breaking news

James Miller avoids murder conviction, but found guilty of lesser charge

Video explains Austin’s heated 1970s protests against drag boat racing

Unearthed documentary is even-handed, sometimes harrowing


Better than almost any other archival resource on the subject, a black-and-white news documentary from 1978, now posted on the Austin Found blog, explains the controversy over drag boat racing on what was then known as Town Lake.

The videomakers’ attempts at even-handedness — the old-line business community, for instance, strongly supported the divisive races as a magnet for prestige and tourism — are as revealing as their keen insights into the protests that helped to spark ongoing Latino political activism.

The documentary, narrated and cowritten by Barbara Enlow, was recently unearthed and published by Tim Hamblin on the Austin History Center’s YouTube page. It explains a lot about those tumultuous times.

Festival Beach was normally a quiet East Austin park. But each year, the noise of drag races echoed through the neighborhoods along the lake, especially in the longtime Latino areas on the north shore. Attendees at these national boat races tended to treat the area shabbily, too.

In 1963, the Austin Boat Club started the annual series of races, which culminated during the Austin Aqua Festival, attended by tens of thousands of people who — the video reveals — parked their cars right on the prime grasslands of the park!

By 1978, community organizers had been protesting about the noise, traffic, litter and pollution for years. One of the biggest concerns was that the disruption would depress East Austin property values so that developers could later cheaply snap up the land from longtime residents.

The protests grew confrontational. Activists, including the Brown Berets and community organizer Paul Hernandez, tangled with police. The video shows a man getting harrowingly rough with Hernandez.

By the end of the decade, the races were gone, but the festival continued until 1998.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

James Miller avoids murder conviction, but guilty of lesser charge
James Miller avoids murder conviction, but guilty of lesser charge

A Travis County jury found James Miller not guilty of murder in the September 2015 stabbing of Daniel Spencer, but found him guilty of a lesser felony charge of criminally negligent homicide. The verdict came down Tuesday, about an hour after the jury signaled it had reached an impasse following nine hours of deliberation. The trial’s sentencing...
This Texas high school has a lettuce club and yeah, all they do is eat lettuce
This Texas high school has a lettuce club and yeah, all they do is eat lettuce

"Arugular behavior" is right. According to the Dallas Morning News, a group of teenagers at Heritage High School in Frisco are part of a club with a singular purpose: to gather once a year and eat an entire head of lettuce.  Each year at the lettuce-eating race, members of the Lettuce Club compete to eat a head of lettuce as fast as...
Two weeks out, Euphoria music festival still lacks county permit
Two weeks out, Euphoria music festival still lacks county permit

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty on Tuesday took a stern tone with the organizer of the Finding Euphoria music festival, which is coming up in two weeks but still does not have a permit from the county. “Listen man, there’s a real clear road map as to how to get here on this deal,” Daugherty said. “So if this is your...
Víctima de tiroteo en Waffle House creció cerca de Austin
Víctima de tiroteo en Waffle House creció cerca de Austin

Una de las cuatro personas que murieron en un tiroteo el domingo 22 de abril en un restaurante Waffle House afuera de Nashville, Tennessee, creció en el condado de Hays y tiene familia en el área de Austin, según oficiales de la Policía Metropolitana de Memphis y del distrito escolar. Joe R. Perez, de 20 años, fue...
Williamson County joins regional housing foundation despite objections

Williamson County commissioners last week voted to approve joining a regional housing foundation, despite objections from some residents who said the organization receives unfair tax breaks on the apartments it builds. The commissioners unanimously approved joining the Texas Housing Foundation at their April 17 meeting. They also appointed architect...
More Stories