Volume LXXXI, NO. 2
The Texas Right: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Conservatism. Edited by David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison. Emma Dill Spencer Series in the West and the Southwest. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. Pp. X, 191. Paper, $24.95. ISBN 978-1-62349-028-7; cloth, $50, ISBN 978-1-62349-7.
David O’Donald Cullen and Kyle G. Wilkison’s The Texas Right: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Conservatism — a compliment to their The Texas Left: The Radical Roots of Lone Star Liberalism (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2010) – deploys nine brief essays by accomplished Texas historians to explore the ancestry of today’s Texas conservatism. With subjects ranging from the racialization at the turn of the twentieth century to antifeminist women’s organizations in the 1970s, The Texas Right constructs a quick and accessible primer perfect for those looking to make a rapid acquaintance with several strands of twentieth century Texas conservatism.
Cullen rightly states in his introductory essay that “the historical Texas political landscape rewards its viewers with some of the starkest and most riveting scenery there is. (p. 2). From J. Frank Norris’ fighting for fundamentalism to W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel’s hillbilly politicking, Texas has produced a cast of remarkable and influential conservative characters. And at the height of the boom in studies of American conservatism, The Texas Right not only explores Texas’s colorful history, but also provides a much-needed launching point for understanding the long history of the Texas Right.
Less interested in engaging pressing issues surrounding the historiography of American conservatism than with recounting and exploring the fortunes of Texas’s twentieth century conservative activists, the essays serve a useful entrée into much of the historiography of twentieth century Texas politics. Readers acquainted with the historiography will find much that is familiar. Most of the essays distill their authors’ primary research projects. Michael Phillips, for example, draws on his work on the creation of whiteness in early twentieth century Dallas; Wilkison pulls from his study of radical farmworkers to describe the counterassault against early-twentieth century socialist laborers; George N. Green mines his rich work on the Texas political establishment to explore midcentury conservative political leaders; and Sean P. Cunningham’s piece recalls his study of postwar Texas conservatives (one of the few scholarly monographs devoted solely to Texas conservatism.)
Academic readers preoccupied with definitional precision might find themselves frustrated – conservatism and radical remain nebulous terms throughout the work – but such imprecision seems deliberate: rather than shape these terms into a clear narrative or a thesis-driven argument buoyed by some consistent interpretive thrust, Cullen and Wilkison have allowed their authors to explore their research — and their take on the “radical roots” – on their own terms. Samuel K. Tullock’s take on the midcentury career of J. Frank Norris, for instance, is the work’s lone biographical entry; Nancy E. Baker’s work on conservative women – at over thirty pages, far and away the volume’s longest and most substantial – is the only thematic, chronology-spanning piece.
The heart of the essays documents the career of conservatism from the state’s anti-New Deal coalitions to the anti-communist, anti-labor, and pro-business reactionaries of the postwar period. All books have blind spots and The Texas Right—a remarkably slim volume – is, of course, no exception. Texas conservatism is a tangled mess of racial, religious, economic, sexual, and gendered concerns. While this work contains ample work on the economic barons of Texas – in fact, if The Texas Right makes a broader historiographical contribution, it is in keeping with that strain of recent conservative historiography that emphasizes the raw power of cold hard cash – few dig into the grassroots appeal and continuing cultural resonance of Texas conservatism. Why, exactly, do Texans vote so heavily for conservatives? Answering such questions has been the central animating impulse over several decades of scholarship, but aside from establishing the primacy of wealth in fueling the conservative movement, the question receives little interest here. Race is at the periphery of this volume and, aside from Baker’s entry, gender and sexuality is almost fully absent. George W. Bush harnessed a faith-based politics in Texas, and yet only Wilkison’s essay on the Religious Right’s fight against socialism and the biographical work on Norris discuss religious politics. Moreover, this is a twentieth century story. While Cullen and Wilkison’s The Texas Left begins at the close of the Civil War and documents many nineteenth century strains of Texas liberalism, The Texas Right devotes few pages to anything other than the final fleeting years of the nineteenth century.
Such quibbles, however, in no way take away from the compelling work that Cullen and Wilkison have performed. Texas conservatism is not only an important topic, it is also an exceedingly relevant one. The editors have performed a wonderful service in gathering together a group of talented historians to share and disseminate their work and thereby raise the questions needed to fully appreciate the long career of Lone Star conservatism.
University of Houston-Victoria