The first 22 years Dugger remembers Port Aransas When I started the Observer in the fall of 1954, there was this silence in Texas about poverty, discrimination, and economic power. Even the liberal political candidates were afraid to speak candidly about these things for fear they would come out sounding too strange for the voters to understand. My purposes as I undertook the Observer expressed who I was at 24, so I shall say a little about that. I was born into a devout, hard-working Catholic family in San Antonio. However the priests and nuns terrified me of my own boyhood and made me fearful of burning forever in hell if suddenly I was killed stepping off a street curb, the Catholic Church cast me from birth in a mold of Observations the ethics-seeking , personality. I was raised believing in good and bad, believing the thing you do is serve the good and fight the bad. This Catholicism gave me; my family gave me a love of work; and whatever other compulsions from those early years I have shucked, these two I have cherished and kept. I was a studious and lonely boy and read a lot. I can’t say what influenced me much, although I remember being impressed by Marx’s labor theory of value, propped up in my bed, reading him, in our house at 302 Washington Street in San Antonio. We lived across the street from the San Antonio River, in the declining colonial section of the city. Across the river lived the Mexicans in their vast quarter, with its acres of poverty and misery, extending westward. At school I felt the prejudice against the Mexicans and knew from their clothes and paltry lunches they were poor. Ragged little kids from the other side of the river ran lickety-split through our neighborhood shouting, and as I grew a little older I breathed the anglos’ fear of robbery and knifing. I had no close friends at school who were poor, or Mexican or black, although one of my friends, an Italian, suffered because people thought him Mexican. 28 The Texas Observer At The University of Texas I went into government and economics, and soon I knew something about the many forms, in politics and business, of the thematic conflict in society and history over the maldistribution, and therefore over the redistribution, of wealth and power. I believe it must have been sometime during my college years that I had the experience, difficult even to describe, it was so fleeting and insubstantial, that consolidated my dispositions. I was taking one of those rickety public buses into the interior of Mexico. Perhaps we had reached some small town below the border and were just pulling out of the station. I was standing toward the front of the bus, holding onto a post, when my seeing came to rest on the upraised face of a little boy, on the street beside the bus, who was staring at me. His clothes were ragged, like the clothes of all the ragamuffins of Mexico, and his eyes were big and searching me. I realized that to him I was a rich American. I felt very deeply for him. When, then, in the Texas Legislature, which I covered for The Daily Texan, I heard the demagogues of reaction berate every attempt to favor the poor in legislation as socialistic or communistic, and when late many a night I listened as liberal members of the Legislature told me of the business bribery that was the Legislature’s way of life, I understood that Texas had been corrupted by business money and that the newspapers, silent about almost everything that mattered, were a part of this corruption. Offered the opportunity to run the Observer by a group of Texas liberals, I did not at first accept. I wanted no part of some hack party organ, no part of a journalism controlled by a politically motivated board of directors. If they would let me have exclusive control of the editorial contents, I told them, I would do it. I left them, meeting in the Driskill Hotel, and they caucused and fumed. Later I was told that Mark Adams, a great New Dealer from Texas for whom the struggle for social justice is like unto a war, told the group, “If ever a rattlesnake rattled before it struck, Dugger did.” Bob Eckhardt, then a CIO lobbyist, was skeptical about the paper because, as he well knew from his association with the earlier Texas Spectator, the venture would cost large amounts of money that would be drawn away from progressive political candidacies. But they agreed to ask me to speak again to a larger group of their number. When 1 returned that afternoon \(to say the same thing I had said the first the meeting room to a woman who was introduced to me as Mrs. R. D. Randolph of Houston. She became the publisher, and I the editor. We began. From Dugger’s first . . What I thought, perhaps because the Catholics had taught me to believe in the power of virtue, was that if you just showed people wrong, they would make it right. For instance, I did a series in the Observer on “The Slums of Texas.” All I did was go look at these slums and talk to the public health officials and hunt down the landlords and ask them how they felt about owning slums. Surely, people are good; surely, if you tell them what’s across the tracks, they’ll agree to laws to make things right. Loan sharks charged the poorhell, I’ve forgotten-1500 percent a year, say. So I hoofed up and down the loan sharks’ blocks in the big cities, figured out their awful rates of interest, and harked back, one way or another, to the constitutional provision that anything above 10 percent was usury. The Legislature, instead of fixing things up, legalized 360 percent a year, or some such. Obviously the just principle for taxation is proportionality to the ability to pay. Why, then, did the Legislature tax the poor more than the rich? Well, study it through, explain to the citizens why the Legislature’s tax bill falls heaviest on the blacks in the ghettos and the browns in the barrios and the poor whites in the fields. The truth should do it. Throughout the Fifties, at least we fought back the general sales tax. And there was a movement growing, too. In Houston Mrs. Randolph led what may have been historically the most powerful progressive movement in Texas since the farmers’ Populism of the preceding century. In the Legislature the liberal senators achieved the power to veto much obnoxious legislation, and the reform bloc in the House, led by the likes of Eckhardt, Jim Sewell, Maury Maverick Jr., and Don Gladden, held about a third of the strength. Once the House reformers achieved 54 votes, I think it was, for Eckhardt’s bill to
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