Racial Politics in San Antonio, Texas, 1938-1941

On May 20, 1941, San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick left a sick bed against doctor's orders and went to a Greater San Antonio campaign rally at Hermann Sons Hall. The ailing Maverick was entering the final week in a tense runoff campaign for mayor. He expected few votes from San Antonio's East Side, where most of the city's blacks lived. Somewhere out there, east of Hermann Sons Hall, a black racketeer was trying to defeat him. Why should the racketeer corral most of the black vote? Maverick could not understand these East Side people. Unlike blacks elsewhere, in his view they rejected his New Deal liberalism in favor of reactionary machine candidates. Such behavior, he thought, must stem from their political immaturity and his opponent's cleverness. In 1941, far from Washington and the national issues he enjoyed, Maury Maverick fought San Antonio's masters of local politics. The frustrations of this losing battle would soon drive him to racist campaign rhetoric that clashed with his historical reputation as an advanced southern liberal.

By the time Maverick took part in this San Antonio showdown the liberal legend surrounding his name had already taken root. Only six years earlier, in 1935, the thirty-nine-year-old Maverick had claimed his seat in the U. S. House of Representatives and soon after took "a running broad jump onto the nation's front pages. . . ." He certainly did not get there because of a pretty face. On the contrary, his protuberant greenish eyes and his unusually wide mouth gave him an unmistakably toadlike appearance. But this "Unbranded Bullfrog's" words and actions drew far more attention than his looks. Determined to live up to his surname, with its connotations of independence and unpredictability, Maverick soon developed an outspoken, almost deliberately provocative political style. Both Maverick's natural speaking talents and his staunch defense of the right to free expression reinforced his candor.

Maverick's liberal image did not spring solely from his colorful style. His actual positions on a wide range of issues proved that his reputation had substance. As tax collector of Bexar County—the site of San Antonio—Maverick had pushed for political reform and for a more vigorous relief policy in the early 1930s. From his congressional position he supported expanded work-relief programs and a minimum-wage law. He defended civil liberties against legislative attacks and loudly complained when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled against New Deal programs.

Maverick deserved the reputation he earned in Congress, but the legend that surrounded him has obscured the real tensions he faced as a southern liberal. The most difficult internal struggle that Maverick and other pioneering southern liberals of his era waged was over race. A staunch champion of civil rights in the abstract, Maverick, nevertheless, had to cope with a regional legacy of irrational prejudices and traditions. Few of Maverick's nonsouthern contemporaries appreciated his personal battle over the issue. In fact, on the national level, there was little sense that Maverick's flamboyant liberalism had any flaws or inconsistencies. Maverick's friendly biographer, Richard B. Henderson, noted in 1970 that "Maverick was often wrestling with himself. . ." over this matter, but Henderson never fully described how the peculiar racial situation in San Antonio and Maverick's own paternalistic theories intensified this struggle.

Maverick's identity as a southern liberal pressured him to confront the issue of race before he had fully worked out his own feelings. Ironically, circumstances thrust a southern identity upon him. His precongressional correspondence contains few indications of special concern for a South's regional problems. On the contrary, Maverick's early interests focused on national, international, and universal questions, and they remained preferred topics for him throughout his life.

Maverick's primary regional ties, to the extent that he had any, were to the Southwest, not to the South. His hometown of San Antonio was not a Deep South city, and Texas was not a Deep South state. "The Great Southwest. . . ," Maverick wrote in the 1930s, "is the land of my forefathers, a strange and distant illusion."

During Maverick's first two terms in office Franklin D. Roosevelt focussed attention on the South as an economic problem and, incidentally, as an important cog in the Democratic New Deal coalition. The suggestions of such southern regionalists as Howard W. Odum and Herman C. Nixon enjoyed a sympathetic audience of New Dealers in Washington. A wave of regionally oriented southerners like Aubrey W. Williams and Will W. Alexander found themselves working for the Roosevelt administration. By Maverick's second term he too had sensed the growing interest in the South as a region, and he made it the subject of several magazine articles. Many chapters of his autobiography, A Maverick American, published in 1937, deal with southern topics.

Maverick's "adoption" of the south and its problems yielded him good publicity. He was, according to many, the most liberal southerner on Capitol Hill. By emphasizing his southernness he grabbed the limelight from other liberal congressmen, but his new role as a regional representative forced him to confront that quintessentially southern problem—the issue of race. Because he was unprepared for this confrontation, the resulting inner conflict temporarily shattered Maverick's liberal idealism that all minorities and oppressed people would recognize the fairness of his policies and support him.

