When Texas Democrats were the state’s big operators

For more than a century uninterrupted, the big fights took place within the party.

You can’t understand New Austin without delving into Old Austin. One digital avenue for that quest is Austin Found, a series of historic images of Austin and Texas published at statesman.com/austinfound. We’ll share samples here regularly.

Early on during the recent Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, a nasty fight broke out within the Texas delegation.

Historically speaking, that isn’t anything new. In fact, it has been much worse, many times before.

Following Reconstruction, the Democratic Party ruled Texas almost without meaningful Republican competition until the 1960s. By the 1990s, the Republicans had turned the tables and have since completely dominated statewide elections.

During the era when the Democrats reigned supreme in the state, the nastiest fights took place within the party. The conservative wing won most often. After World War II, when the alliance between Southern Democrats and Northern liberals began to unravel, segregationists formed the Dixiecrats, a third party.

Along the way, the Democrats spawned populists such as W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, James E. “Pa” Ferguson and Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson, as well as progressives, including Ralph Yarborough, Cissy Farenthold and Ann Richards.

The only politician who united Texas Democrats consistently — at times, just barely, and not at all after the Vietnam War accelerated — was Lyndon Baines Johnson. Once he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, however, LBJ is said to have told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation.”

Make that two generations in parts of the South.

These ruminations drew us back into the deep freeze to pull out some historical pictures of Texas Democrats for the Austin Found blog. The surprise? The variety of images therein.

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