Page 5


Russell Lee Tiger Jim Sewell at the 1958 state Democratic convention Sheriffs’ posses not composed of true deputy sheriffs had special commissions to arrest and drag out any protester who was too vigorous in his opposition to rigged conventions. The 1958 convention in San Antonio was nearly as bad. Jim Sewell was on the side of the loyal Democrats of the party in all of those conventions that he attended, generally in a leadership role. When the Texas Democratic primary ended in 1952, and the governor of Texas thenand only after the primary was overendorsed the Republican presidential candidate, Speaker Sam Rayburn came home to Texas to organize the Adlai Stevenson campaign and named Jim Sewell statewide campaign manager for the Democratic national ticket. To offset the defection of the governor and the state party officials to the Republican candidates in 1952, loyal Democratic statewide organizations were set up in 1953the Democrats of Texas by Maury Maverick Sr., John Cofer, and 22 The Texas Observer Creekmore Fath, and the Democratic Advisory Council by national chairman Steve Mitchell with Sam Rayburn and Adlai Stevenson’s approval and with Jim Sewell as chairman and Kathleen Voigt as executive secretary, with Byron Skelton, Walter Hall, Charlie Grace, Lillian Collier, and Minnie Fisher Cunningham in strong support. From that time until the 1956 convention, for more than three Sewell let fly his walking cane straight for the mouth of the offender. years, Judge Jim Sewell, chairman, and Kathleen Voigt, secretary, with a volunteer staff, toured Texas, organizing loyal Democrats for the coming presidential battle of 1956. Jim Sewell became one of the best known, most loved, loyal Democrats in Texas. Early in these campaigns of the 1950s, these campaigns of rigged conventions and stolen elections, rigged and stolen by raw power which controlled the government and the Democratic Party in Texas in the 1950s to an extent that can hardly be believed today except by those who lived through those days and witnessed it, because of his tenacious and bold stand, Judge James Sewell became known as “Tiger Jim.” He was so addressed by his friends the rest of his life. One incident illustrates why the “Tiger Jim” sobriquet had meaning. During the bitter Democratic state convention at Dallas in 1956, Jim Sewell and a few friends were in a hotel room when a newsman supporting Lyndon Johnson reproached Jim Sewell for not being a “Lyndon Johnson man,” saying “you and your kind are just a bunch of communists.” With that unerring instinct for direction by sound that only the blind fully comprehend, Jim Sewell let fly his silver-headed walking cane with the militant motto straight for the mouth of the offender, who barely dodged it in time. The large man who had said “communist” then lunged for Jim Sewell. It was his biggest mistake. The iron grip leftover from a roughneck’s days of handling cables and pipe in the East Texas oil field and shipboard experience at tying a sailor’s knots in the Navy, soon had the assailant screaming for aid, until others in the room pulled Tiger Jim loose. Tiger Jim could defend himselfhe had no need to seek the aid of others. Jim Sewell was an idea man, in politics, in government, in his various undertakings. His fertile mind was generating ideas, while men with eyesight were enjoying the scenery. Having worked with him in many campaigns, I will give just one example. In 1954, the candidates in the hotly contested Democratic gubernatorial primary were invited to speak in a park in Belton, Bell Councy, on July 4, at a giant political-patriotic barbecue and rally. The candidates were ushered in and out, before the crowd, one at a time, to avoid friction. By the luck of the draw, I came first. Jim Sewell wrote out the already-developed issues on a roll of adding machine paper, listing the 13 hottest issues, handed it to me and said, “read them off, tape it to the mike, leave them for your opponent, and demand that he answer them.” I did. Glancing back from the hill it resembled a white ribbon drifting in the breeze from the mike in the middle of the open air stage. Warned by the committee of the content of the questions, my opponent ignored them, and a disappointed audience gave us a majority of two-to-one in Bell County in the next electionone of our best in Texas.