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COMMENTARY I BY DAVE RICHARDS So Long to the Communist Threat INhen Creekmore Fath died in June at 93, we’d officially seen the last of an influential cluster of liberal activists who came of age during the Great Depression at the University of Texas. It’s a generation worth celebrating, especially since they deserve plenty of thanks for what modicum of racial justice exists in Texas. in many ways exemplified what set apart these UT liberalsChris Dixie of Houston, Otto Mullinax of Dallas, Maury Maverick Jr. of San Antonio, Bob Eckhardt of Houston, and Fath of Austin. And what kept them together. I met Fath during my initial foray into politics, future U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough’s losing 1954 campaign for governor against conservative Democrat Allan Shivers. The race was close enough to alarm the ruling elite. To win, Shivers campaigned for the death penalty for Communist Party members, along with traditional racist attacks on the NAACP and integration. By 1956, Texas’ conservative rulers were so worried about the Yarborough threat that they persuaded Price Daniel to abandon his Senate seat and run for governor against the liberal menace. That same year, U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson and House Speaker Sam Rayburn decided to challenge the Shivercrats for control of the Texas Democrats. Yarborough forces, including Fath, also mounted a challenge from the left. I ended up an Austin delegate to the state convention from the liberal wing. We arrived to find ourselves locked out because the Johnson forces controlled the tickets. Some of us got into the building through a women’s restroom window. Others made it to the floor with counterfeit tickets printed up by Harry Holman, a union carpenter from Austin. We scrambled in to find the 200-plus-member Travis County delegation in disarray, equally divided between Johnson and Yarborough. At one point, the key vote was seating the liberal delegation from Harris County. Travis County delegates had to be polled. Fath counted for the liberals, and Johnson lawyer John Cofer for the other side. At the conclusion of each polling, the two would solemnly announce results that were contrary. Fath had the liberals winning, Cofer had the Johnsonites winning. After polling the delegation three times and getting the same contradictory outcomes, Travis County had to pass without a vote. Even so, the convention was a success. The liberal dynamo from Houston, Frankie Randolph, defeated Johnson’s candidate for the Democratic National Committee. The next year, Yarborough won Price Daniel’s Senate seat in a special electionthe first liberal win since Jimmie Allred in the 193os. All of this strange carrying-on had its roots at UT in the 193os. While the university was the heart of intellectual ferment in the state, the Texas Legislature was focusing its periodic redbaiting hysteria on the campus as a hotbed of radicalism. At UT, Fath joined with Dixie, Mullinax, and Herman Wright to reorganize the Young Democrats into the Progressive Democrats. In 1936, Mullinax, Wright, and Dixie \(with Fath campaigns from their home counties. All ran on a Progressive Democratic issue: taxing the extraction of sulfur, a notion floated by another influential liberal, Bob Montgomery. Montgomery was a favorite target of the red-baiters in Austin. Soon after the election, at the instigation of Johnson friend Roy Miller, a powerful sulfur lobbyist, the Legislature began investigating Montgomery and trying to expose the Progressive Democrats as communists. Along with Montgomery, Mullinax was subpoenaed. “Three of us ran for the Legislature on a program to tax sulfur;’ he told the lawmakers, “and were defeated on the charge of being communists.” Asked during his testimony whether he believed in the “profit system:’ Montgomery replied: “I most certainly do. I would like to see it extended to 120 million people.” The UT liberals all went on to law school and into practice in the early ‘4os. Fath and Eckhardt, one of the state’s first labor lawyers, briefly had a joint practice in Austin. Fath went into the army during World War II and then served the aging President Franklin Roosevelt as an aide. Back in Austin, Fath plunged back into politics. When Johnson ran for Senate in 1948, Fath announced for Johnson’s vacant U.S. House seat as an unreconstructed New Dealer. He and his wife, the daughter of a former secretary of state, campaigned in a car with a canoe roped on top and painted with the slogan, “Fath for Congress … He Paddles His Own Canoe.” Somehow the slogan didn’t do the trick. Fath finished third in the Democratic primary. Then he went to work, with mixed feelings, for Johnson’s Senate campaign. Liberals like Fath had never been cozy with the future president’s go-with-the-political-wind ideology. “We viewed Johnson with some reserve,” Fath wrote, with appropriate reserve, decades later in an autobiographical essay. With no Republican Party to speak of, the state’s liberal and conservative Democrats were bitter enemies. Fath and fellow liberals liked to call themselves “loyal Democrats.” Shivers and Daniel preferred to be known as Democratic Regulars who had supported GOP presidential candidates. Johnson often tried to play both sides. With Fath and other liberals reluctantly behind him, he pulled off his infamous 48-vote “landslide” in a Democratic Senate runoff still notorious for its corruption. In William Roger Louis’s collection of autobiographical essays, Burnt Orange Brittania 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 21, 2009