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Twentieth-Century Texas: A Social and Cultural History

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Texas changed enormously in the twentieth century, and much of that transformation was a direct product of social and cultural events. Standard histories of Texas traditionally focus on political, military, and economic topics, with emphasis on the nineteenth century. In Twentieth-Century Texas: A Social and Cultural History editors John W. Storey and Mary L. Kelley offer a much-needed corrective. Written with both general and academic audiences in mind, the fourteen essays herein cover Indians, Mexican Americans, African Americans, women, religion, war on the homefront, music, literature, film, art, sports, philanthropy, education, the environment, and science and technology in twentieth-century Texas. Each essay is able to stand alone, supplemented with appropriate photographs, notes, and a selected bibliography. In spite of its ongoing mythic image of rugged ranchers, cowboys, and longhorns, Texas today is a major urban, industrial society with all that brings, both good and bad. For example, first-rate medical centers and academic institutions exist alongside pollution and environment degradation. These topics, and more, are carefully explored in this anthology. It will appeal to anyone interested in the social and cultural development of the state. It will also prove useful in the college classroom, especially for Texas history courses.

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1. Manifestations of the Lone Star: The Search for Indian Sovereignty by Gerald Betty

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Manifestations of the Lone Star

The Search for Indian Sovereignty

Gerald Betty

In many ways the history of American Indians in the twentieth century is a departure from the narrative chronicling frontier trade relations, official government relations, physical competition for resources, military conquest, and enforced assimilation. Yet the history of American Indians during the twentieth century is also a continuation of the various themes that have always characterized their intense interaction with Euro-Americans. Tribes continue to have an economic relationship with outsiders and tribal sovereignty has been preserved, serving as the basis of self-government and tribal decisions. Although tribal peoples no longer face military conquest, numerous conflicts flare up from time-to-time with national and state governments, as well as with non-Indians living in their midst. Likewise, enforced assimilation ceased to be an official policy of the government over the course of the century. Nevertheless, assimilation has characterized American Indian history from the beginning and continues unabated to this day. This essay—focusing on the history of the three official Texas reservation tribes of the Alabama-Coushatta in the Big Thicket of Polk County, the Tiguas of Ysleta in El Paso, and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe near Eagle Pass, as well as the so-called “urban Indians” from metropolitan areas throughout the state—shows how the experience of Indians in Texas during the twentieth century is at the same time a departure from and a continuation of the basic themes associated with American Indian history in general.

 

2. The Quest for Identity and Citizenship: Mexican Americans in Twentieth-Century Texas by Anthony Quiroz

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The Quest for Identity and Citizenship

Mexican Americans in Twentieth-Century Texas

Anthony Quiroz

The twentieth century was one of challenge, failure, triumph, and change for the Mexican-American population of Texas. During this one-hundred-year period, Mexican Americans engaged in an armed revolt that led to a vicious official reaction and served in every major U.S. war and international conflict. Through it all, Mexican Americans created an identity for themselves as first-class American citizens, an identity that then shaped their struggles for civil rights. Despite the persistence of problems such as poverty, limited opportunity, and racism, Mexican Americans in the 1900s became better educated and developed a vibrant professional class that is gaining increasing levels of national influence. This progress was made possible by the efforts of various individual leaders and organizations that challenged the status quo and ultimately created a more equitable society for all citizens.

Given the complexity of Mexican-American history in the twentieth century, it is helpful to divide the story into four periods, in order to analyze the discrete conditions people faced at a given point in time. These four periods are 1900–1930, the immigrant generation; 1930–1960, the Mexican-American generation; 1960–1980, the Chicano generation; and 1980–present, the Hispanic generation. To be sure, people’s actions did not fit neatly into these packages; there was overlap. But, generally speaking, these clusters identify the essential historical trajectory of Texas’ Mexican Americans. Each of these periods presented Mexican Americans with specific challenges, led to different responses, and engendered a unique identity. Emerging from this study are several themes that further illuminate the Mexican-American experience. One crucial theme for understanding Mexican-American history is what theorists refer to as “alterity,” or “otherness,” which means having one’s status defined as standing outside the dominant society. Such groups or individuals are seen as unassimilable, as well as undesirable, and are the victims of discrimination and oppression. At the start of the century the Anglo population generally viewed Mexican Americans as “other,” as different, and as foreigners. Tejanos experienced this treatment even though they claimed Indian and Spanish roots dating back to the eighteenth century. Because of the political and social upheavals of the nineteenth century that separated Texas from Mexico, Mexicans living in Texas after 1836 (or those living in the American Southwest after 1848) became “indigenous immigrants.” As immigrants in their own territory, Tejanos were ascribed second-class citizenship and experienced rampant discrimination and marginalization.1

