Lawrence Goodwyn, a former Texas journalist who has been considered one of the greatest populist academic minds in the country, died Sunday in Durham, N.C., after a long battle with emphysema. He was 85.
Friends described Goodwyn as a tenacious debater whose political activism centered on the plight of minorities in segregated Texas and championed the regular citizens over money-hungry oil industries. His book “The Populist Moment” has become a mainstay in U.S. history classes and influenced community organizers, democratic activists and politicians across the country.
“He kind of changed the understanding that history is not created entirely by the power brokers but also by the common people if they band together,” said Geoff Rips, the editor of the Texas Observer in the 1980s.
The son of a career Army officer, Goodwyn was born in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in 1928 and later moved to Texas.
Ronnie Dugger, the founding editor and publisher of the Texas Observer, said he met Goodwyn when they were 14 and 15 years old while working as sports reporters for the San Antonio Express and that they bonded over pool at a basement gambling parlor across the street from the newsroom. Goodwyn “survived” his four years at Texas A&M University through playing “a great deal of poker,” according to his obituary.
Dugger said that as an associate editor, Goodwyn focused on deeper economic issues within the state, especially at the hands of large corporations.
“He was a man of strong opinions and asserted them all his life,” Dugger said. “He was a person that left his mark and often quite deliberately.”
Goodwyn also arranged media appearances for U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough during his campaigns for Texas governor and federal office. He and other Yarborough Democrats fought for minority rights in Texas, said David Richards, Goodwyn’s friend and ex-husband of former Gov. Ann Richards.
Goodwyn founded the Texas Coalition, a political alliance of African American, Hispanic and labor groups that battled conservatives and registered Texas minorities to vote, according to his obituary.
After earning his doctorate at the University of Texas, he founded the Oral History Program at Duke University, where he taught for 32 years. He is survived by his wife Nell and his children Lauren and Wade.