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Texas in the 1960s


Barbara Jordan of Houston
Barbara Jordan of Houston

Moderate Democrats continued to control Texas politics in the 1960s. United States senator John Kennedy of Massachusetts selected U.S. senator Lyndon Johnson from Texas as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1960, and the Democratic ticket narrowly carried both Texas and the nation. Despite the influence of moderate Democrats in Texas, Dallas won a national reputation as a center of right-wing extremism after Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy while he was riding in a presidential motorcade through the city in November 1963. City and state leaders worked hard after the assassination to erase that image and demonstrate that Texas was a modern and moderate state.

Johnson assumed the presidency and won reelection in 1964, overwhelming Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee. Johnson’s War on Poverty program, a series of measures to promote economic development in depressed urban areas, and his Great Society plan, which included a new housing bill, a Medicare program to help provide medical care for the elderly, and additional antipoverty measures, were controversial in Texas. The majority of Texas Democrats supported them despite reservations because Johnson was a native son and because a label of extremism might dampen economic growth.

Nevertheless, a number of white Texans objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a sweeping civil rights bill outlawing racial discrimination in public accommodations and by employers, unions, and voting registrars. They also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suspended use of voter-qualification tests that had sometimes served to keep blacks off voting lists.

Many white Texans also objected to policies that favored minority-owned companies and job applicants as well as aid to minority citizens, hallmarks of the Johnson presidency. Texas strongly supported the Vietnam War (1959-1975), and the state’s leadership had little patience with the antiwar demonstrations common in the late 1960s. Like many other Americans, social changes in the 1960s bothered many Texans, but a strong conservative reaction only came in the 1980s.

Black Texans and Mexican Texans made significant political gains in the 1960s. The successful attack on voting restrictions sent several blacks, including Barbara Jordan of Houston, to the Texas legislature, and in 1966 Jordan was the first black woman elected to the state senate. In 1972 Jordan was elected to the United States House of Representatives, where she earned national attention for her eloquent speech in favor of impeaching President Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) during the Watergate affair. She also delivered the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention.

Texas passed a state law specifically declaring segregation illegal in 1969, but most white Texans thought the civil rights movement had gone far enough. Blacks, however, were registered to vote and were an integral part of the Democratic Party. So too were Mexican Americans, who had become more militant, with many of the young calling themselves Chicanos and speaking of Brown Power. The militancy had subsided by the early 1970s, but not before the organization of a political party, La Raza Unida. These new Hispanic voters registered as Democrats and controlled local and state politics south of San Antonio. The Democratic Party had to remain moderate once the registration of minorities increased. John Connally, President Johnson’s long-time friend and political protégé, won the 1962 election for governor.

He was more cautious about government-sponsored social change than the president, but went along with the civil rights legislation. He was the state’s most forward-looking governor in economic terms. Connally worked to expand the community-college system, upgrade the university system (in particular the University of Texas and Texas A&M University), increase pay for teachers, and institute other measures to support scientific and specialized training. Connally spent most of his energy attempting to create a business climate that would bring new industry into the state.

Most historians believe that Connally’s political success delayed the growth of the Republican Party in Texas for at least a decade. Johnson had persuaded the legislature to pass a law in 1960 that would allow him to run for vice president and for reelection to the U.S. Senate at the same time. When he was elected vice president, he resigned as a U.S. senator, and was replaced by John Tower, a Republican. "Texas" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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