 

3. The Struggle for Dignity: African Americans in Twentieth-Century Texas by Cary D. Wintz

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The Struggle for Dignity

African Americans in Twentieth-Century Texas

Cary D. Wintz

As Texas entered the twenty-first century, the state’s African Americans were, by most measures, more prosperous and secure in their rights than at any time in their history. By no means had prejudice, discrimination, and racial violence disappeared, and African Americans continued to lag behind the white majority in most social and economic measures. Even so, the twentieth century had witnessed a radical change in the role and the status of blacks in the Lone Star State, though falling short perhaps of expectations. African Americans in Texas and across the nation had greeted the arrival of the twentieth century with great hope. There was talk of a “New Negro” for the new century, a concept that Booker T. Washington celebrated in a book by that title and W. E. B. Du Bois made the theme of his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk. Unfortunately, the reality of race relations at the dawn of the century did not justify such hope. Racial violence was on the increase as lynching and race riots became far too common in Texas and other parts of the country. The new century also brought renewed efforts to impose segregation on most aspects of public and private life, while political “reforms” denied blacks any meaningful political power. For African Americans in Texas, the twentieth century would be the era of their struggle for dignity against racism, oppression, and Jim Crow.1

 

4. From Farm to Future: Women’s Journey through Twentieth-Century Texas by Angela Boswell

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From Farm to Future

Women’s Journey through Twentieth-Century Texas

Angela Boswell

Although the twentieth century would bring dramatic changes in the lives and roles of women in Texas, in 1900 most women could not see the slightest glimmer of what was to come. At the dawn of the twentieth century, 83 percent of Texans still lived in rural areas where women spent their lives much like their nineteenth-century mothers and grandmothers. Some of these rural women were practically pioneers in remote places of west Texas, but by 1900 most rural families were producing for the market not just subsistence. Whether growing citrus in the Rio Grande Valley, ranching in west or south Texas, or growing cotton in the eastern and central areas of the state, women were crucial not only to the physical well-being of the family but also to its financial stability.

Most rural women lived in families tied to the struggling cotton agriculture that dominated the Texas and southern economy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many African-American women had grandmothers who had worked in the cotton fields as slaves, but twentieth-century blacks faced a labor system that exploited women’s labor in a different way. Although some African-American families owned land, most black families in rural eastern and central Texas were sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Most land in these cotton-growing regions was still owned by white families, but the percentage of white families had decreased significantly since the Civil War. Whereas perhaps two-thirds or more of the white families had owned and worked their own land before the Civil War, by 1900 three-quarters of the farms were worked by sharecroppers. Falling cotton prices along with the crop-lien system had caused many farmers to lose their land to debt and made it nearly impossible for sharecroppers to save enough money to buy their own land.1

 

5. Pagodas amid the Steeples: The Changing Religious Landscape by John W. Storey

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Pagodas amid the Steeples

The Changing Religious Landscape

John W. Storey

Dramatic change characterized Twentieth-Century Texas, no less so in religion than in any other aspect of the state’s culture. In 1906 Protestants, mainly Baptists, representing 33 percent of the churchgoing public, and Methodists, 27 percent, along with the Disciples at 7 percent, Presbyterians, 5 percent, and Lutherans, Episcopalians, and others constituting another 3 percent, dominated the landscape. Catholics, while a sizeable 25 percent, were nonetheless an island in a Protestant ocean. By century’s end Catholics had overtaken Southern Baptists to become the state’s largest religious group, and members of several non-Christian faiths—Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others—had established themselves in major urban centers. Church steeples, admittedly still dominant, now shared the urban skyline with pagodas, mosques, mandirs, gurdwaras, and synagogues. Texas had become pluralistic, and Texans in general had become decidedly more religious in tone if not in practice. Matching the religiosity of the American populace in general, polls since the 1980s showed that while only about 44 percent of Texans claimed to attend worship services weekly, 70 percent regarded religion as very important, 54 percent reportedly had had a “born again” experience, and 82 percent would applaud a child entering the clergy. And Texans acknowledging formal religious affiliation had risen steadily from about 40 percent in 1916 to 56.2 percent in 1970, remaining fairly constant thereafter for the remainder of the century.1

