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BOW WILLIAMS Automobile and General Insurance Budget Payment Plan Strong Stook Companies GReenwood 2-8545 124 LAMAR, AUSTIN Let’s Abolish the Poll Tax! The Lion and the OM In union, there is strength. The fable of the Lion and the Oxen illustrates this lesson very forcibly. As long as the three Oxen stayed together, the Lion dared not attack. But ‘the king of beasts’-sowed dissension and jealousy amongst his adversaries, and they separated. It was then easy for the Lion to attack and destroy them one by brie. In Sun Life, also, there is strength. WA44444, When you become a policyholder of this A great international company, you become one of a group of farsighted men and women the holders of two million policies and group certificates in 25 countries who protect their families and themselves against an uncertain future through the medium of life insurance. Why not discuss your We insurance problems with Ine today? You will be under no obligation. MARTIN ELFANT 201 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 SUN LIFE OF CANADA Get a Friend to Subscribe to The Texas Observer Name Address City State OBill the Subscriber O$4 Enclosed Mail to The Texas Observer, 504 West 24th St., Austin Subscribe to The Texas Observer Name Address City State 0 Bill the Subscriber 0 $4 Enclosed Mail to The Texas Observer, 504 West 24th St., Austin Conversation: An Honored Man and the Marginal People AUSTIN The distant figure looked small coming at me. Yet he was recognizable, even from great distance the walk materializing as a sort of purposeful shuffle and the erect head seemingly suspended above the bony frame. Only when he got close did I remember he was also a tall man, his height a deceptive thing with his coat drawn tight over his angular shoulders, his trousers hanging loosely around his shanks. His handshake was an iron grip and his voice rasped a stern sincerity. “How are you, boy, it’s sure good to see you again.” Shaking the crust-like hand, looking into the aging face, I was struck once again with how he seemed to embody in the purest sense the whole and entire meaning of the American legend, the young, honest, straightforward boy who had worked hard all his life and had become many times a millionaire. Now, in the evening of his time, he is one of the richest, most powerful men in Texas, and he is capable of great personal kindness. I heard he once spent $50,000 on medical treatment for one of his Mexican workers, who had contracted a rare disease. He has a quality, a willingness to listen, a sort of humility before the spoken word that is difficult to describe. Listening that way, he must have learned many things about men, their motives and their cravings, and one sensed that his slow-talking, almost deliberate folksiness must have given him an advantage in board meetings. He is a strong, smart, restrained man, and only rarely does the hunger within him sift fleetingly to the surface before being repressed by the iron-like composure. The Best People With all this he has a capacity for hatred, too, and one could not talk to him very long before being subjected to his principal theme, the evil of organized labor. His hatred for unions brought force to his speech and speed to his sentences. “The unions repress individualism, make a man a part of a mob and he is not rewarded for working hard. There is no incentive and he is a chattel to labor bosses who have contempt for him. They are hungry for power and they use the union member as a tool to manipulate. We ought to use our right-to-work law in Texas and enforce it.” The words clicked off with a staccato intensity he had for no other subject. He is by all odds the most conservative man of my acquaintance and, he admitted, I am one of the most liberal of his. Once, some years before, we had talked passingly about the lack of communication in America between men of widely varying political approaches. Now he who sometimes came to Austin to make news and I who report it met to discover if we had any common political ground. Over coffee in the Capitol basement coffee shop, we each put out tentative feelers, testing. As a starter we agreed it was proper for government to do for the people collectively that which they could not do for themselves individuallyschools, prisons, and highways, to restrict it to the noncontroversial. There was a somewhat less immediate rapport as to how these items should be financed, but in principle we both accepted the concept of taxation based on ability to pay. Turning to the matters at hand in our state government, we discussed t h e legislative budget board’s report. I told him I felt it was the most outspokenly cynical document I had ever encountered as a reporter and that it was re THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 7 Feb. 14, 1959 garded with disgust by the members of the Capitol press corps I had talked to. A reporter from one of the largest metropolitan dailies in the state had told me the hatchet job the budget board did on Gov. Daniel’s juvenile parole program was “criminal” and that the stop-gap substitute they offered was a “sham” which would have little effect other than to spend money to no purpose. There were other refusals to face facts the gutting of the mental hospital reforms and the recommendation to disband the migrant labor council, two “economies” that will cost the state millions. I noticed I was talking with some heat and apologized by saying that one could be complacent only by being