Sherry Valentine Memories of conventions past For the first time in 30 years, conservatives have lost control of the state Democratic party machinery. On this historic occasion, we’d like to take a walk down memory lane with Billie Carr, a veteran of more than two decades of Democratic conventions. The following excerpts are from a lengthy letter Carr wrote to Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong earlier this year. Carr was trying to explain to Armstrong, one of the co-chairs of Jimmy Carter’s Texas campaign, why it is so important to have free and open state conventions. “I thought you might like a little history lesson,” Carr wrote. “This is not the kind of thing you could read in any books.” Ed. The first state convention that I attended was in the early 1950s’54, I believe. The liberals had won in Harris County and the convention was held in Mineral Wells, Tex. The state committee did not assign any hotel rooms for any liberal delegates. Of course, blacks were not allowed to stay in white hotels either. Some of us had to stay as far away as 100 miles from the convention hall. We were not allowed to hold a caucus in Mineral Wells. We did try to gather in a park, but the Palo Pinto Mounted Posse came with billy clubs and threatened arrest for having a meeting without a permit. In the convention hall, our seats were in the back of the room, tied together with chains bolted to the floor. We had one chair for every two delegates and no one was allowed to stand inside the convention hall, so we rotated and took turns sitting outside on the steps in the hot sun every hour. I don’t know why we stayed, because our mikes were cut off and we were not allowed to make motions or speak from the floor. We were referred to by the keynote speaker as the communists in the party. No cafe would serve food to any of us who were wearing badges indicating we were liberals. Of course, blacks were not served food to start with. A church women’s society found out and came and told us that if we would walk down to their church, they had made sandwiches and lemonade. We were so happy that some Christians had taken pity on us. When we got to the church we found out that the sandwiches cost $2 apiece and lemonade sog a glass. At the end of the convention many of our cars were missing, and we found them in the city pound where we all had to pay $13 to get them out. We drove back home disillusioned, bitter, and determined to fight for better representation. I can’t remember which convention, but it seems [it was] 1956 when Judge Jim Sewell decided to go talk to the governor about the fact that the liberals had been barred out of the convention. They didn’t let any of us go inside with him. When he returned to us, two policemen were on each side of him leading him by the arm and one had his gun pulled. It made me sick to see Judge Sewell, a blind mari, being treated in this outrageous manner. Needless to say, we were not seated that year. In 1958, I am sure that you do know the history of how Mrs. Randolph was elected national committeewoman because we had helped Lyndon Johnson defeat Allan Shivers for delegation chairman. That happened in the first convention like our June convention, but Lyndon got mad at us, so when we came back in September they locked us outdid not let us in the convention hall and picked a group headed by Hall Timanus put together just two days before the convention, gave them our credentials and our voting rights in the September convention. That is when we all. sat out in the cow barn in Fort Worth. In 1964 I was elected to go on the state committee. It was a miracle. Up until 1972, members of the SDEC were elected by the delegates from the senate district in the same manner that they are elected now. However, there was one little loophole. Your names were turned over to a nominating committee, and the governor had veto power over any of the members. That is why we, in the past, were never allowed to have liberal committee members. . . . The 1968 national convention, as you know, was the Democratic party’s disgrace. Daley cops were physically abusing men, women, and children. We marched in the park all night keeping a steady line between the soldiers that had been called out and the young people in the park. Hubert Humphrey’s defeat, in part, was the price we paid for that misconduct at the convention. We came back and did just what we have always donerolled up our sleeves and started working for the Democratic nominee. Because we were willing to work for Humphrey, liberals who would have dropped out, slowly began to join us. The good that came out of the 1968 convention was the McGovern-Fraser committee to review the rules of the Democratic party. As a result of that, for the first time in the State of Texas, the Democratic party had written rules. The requirements of the party for 1972 brought about reform and fairness so that every group received some representation. For instance, the Texas delegation was made up of just about equal parts of McGovern, Humphrey, Wallace, and uncommitted delegates, as well as representation for blacks, chicanos, and women. For the first time since 1952 when I first started working in Texas politics, the practice of exclusion was finally being eliminated. Many people blame McGovern’s loss on these party reforms. Of course this isn’t true. I think McGovern the candidate lost the election after his nomination for many reasons, starting with Eagleton on down. I think everyone understands that no candidate could have beaten an incumbent president, especially with the “plumbers” at work. The reason so many people objected to the reform rules is that age-old problem that people who have power never want to give it up, and those who felt threatened by the new system wanted to use McGovern’s loss as a reason for returning to the politics of exclusion. However, it is my belief that once we have opened up the party, we can never close the doors again to any group without harming the party. October 1, 1976
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