 

6. Over Here: Texans on the Home Front by Ralph A. Wooster

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Over Here

Texans on the Home Front

Ralph A. Wooster

Much has been written about the courage and heroism of Texans in battle. The impact of war upon Texas culture and society, especially in the twentieth century, has received less attention. While the exploits of Texas military units such as the 90th Division in the Meuse-Argonne Forest in 1918 and the 36th Division at Salerno and the Rapido River in 1943–44 and individual Texas soldiers and seamen such as John W. Thomason, Chester W. Nimitz, Audie Murphy, Sam Dealey, and William H. Walker have been described in various books and films, little attention has been paid to the effect that twentieth-century wars, both hot and cold, have had upon cultural and social developments in the state.1

The First World War, 1914–1918, or the Great War as it was called by contemporaries, had a profound impact upon Texans. Nearly 200,000 Texans saw military service, many overseas in the trenches of France. The war also affected those Texans who remained at home. Hundreds of new jobs were created in constructing camps for training soldiers, building ships, drilling for and refining oil, and increasing production of cotton and other agricultural commodities. The war developed a new sense of national patriotism among many Texans, most of whom thought of themselves more as southerners than Americans when the conflict began.2

 

7. From Yellow Roses to Dixie Chicks: Women and Gender in Texas Music History by Gary Hartman

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From Yellow Roses to Dixie Chicks

Women and Gender in Texas Music History

Gary Hartman

During the past few years there has been a groundswell of scholarly interest in the musical history of Texas, as historians, ethnomusicologists, and cultural anthropologists increasingly acknowledge the importance of music in shaping and reflecting the complex history and ethnically diverse culture of the American Southwest. As a vital part of the cultural vocabulary for so many immigrant communities in Texas over the centuries, music has helped ethnic groups communicate information, pass along traditions from one generation to the next, and articulate a sense of individual and collective identity. One reason music has been so effective as a means of cultural expression is that it is so democratic. It allows virtually everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, educational background, or socioeconomic status, to participate in the cultural dialogue of the local community. In the Southwest, where most ethnic groups had a relatively low rate of literacy until after World War II, music has played a particularly important role in helping people communicate ideas, information, and folk culture.1

 

8. Goodbye Ol’ Paint, Hello Rapid Transit: Texas Literature in the Twentieth Century by Mark Busby

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Goodbye Ol’ Paint, Hello Rapid Transit

Texas Literature in the Twentieth Century

Mark Busby

Stretching from the piney woods of east Texas to the Gulf Coast, across the rolling Texas Hill Country to the deserts of the Trans-Pecos West, Texas offers an immensely varied and complex landscape, one that has been creatively and imaginatively probed by twentieth-century writers. Traditional stories have included such stock elements as laconic cowboys, nasty outlaws, greedy oil barons, saucy bar girls, leering bandidos, Texas Rangers, blind heifers, horny boys, or conspicuous Cadillacs. Other stories—those with more lasting literary appeal—examined the state’s diversity and moved beyond stereotypes, reflecting and transforming elements that defined the region with originality, supple language, and humanity.1

Twentieth-century writers responded to the realities of Texas’ natural environment, as well as to the themes and qualities those events induce. Historically, writers journeying across Texas—from explorers such as Cabeza de Vaca to twentieth-century nature writers such as Roy Bedichek and John Graves—attempted to capture their responses to the natural and cultural phenomena they encountered. Much of the writing emphasized coming to terms with a variety of cultures, but just as often the literature explored the aesthetic and pragmatic challenges posed by the region’s natural conditions, where lush pine forests give way to empty plains that sometimes stretch so far that the eye yearns for even the slightest hill to lean against (as Roy Bedichek commented in his 1951 Adventures with a Texas Naturalist), where most of the indigenous vegetation is thorny and fruitless, and where often insufficient water exists to sustain cities or livestock. Texas landscapes are both as beautiful and appealing as they are dangerous and frightening—arid Chihuahuan desert, jutting Guadalupe Mountains, eroding Caprock canyon-lands, and rolling Llano Estacado.2

 