Some of Maverick's early thoughts on racial issues appear in his correspondence with Forrest Bailey, national director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the late 1920s. In 1928 Maverick presented his racial philosophy, which would remain basically unchanged until after World War II: "I do not believe in social equality oft [sic] the races, and act accordingly. I have my prejudices, which are mine. However, I should not deny a negro his civil liberties and would go down the line to see that the Constitution is obeyed." In May of the following year Maverick further explained to Bailey: "Social equality comes with not economic equality but economic superiority. In other words, when the colored people have had more than enough of the world's goods for a full generation then they'll be equal."

Almost a decade later, when Roosevelt's New Deal was in full swing, Maverick again stressed the economic component of America's racial problems in his autobiography: "The first thing to do about the question is to see the colored people eat, and have jobs. . . . If economic opportunities are fair, and the different races show restraint, other questions will work themselves out." Thus according to Maverick economic progress must form the basis for general racial progress. Ideally blacks should first attain economic gains; only then could they expect political and social equality. Maverick advocated the protection of blacks' civil liberties, but his definition excluded the right to fully effective suffrage. Pressing for political and social equality would violate the restraint necessary to prevent a white backlash.

Maverick's economically oriented racial theories may have come from socialist publications that he read as a youth. Many American socialists of the early twentieth century believed that social equality for blacks would emerge as capitalism disappeared. The New Deal reformers that Maverick later met in Washington also shaped his racial ideas. New Dealers emphasized economic causes and solutions to social problems. They thought that racism resulted from economic depression in the South, and their solutions consisted of attempts to reduce poverty between the races. This exciting task would then reduce race consciousness and foster unity. Maverick accepted this analysis because it reinforced his racial notions and his budding faith in regional planning.

Whatever the sources of Maverick's racial theories, their content placed him within the mainstream of southern liberalism in the early 1930s. Like Maverick, many other southern liberals compromised between deeply ingrained racial prejudice and sincere desire for racial change by avoiding the controversial issues of political and social equality. Instead they concentrated on reducing the obvious hardships caused by low standards of living and unfair law enforcement.

This philosophy had definite limitations, though it had advanced beyond the views of the previous generation. By 1937 Maverick was publicly advocating equal pay for equal work, opportunities for blacks to participate in organized labor, and assurances of equal access to jobs and education. But he made no firm commitment to the concept of social equality between the races. He relegated this issue to the comfortably distant future. Like many white reformers he did not recognize that social and economic inequality fed on each other. Maverick's unsympathetic dismissal of blacks' social goals drew little attention in the early 1930s, but it became increasingly unpalatable to black leaders as they grew more assertive in the early 1940s.

Maverick's support of the white primary also flawed his racial liberalism. Maverick inherited his position on this issue from the southern progressives of the early twentieth century. In order to end manipulation of black votes, progressives in several southern states had established nominating elections that barred blacks from participation. They promoted these measures as replacements for undemocratic nominating conventions, but white primaries became de facto elections in the heavily Democratic South. These measures thus removed blacks from political participation and made their votes useless to corrupt politicians. Of course white primaries effectively disfranchised blacks. But southern progressives did not see this as a real problem. Essentially paternalistic in their racial attitudes, they believed they could work politically to improve racial conditions better than blacks themselves could. In his support of the white primary Maverick revealed this same paternalism.

The political situation of blacks in Maverick's hometown of San Antonio also influenced his position on the white primary. A strong machine had long operated in the city. Since the late teens San Antonio blacks had participated in city government through this machine. At that time a black man named Charles Bellinger became an aide to a prominent member of the machine. Bellinger realized that the city's black preachers were the key to an organized black vote. Working through these preachers Bellinger built up a strong bloc of black voters. In the 1930s Bellinger was reputedly able to deliver 5,000 to 8,000 votes to this machine.

This was a sizable bloc in a city noted for its political apathy. During the 1930s San Antonio's Mexican-American population ranged from 35 to 40 percent of the total, and this impoverished group tended to refrain from organized political participation. The city's military, oil, and cattle interests often resided in the city only seasonally. When they were in town they seemed willing to let the professional politicians run the city. Bellinger's bloc of organized, reliable black voters made up as much as 25 percent of the total in some city and county elections, despite the fact that blacks made up only about 8 percent of the city's population. By mobilizing his bloc, Bellinger obtained benefits for the black community as well as protection for his own real estate and gambling interests.

