State attention focused on Duval County politics in 1948

Lyndon Johnson
In 1948, newspapers across the state focused on political developments in Duval County like never before. The county had seen its share of notoriety but this year was different. The events that unfolded following the Democratic primary were widely reported by local and area newspapers, but to get a feel as to how the world saw Duval County it is instructive to see how events were reported by newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News.

The year started out rather uneventful. The News reported in its January 29 issue that President Harry Truman appointed Euna C. Kelly as postmaster at Freer. The News interviewed Calvin North, a longtime Benavides area cotton farmer, while he attended the Texas Cotton Ginners Association Convention in Dallas. In April, the News reported that the State Board of Education purchased $40,000 of San Diego school bonds.

As far as political news, the Dallas newspaper paid close attention on the races for Congress. In February, it ran a story suggesting that Duval County political boss George B. Parr would likely lend his support to Laredo’s candidate for the Congress, Phillip Kazen, over the Rio Grande Valley’s ultimate candidate. Duval County was not in this congressional district but Parr’s apparent influence reached well beyond Duval County, including Zapata, Jim Hogg and Starr counties, all in the congressional district that stretched along the Mexican border.

In June, the News ran a story on the congressional race that included Duval County. Incumbent John Lyle had Parr’s support and his opponent, Morris Knight indicated he would not waste his time campaigning in Duval County.

The big race in 1948, however, was for U. S. Senate, pitting former governor Coke Stevenson against Hill Country Congressman Lyndon Johnson. The election was held on Saturday, August 28, and initial reports gave Stevenson a close lead it what promised to be a cliffhanger. On Sunday, however, Duval County reported results of an additional box not previously reported.

Initial reports from Duval County showed Johnson with 4,195 to Stevenson’s 38. On Sunday, the county’s new vote totals gave Johnson 4,622 and Stevenson 40, propelling Johnson into the lead statewide by a mere 693 votes out of nearly a million cast. The reports were unofficial and the Democratic State Executive Committee would not certify them for another two weeks. During that time, the lead would change a number of times.

Stevenson and the News were not waiting for the official results to start their attacks on Duval County voting. The News wrote that Duval County’s “Latin American” voters were in the habit of casting “block votes.” The county would usually report vote totals even before the polls closed. Stevenson echoed the newspaper’s remarks adding that Duval County was an “area which has been known for its peculiar position in Texas politics.” He criticized the machine and block-voting Duval County produced.

This was only the Monday after the Saturday election. The fireworks were just getting started and the News kept a vigil on Duval County for the remainder of the year. Next week I will review what happened next and how the world viewed Duval County.