9. Lone Star Cinema: A Century of Texas in the Movies by Don Graham

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Lone Star Cinema

A Century of Texas in the Movies

Don Graham

Film is a little over a century old, and films about Texas are almost exactly a century old. As early as 1898 traces of future Texas content appeared in some Thomas Edison-produced segments of film depicting typical ranching activities. The titles told all: Branding Cattle, Cattle Leaving the Corral, Lassoing Steer, and Cattle Fording Stream. These pioneering cinematic moments were documentaries rather than fictional stories, but they were also the raw material around which plots could be developed. Since populations largely ignorant of western landscapes primarily viewed these early scenes in urban centers, the footage must have served, whether intentionally or not, as travelogues to faraway places, namely, the West. After all, in 1898 the frontier had been “closed” for only eight years, and travel to those distant sites was still expensive and time-consuming.1

Film footage came early to Texas, which in the late nineteenth century was still a lot closer to the frontier than New York and New Jersey. In February 1897 Thomas Edison’s Vitascope showed various scenes to Dallas audiences, including a Mexican duel, a fire rescue, Niagara Falls, and a lynching. In 1900 in Austin citizens were able to see projected film footage in a tent show. The first actual filming to take place in Texas occurred at Galveston that same year. A series of Edison newsreels depicted scenes from the Galveston Flood, which killed thousands. The segments were shot on September 24, 1900, against the will of the city authorities, who tried to forbid moving pictures of the stricken community. They bore titles like Panorama of East Galveston; Panorama of Orphans Home, Galveston; and Panoramic View, Wreckage along Shore, Galveston. The purpose of each piece of footage was to show the devastation and damage to buildings caused by the hurricane and subsequent tidal wave. Oddly, the image of Texas in the movies began with a documentary of a disaster, not with the soundless puffs of smoke from blazing six-guns.2

 

10. “Wider Than the Limits of Our State”: Texas Art in the Twentieth Century by Michael R. Grauer

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“Wider Than the Limits of Our State”

Texas Art in the Twentieth Century

Michael R. Grauer

In 1983 the highly esteemed and lauded American studies professor William H. Goetzmann described Cadillac Ranch, an art installation west of Amarillo, as “perhaps the best symbol of the new, true art establishment in Texas.” This writer disagrees with Goetzmann’s definition of what constitutes Texas art. Amarillo arts patron Stanley Marsh 3 commissioned the Ant Farm, a California group, to create Cadillac Ranch. Thus, Cadillac Ranch is a work of art depicting a symbol of Texas and placed in Texas, but a depiction of something Texan does not make that depiction a piece of Texas art. Likewise, neither Donald Judd nor Robert Smithson should be considered “Texas artists” as their works in Texas are merely matters of geography. Claude Monet painting in a Houston museum does not make Monet a Texas artist. Now if Monet had painted bluebonnets . . . or perhaps some other environmental feature associated with Texas . . .

 

11. The Games Texans Play by Bill O’Neal

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The Games Texans Play

Bill O’Neal

Texas boasts a rich heritage as a hotbed of sports in America. For nineteenth-century Texans, who were members of a predominantly agricultural society with deep frontier roots, athletic activities provided a natural cultural expression. Texans reveled in physical competitions, and team sports came readily to people who worked together at log rollings, barn raisings, crop harvests, cattle roundups, and other commercial efforts. As the twentieth century progressed, urbanization and industrialization afforded Texans more time for leisure and recreation, and organized sports subsequently took on added importance in towns and communities across the state. Texans identified with their local teams, attending Friday night football games, rooting for their alma maters, or following the professional franchises. By century’s end the games Texans played, whether amateur or professional, had become another measure of community pride.

The first team sport in Texas, along with the rest of America, was baseball. Originating in eastern cities, baseball was first witnessed by Texans who traveled north in the 1850s, and the Houston Baseball Club was organized before the Civil War. During the Civil War thousands of soldiers learned the game of baseball at hundreds of army camps, and after the war these young veterans brought the sport home to a multitude of towns and country villages. In Texas a game was reported in detail in 1867: on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1867, the Stonewalls of Houston crushed the R. E. Lees of Galveston, 35–2.1

 

12. Private Wealth, Public Good: Texans and Philanthropy by Mary L. Kelley

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Private Wealth, Public Good

Texans and Philanthropy

Mary L. Kelley

Texans, like citizens from many other states, have participated fully in the American philanthropic tradition. Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present, they have repeatedly performed numerous acts of charity and mutual helpfulness. During the frontier period, the problems involved in settling a hostile land promoted neighborly cooperation in times of need and friendly assistance to confront unexpected dangers. Many risked their lives in epidemics of diseases such as yellow fever and cholera to tend to the sick and dying. Others formed mutual aid societies to assist families and disabled Civil War veterans, organized benevolent associations to help the poor and the orphaned, and established disaster-relief organizations such as the Howard Association—the first charitable organization in the Republic of Texas.1