In a state that had largely disfranchised its black citizens, San Antonio blacks had to fight and protect the utility of their voting bloc. They conducted vigorous and largely successful "Pay Your Poll Tax" campaigns to overcome this particular obstacle to voting. Although such things are difficult to prove, it seems likely that Bellinger and other machine members at times provided poor blacks with funds to pay this impost, despite the illegality of such actions.

The white Democratic primary posed more difficult problems, but certain factors worked in favor of the city's blacks. In the first place, the city's municipal elections were nonpartisan, so white primary directives did not apply to them. Second, during the 1920s the U. S. congressional district that included San Antonio contained one of the strongest Republican party organizations in the state. In a real two-party situation the general election became an important contest, and blacks gained bargaining leverage. The city's blacks had lost this advantage by 1934, however. Intraparty squabbles, the death of popular Republican congressman Harry M. Wurzbach, and the redistricting that created the Twentieth Congressional District had, by that year, reduced the Republicans' power. Even without these circumstantial advantages, the black bloc itself, once it had been formed, had a self-preserving quality that tended to defeat the purposes of various white primary measures. During the stormy history of the white primary in Texas the institution sometimes developed loopholes as a result of imperfectly drawn legislation or successful court challenges. During such periods county Democratic officials had fought over this question for years by the time Maverick entered politics. These officials, who were often members of the machine, at times decided that the utility of an organized black vote outweighed the ideological considerations of white supremacy. Thus blacks sometimes voted in nominally white Democratic primaries. The power of the bloc served to protect the black vote, and the machine earned the reputation of being an opponent of the white primary in spite of the self-serving nature of its opposition.

As a liberal reformer, Maverick had belonged to the antimachine camp since his first involvement in Bexar County politics in 1929. Early on Maverick realized the significance of Bellinger's powerful black bloc and worked to support the white primary. In 1932 the white primary issue erupted in the middle of Maverick's campaign for renomination as the Democratic candidate for the position of county tax collector. Two months before the July primary, in its Nixon v. Condon decision, the U.S. Supreme Court have overturned the latest version of Texas's white primary that allowed the Democratic State Executive Committee to determine party membership qualifications. The party as a whole had reinstated the white primary at its annual convention in late May, but the Supreme Court's ruling cast enough doubt on the legality of the institution to encourage further challenges.

On July 10, 1932, C. A. Booker, a black San Antonian represented by white machine lawyer Carl Wright Johnson, filed for an injunction to force party officials to allow him to vote in the July 23 primary. When the federal district court in San Antonio granted Booker's injunction the day before the primary, Maverick and a fellow reform candidate sprang into action to get the injunction overturned. They eventually succeeded, but not before approximately one thousand blacks voted in the primary on election day. The reformers, including Maverick, won anyway, but the whole affair permanently damaged Maverick's relationship with San Antonio blacks. As one of Maverick's colleagues put it, "[Maverick] became a famous liberal. But one part of the liberal hegemony, the blacks, never forgave him for his midnight intervention in the Booker case. Maury, characteristically, never forgave them either—never forgave them for not forgiving him." In 1934 Maverick again tried to get unenthusiastic country Democratic party officials to enforce the state organization's white primary policy.

Why did Maverick support the white primary so strongly? His biographer has indicated that Maverick's motive in these endeavors was purely practical; he wished to reduce the voting strength of his political opposition. This explanation flies in the face of Maverick's lifelong dedication to civil rights and civil liberties. Surely the idealistic Maverick needed a better excuse than "practical politics" to justify involvement in an effort to abridge his fellow citizens' suffrage. Although Maverick never discussed his motives, his stand probably grew out of a conviction that, in their present economically depressed conditions, blacks would inevitably fall prey to the advances of corrupt politicians. For Maverick, the goal of clean elections and progressive government took precedence over political equality for blacks. As with social equality, political equality would come about at some future date when blacks had overcome their "political immaturity."

For whatever reason Maverick supported the white primary, apparently until the U. S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1944. His support seriously affected his relationship with his black constituents at home, but it had surprisingly little impact on his national reputation as a racial liberal at first. National-level racial reformers seemed either uninformed or unconcerned with Maverick's position on this issue until 1940.

