AFTERWORD The Sacred Buffalo of the May Day Tribe BY JIM SIMONS Austin WHEN TRUE HEROES such as Thurgood Marshall or Cesar Chavez die, we honor them. As we should. There are others who have contributed mightily to the struggle for peace and justice but who live and work at a local level. They are important men and women who should not be forgotten. Martin Wiginton, who died more than a year ago, was one such local hero: a passionate idealist who turned his back on a career in law and never compromised. Martin was buried as he had requested: in a plain , wooden coffin in the Travis County cemetery where paupers are buried. With no traditional funeral service. And naked. As his college fraternity brother Bill Perkins exclaimed, “No preacher. No prayers. Not a mention of the hereafter!” Only 20 or 30 people were at the cemetery on the March 1992 day when Martin was buried and as the gathering dispersed, some placed loaves of bread and ornaments on his coffin before a dozer pushed dirt over it. There was something appropriate about this gesture reminiscent of Native American peoples. ne of the finest hours in a life full of fine hours was the May Day Action of 1971, one of the largest and most militant anti-war demonstrations of the period loosely called the ’60s. Austin activists “training” for this action gathered in parks in Washington, D.C., or out at Greenbriar School, practicing nonviolence and preaching commission of “heavy felonies” We ate communal outdoor meals and wore tee-shirts silk-screened by Terry DuBose, which said “MAY DAY Armadillo Tribe.”. All this served to increase our sense of ourselves as a tribal group, and it seemed to me that Martin was our chief. He was older than most of us, had organized the Wimberley Conference in 1968, fought the incestuous battles within Students for a Democratic Society, organized the legendary Movement Jim Simons is an attorney in Austin. traveling troupe known as “Mother’s Grits” and the Radical Lawyers Caucus of the State Bar. The list is too long to fully enumerate. An unlikely revolutionary, Martin was a native of Austin, a graduate of Austin High School, the University of Texas and the UT law school. He had been an all-SouthwestConference pitcher on the UT baseball team in the early 1950s. After graduation from law school and a stretch in the army he went to El Campo and started a law practice with a law school classmate. He soon became too involved in politics to bother with the law, which he thereafter regarded as a waste of time. Martin’s intense commitment to politics began in 1962, with Don Yarborough’ s whisker-close loss.of the Democratic nomination for governor. Martin immersed himself in the campaign, running up debts and neglecting family and business to the point that his marriage and law practice collapsed. During this period there was no one he held in higher regard than Larry Goodwyn, then a former editor of the Observer, and as bright a political operative as we have had in Texas. In 1963-64 Martin worked with Goodwyn in a statewide operation called the Coalition. Goodwyn went on to get a Ph.D., become professor of history at Duke University and write the definitive book on the history of populism in the United States. In the course of a long conversation with Larry and his wife Nell, it was Nell who said: “Martin was a gentle man; the 20th century was too much for him.” Larry felt that her epigram was the.best summation of what he had been saying about Martin. The three of us agreed that at one time or another Martin had written us and everyone else out of the Movement on the basis of our compromises with life in the 20th century. But even though he had found us “insufficiently radical,” as Larry said, we did not feel indicted. His gen tleness overrode his passionate militance in a way that left us intact, though we did not mea sure up to Martin’s standards of political com mitment. He was harder on himself. What really killed him was that he could not forgive him self for not being able to make the world right. I met Martin about 1964 in connection with liberal Democrats’ campaigns for statewide office. That year he was working on U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough’ s campaign and we met to discuss some business relating to Young Democrats. I immediately noticed that Martin lived with great intensity, giving all of himself to whatever he was working on. His bailiwick then was Scholz Beer Garten, where he sat outside and worked his peculiar mix of socializing, moralizing and proselytizing. His values were the right values. He cared deeply about poor people, minorities, outcasts and dissidents even students. His broadest impact would be on the young people coming along in the ’60s hippies, dopers, SDS activists, peaceniks the ones Frank Erwin called “Dirty Nothins.” In them Martin at last found the right level of idealism and militance, and he threw himself into New Left organizing with total commitment leaving forever two-party electoral politics. I remember the day it happened, at a meeting of liberal Democrats in Fort Worth in 1967. He and I, with others like Ernie Cortes, Frances Barton, Elaine Brightwater, had tried to get the libs to simply denounce the Vietnam War. When they would not do it for fear of hurting chances of electing a liberal governor, we figuratively walked out of the meeting and straight into radical politics. From that day on Martin spent his time organizing one thing or another, from the National Conference for New Politics in Chicago in September of that year, until his last project, the music club called emmajoe’s \(named after radical icons Emma a better organizer. He spoke in an urgent personal way to individuals or small gatherings, and as Charles Kling observed: “With Martin there was no small talk.” In 1966, after he had been down and out for a while, Martin took a job with the 0E0, the War on Poverty agency, in the regional office in Austin. I was working there, too, and it was during this period, from 1966 until about 1972, that I was closest to Martin. We listened to the music of Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Bobby Dylan and others and talked politics into the night, while consuming every 22 JULY 16, 1993
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