This week in “Texas Titles,” we revisit the Armadillo World Headquarters, rediscover a Houston philanthropist, look into a Texas governor’s impeachment, dip into a historical novel and find out about a Texas progressive coalition that beat Jim Crow and Juan Crow.
“Armadillo World Headquarters” by Eddie Wilson with Jesse Sublett (TSSI Publishing/UT Press)
One wag called it “Austin’s Dead Sea Scrolls.” Easily the most anticipated Austin book of the season, this memoir from two of the city’s best storytellers will be read by oldtimers and newcomers alike. From 1970 to 1980, the funky indoor-outdoor, hippie-redneck South Austin concert and beer hall with the immortal name helped define what became the dominant culture of the city. Wilson’s book — assembled with the crucial help of author-musician Sublett — is fat and full of photos. We can’t wait to linger over these tales of Austin past, and we promise to share as many as we can. Should appear on shelves by April 1.
“Ima Hogg: The Extraordinary Cultural Patron behind the Unusual Name” by David B. Warren (MFAH/Yale University Press)
Houston has had its share of impressive female leaders, including Oveta Culp Hobby — colonel, Cabinet member, philanthropist and subject of a recent biography. Another prominent Houstonian with a memorable name, Ima Hogg, has earned her own treatment from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Yale. Daughter of a Texas governor, Hogg was an independent woman of means whose philanthropy was felt far and wide. She helped found the Houston Symphony; she gave her antiques-filled home, Bayou Bend, to the museum; she was the force behind the preserved structures at Winedale. Hogg established the Houston Child Guidance Center and, with her brother, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas. Author Warren knew Hogg, who died in 1975.
“Impeached: The Removal of Texas Governor James E. Ferguson” edited by Jessica Brannon-Wranosky and Bruce A. Glasrud (Texas A&M University Press)
In the excellent “Miles and Miles of Texas,” a history of the Texas Highway Department, we learned a great deal about the absolute corruption of Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson, who used that newly established agency to line his pockets. This rather slender scholarly volume gathers essays on Ferguson’s “battles over economic class, academic freedom, women’s enfranchisement and concentrated political power.” The anthology makes it perfectly clear why this populist, just into his second term as governor, was impeached, convicted and removed from office. He later persuaded his wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, to run, win and govern in his place.
“Plum Creek” by W.W. McNeal (TCU Press)
Like Bill Wittliff’s masterly duo “The Devil’s Backbone” and “The Devil’s Sinkhole,” McNeal’s historical novel opens on the banks of the Blanco River. Though not rendered in dialect, “Plum Creek,” like the Poppa books, follows in the grand Texas tradition of rough and rowdy — and yet ultimately refined — storytelling. In Reconstruction Texas, a young hero joins Texas Ranger Jack Hays in search of a killer and kidnapper who sounds like another Comanche chief of the time. It promises to upend some of our expectations about historical points of view, and it comes with high praise from authors such as Jan Reid and Jesse Sublett.
“Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era” by Max Krochmal (UNC Press)
It would be hard to find a more timely book about Texas political history than this deep dive into the coalition-building that brought together African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Anglo progressives and labor activists. Their separate pushes for social justice got underway in the 1930s, accelerated during the 1940s and ’50s, and then joined forces in the 1960s and ’70s. Krochmal, who teaches at TCU, does a good job of weaving together the strands of activism that brought an end to Jim Crow and Juan Crow in Texas. A contemporary reader might be anxious to know whether there is anything in the past that might apply to the current political situation in our state, periodically predicted to go purple, even if not blue.