Such unselfish attributes, or “habits of the heart,” continued into the twentieth century. But as more wealthy benefactors accumulated vast profits from land, livestock, and crude oil, many charitable-minded Texans turned to philanthropy to improve the quality of human life. Steel master Andrew Carnegie prescribed this concept in his classic essay, “Wealth,” published in 1889. Carnegie believed that the accumulation of wealth was inevitable within a capitalist system, and the inequality between the rich and poor was the price society paid for competition and material comfort. As a proponent of Social Darwinism, which justified ruthless competition and “survival of the fittest” in the marketplace, he assumed that wealth was proof of individual fitness, while poverty was a sign of inferiority. To bestow charity on the “unreclaimably poor” caused more injury by encouraging “the very evils which it proposes to mitigate or cure.” Instead, Carnegie reasoned, the responsibility of the “man of wealth” was not to provide monetary handouts, but to return surplus wealth to society in a manner calculated to do the most good. To the steel tycoon this meant endowing museums, libraries, and scholarships, institutions that the “fit” could use to advance themselves. Or, as Carnegie put it, he and other wealthy individuals should establish “ladders upon which the aspiring can rise.”2

 

13. Public Schools Come of Age By Gene B. Preuss

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Public Education Comes of Age

Gene B. Preuss

On January 24, 2001, President George W. Bush swore in former Houston Independent School District superintendent Roderick Paige as secretary of education. In extolling the qualifications of the new secretary, Bush told the audience that they were about “to witness the swearing-in of a man who will help us see important reforms for education become reality.” Paige was an ideal choice as the nation’s new education czar because, Bush continued, “Every problem now facing our nation’s public schools Dr. Paige faced as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District—children unable to read at basic levels; falling scores in science and math; problems with discipline and order.” Bush announced at the beginning of his administration that he wanted to be known as the “education president.” He claimed that education reform was “the hallmark of my time as governor of Texas,” and, likewise, he would make education his “first priority as president, first in time, and first in importance.”1

 

14. Lone Star Landscape: Texans and Their Environment by Tai Kreidler

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Lone Star Landscape

Texans and Their Environment

Tai Kreidler

Glistening with rainbow colors against the setting sun, the ocean swells roiled past the ship’s wooden hull and swirled smoothly into a wake that trailed like furrows behind a plow. The experienced lookout in the crow’s nest was mesmerized by the view. For as far as the eye could see the rough edges of breaking waves, gentle swells, and windblown eddies were seemingly smoothed by an invisible blanket overlaid on the scene. The surface had a glistening sheen that was complemented by a translucent swirl of color. Alarmed and curious, the crew scampered aloft in the rigging for a better view. What magic was this? Was it some sort of miracle? Was it an omen? No one had an answer, at least not for another 400 years. What the ship reported was the first sighting of an oil slick glistening on the surface of the Gulf waters. While it would be commonplace many years later, it is not something one would expect during the so-called pristine pre-history period of the New World story. But it is an example of how “pollution,” or environmental degradation, as it would come to be called, is an entirely subjective manifestation, taking on a negative connotation only when human action or malfeasance is involved. In fact, natural environmental degradation has occurred from time immemorial, but only now, with the rapid movement of the human hand and the inability of nature to respond quickly enough, has it become a serious problem for humanity.1

 

15. The Second Texas Revolution: From Cotton to Genetics and the Information Age by Kenneth E. Hendrickson and Glenn M. Sanford

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The Second Texas Revolution

From Cotton to Genetics and the Information Age

Kenneth E. Hendrickson and Glenn M. Sanford

At the dawn of the twentieth century Texas science and technology offered poor prospects indeed. Higher education had made only the most modest progress since the foundation of the two main state colleges less than thirty years before. Texas could boast of very little manufacturing, very little electrification, very little mechanization or mass transit, and only a tiny professional class possessing the skills and credentials to make change more than a wish. While growing, the population necessary to support growth was barely over three million and was overwhelmingly poor and rural. The urban base was practically nonexistent. Yet, by the close of the twentieth century, Texas had experienced remarkable scientific, medical, and technological progress, putting it alongside states like California, Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina at the forefront of the American economy.

 

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