unaware of the facts. “No need to apologize, your thinking is straight,” he said. “These are things we need and they are things we should do as Larry Goodwyn long as we keep in mind that there always must be opportunity in our country, and rewards for the people who are willing to work and work hard. Financing these things on the basis of ability to pay is all right as long as we leave room for that initiative. Remember, these people in the penal institutions and in the mental hospitals, they’re marginal people.” He leaned forward and spoke with emphasis. “You must never destroy the initiative of the people who are willing to work hard. Your government must keep open the door of opportunity for your best people.” The words recalled a phrase from somewhere out of American history the highly cultivated Carl Schurz it was, who led the Liberal Republican revolt against the corruption of the Grant machine after the Civil War. Shurz had said, with all the sincerity his 19th Century limitations permitted him, “We want a government which the best people of this country will be proud of.” “The Best People.” There was really nothing to say, so we passed to education. We agreed The Best Students are being allowed to rot by standards that are too lax and professors who do not challenge them. The Best Professors cost money and as a state we didn’t seem interested in paying for them. “Yes,” he said, “but keep in mind that when you have two poor teachers and you raise them from $200 to $400, you still have two poor teachers. We need a merit system. This tenure thing, you have a teacher for two years and you’ve got him for life, whether you want him or not. Education is important, there is nothing wrong with your thinking there, but it is not everything. When I was in school, I did not have a fast mind but I studied and worked hard. I was not popular with my classmates but I said to myself, these e 1 i t e, this elite bunch of students, where will they be in twenty-five years? I was determined that I would be on top in twenty-five years and I worked hard all my life and I think my life’ has been a success.” He held up a bracelet and showed me the inscription, ‘To an Honorable American’. “It was presented to me by the people of my cornmunity and I’m proud of it and proud to be a leader in my community. I got it not because I was smart but because I was willing to sacrifice and work hard to provide something substantial for my children. Education is not everything. Another example: I’ve got two young men in our organization, one has a master’s degree and then went on to Harvard Business School and he’s working out fine. The other has a master’s degree too and I’m not sure he’s going to work out. He’s too theoreti-. cal. It may be that the best thing I can do for him is let him go, he may be in the wrong slot. It’s a decision I’m going to have to make soon. But the point is, neither of the two men are my best producers. The three men who are our best money makers didn’t go to college, one of them didn’t even finish high school. But they make more money for us and for themselves than these men with the masters’ degrees. Education is not everything.” It occurred to me that The Best People had been redefined. From an educational standpoint, The Best People were not the most intelligent, the pioneers in thought, but rather those who worked hard and made the most money. The Great American Myth seemed to hover over us, blanketing thought. I felt our common ground slipping a w a y, the conversation brinking on stagnation. And the Real Sin? I made one more effort. “This Republic was founded by people who fled from feudalism and a system of privilege that offered built-in luxury to one small group and peasantry to everybody else.. If you were a peasant, it didn’t make much difference how hard you worked, or how much talent you had, you were compressed by the system. Now, here in Texas, in the twentieth century, for some of our people the same ‘situation exists. The ultimate sin of permitting the migrant labor horror to continue is not the hovels they live in, not the fact they’re shipped around like cattle, not the wandering, rootless, hopeless life. The real sin is that it breeds its own kind, that a six-year old son of a migrant laborer is foredoomed to know no other life, must in turn grow up to be another illiterate producing scads of illiterate children. None of them, not the man, the wife, or the children, have but the faintest vestige of human dignity upon which to try to build a life. If a kid grows up in the fields, reaches say 14 and then decides to rebel against the system, what are his chances? With no education, no genuine understanding of any environment except the life of the road, isn’t he a ten to one shot for Gatesville and, unless a miracle occurs somewhere down the line, Huntsville? Among the thousands of such children in Texas today, no reasonable man will deny there is talent with potential to heal, to teach, to write truth, or if you insist even build a mercantile empire.” I quit then and there was a pause. Finally he said, “There is nothing wrong with your thinking. I’ve never thought the solution of this country’s problems was either business rule on. the one hand or labor rule on the other. There is another way, there must be another way and people like you will find it. You keep on crusading. But don’t get involved with minority groups. That is not the way.” ‘Stay in There’ The bluntness, the irrelevance of the statement insured my silence. It occurred to me my friend