In spite of Maverick's position on social equality and the white primary, an aura of racial liberalism surrounded him during his two congressional terms. His concept of economic equality impressed blacks hard hit by the Great Depression. But more than anything else, Maverick's stand in favor of antilynching legislation marked him as an ultraliberal on racial issues. No southerner other than Maverick voted for the Gavagan Anti-Lynch Bill in 1937. Many southern liberals hesitated to endorse antilynching legislation because it aroused suspicions about federal intervention in local affairs. Maverick may have inherited some southern prejudices, but he had not qualms about a strong federal government. His solitary support made him an obvious target of praise by black racial reformers. But Maverick actually approached this legislation as a civil rights of both blacks and whites. He stressed that he was not supporting the bill in order to gain black votes.

The immediate and sweeping praise Maverick received from black leaders for his antilynching stand embarrassed him. "I do not want colored people to run up to me with a red bandana handkerchief, singing 'Coming Through the Rye'," he stated soon after the antilynching vote. He then complained that antilynching legislation was "always approached in the ship-shod manner of degraded politics—catering to the negro vote. . . ." He did not want anyone to think that this had been his motive. He began to work on a general bill for federal enforcement of the entire Bill of Rights, subsuming the racial issue under this broader campaign.

Three years later, in a moment of frustration over what he perceived as the ingratitude of racial reformers, black and white, Maverick implied that his stand on the antilynching bill cost him his 1938 bid for congressional renomination. But this seems unlikely. Maverick earlier stated that there was little reaction to the vote in his district. Antilynching legislation evidently provoked little interest among his Bexar County constituents.

Maverick's 1938 primary defeat resulted from more general causes. He faced a determined and well-financed campaign in which the San Antonio city machine played an important role. By 1938 the real control of the machine lay in the hands of three men. Tall, gray-haired, and dignified, Mayor Charles Kennon (C. K.) Quin furnished a full complement of legitimate and illegitimate patronage. Owen W. Kilday was a bushy-browed, hot-tempered son of Ireland from Uvalde County, Texas. He provided political acumen and influence among the city's numerous Catholics. In 1940 he became even more powerful as sheriff and chief dispenser of county jobs for Bexar County. Although Charles Bellinger had died two years earlier, the machine hoped that his son, Harvard-educated Valmo C. Bellinger, would be able to continue the black bloc tradition, at least in the city's nonpartisan municipal elections where the white primary did not apply.

In 1938 Quin and Kilday moved the San Antonio machine against Maverick in the Democratic primary. Their goal was to replace him with Owen Kilday's brother, Paul Joseph Kilday. Vice-President John Nance Garner, the crusty patriarch of Texas Democrats, apparently cooperated in this effort. Conservative interests in the state wanted Maverick out, and the nation's turn to the right in 1938 provided an appropriate atmosphere for that change. Mayor Quin helped remove him by padding the city payroll. Later investigation indicated that he may have paid as much as $3,000 of city funds to 400 extra city employees hired at election time.

In the July 27 primary Kilday defeated Maverick by 493 votes out of 49,151 cast. Unless Maverick could somehow defeat Kilday in the general election, he would lose his congressional seat. Maverick and his friends toyed with the idea of an independent candidacy in the general election. Here success would depend on San Antonio black voters. Barred from the primary, they made up the largest group of unpledged voters in the district. Even though Maverick had denied that he expected or desired black votes in return for his stand on the antilynching bill, he evidently counted on some. He believed that with his liberal reputation he could break the pattern of black support for machine candidates.

Maverick may have judged the situation correctly; he knew he could count on some support from some national black leaders. Most Bexar County blacks were ambivalent about Maverick, but some indicated support. Many signatures on his petition for candidacy belonged to blacks. A columnist for the San Antonio Register, which was owned by Valmo Bellinger, even had kind words for Maverick after his primary defeat. The columnist reminded readers that Paul Kilday had attacked Maverick's antilynching vote during the primary campaign. Bellinger himself may have considered supporting Maverick. Certainly his inherited gambling empire would be safer with Maverick in Washington than with him unemployed and loose in San Antonio, a consideration that Bellinger's white cronies had seemingly overlooked.

Maverick's independent campaign never materialized, however. The Texas secretary of state decided that his bid was illegal, since he had already run in the Democratic primary. This decision put an end to Maverick's 1938 congressional aspiration, but he did not retire from politics. Reasoning that further attempts to regain his congressional seat would fail as long as the San Antonio machine remained intact, Maverick turned to municipal politics. His new goal was to break the machine and to establish local support that would later enable him to return to Washington where he had friends and influence.

