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Minnie Fish: A Reminiscence Marshall I met her in the summer of 1954, but it seems that I have known her always. That was the summer of the long knives and false tongues. The one ‘ of the despicable campaign for governor that saw the stirring of class hatreds, shameless race baiting, the phoney Port Arthur story, and McCarthyism in all of its ugly furythe same McCarthyism that with the egging on of Jimmy Strong had put me in the center of a small amateur band of plumbers, boilermakers, brick masons, and others who entered the field of journalism through what had become The East Texas Democrat. At the time of the meeting, I had resoresolutely resolved to give my law partner, my long-suffering secretarial force, and my family a respite from my journalistic and political efforts, local though they had been. Mainly to humor Mrs. Lillian Collier and Minnie Fisher Cunningham, the gentle little ladies I had just met, I agreed to give, devise, and bequeath to them the East Texas Democrat, with all of its shortcomings, and to help them arrange for someone else to take over. All seemed calm, logical, and as we would say today, moderate in aspect. So must others who have been in the eye of a hurricane have felt at the moment. The late Paul Holcomb was in Austin with a resolve to dispose of the State Observer, if it would bring enough cash for his purposes. Mrs. Frankie Randolph and others who were later to become involved were likely on that summer day going their ways as I was, wholly unapprehensive of what was to come. As always, Jimmy Strong was standing in the wings, ever ready to become a catalyst in the bringing about of any kind of an explosion, the larger the better. Somehow, don’t ask exactly how, Minnie Fisher Cunningham had us all in Austin by early fall. On one occasion, I recall a memorable lunch with Minnie Fish, Lillian, and Paul at Hill’s Cafe. We made our way there in Paul’s vintage chariot, with him behind the wheel. I had noticed four crumpled fenders and various body dents on the vehicle, and as our ride progressed, I realized that each blemish had been honorably earned in the process of Paul’s majestic disregard for regulations of any sorttraffic or otherwise. We did arrive at the restaurant, somewhat shaken mentally but physically unharmed. Minnie Fish talked of many things, as only she could do, but in the end, and to my utter surprise, she turned to Paul and remarked, “Paul, Mr. Jones is interested in buying your State Observer and combining it with his East Texas Democrat, would you be interested?” Up to that time I had always considered the law too jealous 12 The Texas Observer Franklin Jones a mistress to permit of philandering in capitalistic ventures. Nevertheless, I rapidly closed the gaping astonishment evidenced by my open mouth, and under the spell of Minnie Fish, I did my best to adopt a bankerish attitude. Again, don’t ask how it happened, I frankly don’t know, but a short while thereafter, there was in my office an option for some as yet unorganized entity to purchase the State Observer by the delivery of some non-existent capital. This was the option that Paul reflected upon, \(as I did after Minnie Fish had withdrawn her physical presence, but my no means her me substantially as follows: “In signing that option, I feel like a batter who has struck out on a wild pitch that he knew was going to be wild before the pitcher even wound up.” AND PAUL would have been right, but for Minnie Fisher Cunningham and others that she inspired. Sometimes gently persuading, at other times pointedly needling, but always persistently driving toward her objective, Minnie Fish kept things moving until there emerged the Texas Observer. This is not to detract from the efforts of the numerous devotees who have made this paper possible, but to give credit to her who had the vision and tenacity to move those who needed to be moved as the Observer took form. No need exists for apologizing for the relating of personal experiences; contact with Minnie Fish had to be a personal experience. So, to proceed, the writer, within months after his high resolve to leave journalism to the journalists and politics to the politicians, found himself somehow in the midst of every meeting of the various “committees,” “boards,” and “advisory councils” that served to chart the original course of the Texas Observer. Others, doubtless with resolves as firm, found themselves marching along under the spell of Minnie Fish and doing things they had not intended to do, always for the betterment of the liberal cause. We have lost many battles over the decade just past, but we have also won many a war where victors were not ‘proclaimed or the vanquished identified with defeat. Over this period, Minnie Fish was at the center of all of our achievements. I have written of but one facet of the remarkable character of Minnie Fisher Cunningham. There are none who have known her who could not add experiences that were equally important.* I remember *Mrs. Collier recalls that Minnie Fish had made plans to mortgage her farm and buy the State Observer from Paul Holcomb and to be its editor and “keep it from getting in the hands of the other people.” Mrs. Cunningham our last meeting at Houston in the spring of 1964 when the Texas Organization of Liberal Democrats was formed and she was so justly honored. I could tell that it had been a hardship on her to make the trip, and I will always remember her comment that evening: “Franklin, you especially asked me to come, and knowing that you wanted me to, here I am.” One of her old friends reminded us that evening of an occasion that will here be dateless and nameless when she and Minnie Fish arose before dawn to canvass all of the corridors in a hotel in order to remove the literature of the opposition, which had been painstakingly placed under the doors during the night. There must have been countless incidents of this nature in the career of Minnie Fish. I could never regard the strength of her character, the courage, determination, intelligence, interest in humanity and a willingness to champion human rights and just causes at whatever cost, without always feeling in my mind that not far beneath the surface of this splendid character there always lurked a mischievous little girl. She would jerk her head backwards, slightly distend her nostrils, and, with a flashing twinkle in her eye, begin a comment with, “We-ell . . .”. She was a master both with the gentle brush of humor and the lethal rapier of wit. And she knew best when to use each. HER CAREER came to an end, as I am sure she would have wanted it, in services at New Waverly on December 11. She was always close to the soil, she always appreciated and loved the majesty of nature, and although her influence had spread far and wide, her roots ever remained on her farm. Now that I look back at my opening sentence, I really always have known Minnie Fish. She had become the personification of the standards and principles held dear to the hearts of those who may call themselves humanists, liberals, or assume the epithet of their detractors”do-gooders.” At any rate, all of us of this classification now know that we have always known Minnie Fish, for we have always sought the ideal that was her life. had been editor of extension publications at Texas A&M and headed the women’s division of information in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Holcomb, Mrs. Collier recalls, “thought it best the State Observer not be a ‘petticoat paper’he used that term with us!and refused to sell it to her.” Later Mrs. Cunningham and Mrs. Collier drove to Marshall to see Franklin Jones abbut the East Texas Democrat. Mrs. Cunningham’s last major project was the organization of the Texas Democratic Women’s State Committee in 1953; she served as its treasurer until her death. Mrs. Collier says the last thing Mrs. Cunningham told the other leaders of this group was, “Divest yourselves of outside interests and concentrate on your Democratic Party and your women’s committee.” The Observer’s full-length portrait of Mrs. Cunningham, “Spanning the Old to the New South,” was published November 21, 1958.Ed.