A less energetic man might have paused before tackling San Antonio's established order; conditions there seemed to preclude quick and easy revisions. Maverick knew from previous experience that the city's apathetic voters were difficult to rouse. Although the city's commercial and financial groups were suffering under heavy taxes and offered potential support for reform, this conservative group shunned sweeping changes. These kind of conditions had helped the machine maintain the status quo for decades.

By entering city politics Maverick pitted himself against the Quin-Kilday-Bellinger triumvirate and challenged an entire political style. He had several handicaps in this contest. Whereas political theory had created many of Maverick's policies, practical politics dictated machine action. Maverick spoke out on issues; the machine dodged them or manufactured them. Maverick's primary goal was to establish progressive city government; the machine's goal was to stay in power. Maverick saw local affairs as specific examples of broader national issues. San Antonio's machine politicians were artists of local politics; they saw power as something accumulated from the bottom up and wielded from the top down, and they carefully maneuvered their reserves of power.

Maverick's principles and his national, rather than local, orientation were disadvantages in the San Antonio arena, but he soon received a lucky break. In December 1938 a grand jury indicted Mayor Quin for misapplication of public funds, citing as evidence San Antonio's July city payroll. Although Quin escaped the charges, some members of the machine dropped him as a mayoral candidate in 1939. For a while this machine faction supported Theo M. Plummer, the city's tax commissioner, and even police chief Owen Kilday originally joined the anti-Quin group. But Quin refused to bow out and announced his own candidacy and his own slate of commissioner candidates. Although Plummer eventually withdrew from the mayoral race, the incumbent commissioners stayed in. In addition, Leroy Jeffers, a friend of the Kildays but also the assistant district attorney who had prosecuted Quin, announced his mayoral candidacy and his slate of commissioner candidates. The machine had fallen into total disarray. Meanwhile, on February 2, 1939, Maverick had entered the fray by announcing his candidacy for mayor. He soon joined with a group of reform-minded commission candidates to form the Fusion ticket. The challenge to San Antonio's divided machine was on.

Maverick started his mayoral campaign confident that he could collect a sizable portion of the black vote. His congressional fame as a racial liberal would help him; it gained him endorsements from black weekly newspapers in Houston, Dallas, and Waco. He could also point to the encouragement he received from blacks during his still-born 1938 campaign. But he failed to take into account the fact that support for him as a congressional candidate might not translate into support for him as a mayoral candidate.

As a congressional candidate Maverick stood for the New Deal, and San Antonio blacks benefited from the New Deal. In 1935 blacks made up somewhere between 7 and 8 percent of the city's population, but they accounted for approximately 14 percent of the city's relief recipients. Despite complaints of discrimination in the administration of some specific programs, the city's blacks cautiously approved of New Deal efforts in general.

In the 1939 mayoral campaign Maverick ran as a progressive municipal reformer rather than as a New Dealer. This platform had much less appeal for the city's blacks. The machine had facilitated black political participation and had provided tangible benefits such as street paving, lighting, schools, police protection, and jobs. Reformers, including Maverick, had reduced black political participation by supporting the white primary. Whatever their ultimate goals had been, the progressives had never improved black standards of living. As mayor, Maverick could neglect or roll back gains blacks had made under machine rule. Bellinger and his political aides emphasized the patronage benefits blacks had enjoyed under machine administrations and stressed that no one knew what Maverick would do as a local official.

Despite the black community's caution, subtle changes that would enhance Maverick's chances for black support were taking place on the East Side. Black political and civic organizations had appeared; some were tied to national groups. In the 1930s many of these national organizations maintained that the future of blacks lay with the forces of liberalism. Even if Charles Bellinger had lived, he would have been forced to deal with the increasing political diversity among San Antonio blacks. His death and Maverick's challenge simply accelerated this trend toward greater diversity.

As a nationally known racial liberal, Maverick enjoyed support from some of the new black organizations. The Bexar County Educational League, a local group opposed to the machine, endorsed Maverick. The National Negro Congress (NNC) collected money for Maverick's campaign through its San Antonio branch headed by George J. Sutton. The NNC's national office sent word of its official endorsement of Maverick to thousands of local blacks. Evidently even some elements of the normally nonpartisan National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) considered endorsing Maverick, though the group finally decided to remain neutral.

The support Maverick received from these nascent organizations held qualitative, not quantitative, significance. Even with the help they provided, Maverick ran behind Quin on the East Side. On May 9 Maverick won the three-cornered mayoral contest, receiving almost 41 percent of the 44,873 votes cast. Quin, his closest opponent, got 33 percent of the citywide vote. Yet in the city's black precincts Maverick received only 35 percent of the vote. He never admitted that his share of the black vote was even this large; at the time and almost a year later Maverick asserted that he had only received 21 percent of the black vote. Yet the precinct returns from the black neighborhoods, as well as the estimates that San Antonio blacks forwarded to their national organizations, indicate that Maverick received more black votes than he thought. Definite cracks had appeared in the black bloc; liberal black organizations helped deliver some votes for Maverick and the Fusion ticket. The machine no longer could claim the support of all but a few dissenting blacks. If he had worked with these new black organizations Maverick could have benefited from the changes in the black community.

Maverick's analysis of the election, however, discouraged him from cultivating this support. He dwelt bitterly on the East Side results, still refusing to admit that blacks had supported him as much as they had. Considering his liberal record, he reasoned, blacks ought to have trusted him to advance the whole community's general interest. But local blacks actually had as much reason to distrust him as to trust him. Already predisposed to doubt the political maturity of blacks in general, Maverick evidently concluded that black San Antonians voted against him, not out of caution or rational choice, but rather because the machine bribed them or misled them and thus subverted the democratic process. Maverick's strategy toward the black community followed from this analysis. He had to destroy the machine in order to liberate the East Side. He was unwilling to make direct appeals to blacks and therefore could do little to nurture the black support already committed to him.

As mayor, Maverick spent little time analyzing the local political scene, black or white. Relentless machine attacks diverted his attention. When free, Maverick chose to invest his time and energy making speeches and renewing Washington contacts in preparation for the 1940 presidential campaign. He administered the city's government efficiently but neglected local politics, as his relationship with San Antonio blacks showed.

Maverick could have cultivated local black support at the beginning of his term. Tom Miller, then mayor of Austin, wrote that "if he uses a little judgment with the negroes he can make firm friends out of them," even though "they have been a little prejudice [sic] against him on account of some of his alleged past actions." Surprisingly, even the Bellinger forces seemed friendly at first. An editorial in the San Antonio Register proclaimed that if Maverick kept his campaign promises to improve city health, sanitation, and recreational facilities, he would "certainly win undivided loyalty. . . and possibly gain even greater support from the Negroes than was accorded the late Mayors John Tobin and C. M. Chambers, behind whom the Race stood solidly." Valmo Bellinger actually met with Maverick representatives in 1939, but no political agreements resulted. As long as Bellinger continued in the lottery business, he and Maverick had little basis for allegiance.

Any black support Maverick received would have to come from sources other than those controlled by Bellinger. Unfortunately, Maverick failed to woo those sources and botched his public relations with blacks. An exasperated Elisha Thompson, vice-president of the San Antonio Negro Voters' League, sent a hand-delivered message to get his attention; Thompson chided him for being elusive. Paul Johnson, a black college graduate, worked diligently to collect Maverick support within the NAACP, the Negro Chamber of Commerce, and the Negro Voters' League, but when he wrote Maverick reporting his successes, Maverick replied with a vague note of thanks, expressing no interest in the details.

Maverick took for granted the valuable support of the National Negro Congress. The NNC was founded under the leadership of John P. Davis in 1935 as an umbrella organization to coordinate the efforts of other black groups. It was one of the most militant black political organizations in America. Its members openly criticized New Deal policies that discriminated against blacks. Despite Maverick's somewhat gradualist racial philosophy, this organization consistently backed him with local and national resources. In 1939 the local NNC surveyed San Antonio blacks to see what public improvements they most desired. This local chapter sent Maverick the results soon after his election. Typically, Maverick was out of town, but John E. Babcock, the city's public relations director, assured the NNC that the city would take action. One year later a dissatisfied NNC committee appeared before the mayor and commissioners, claiming the city had done nothing.

The NNC committee complained specifically that the city had failed to hire enough blacks, thus raising the important but touchy issue of patronage. Maverick had always disapproved of political hiring, preferring, like any good progressive, civil service recruitment to assure competent, efficient public employees. But patronage was a deeply entrenched part of the San Antonio political scene, and it created problems for Maverick as mayor. The day after Maverick's victory, Dan Quill, San Antonio's postmaster and an astute political observer, said that "Maury has a very difficult task ahead of him, and the worst thing is some 3,000 workers he had and everyone of them without jobs, plus about 1,700 city employees, everyone of whom is going to do everything possible to keep his job."

Blacks on the city payroll were, if possible, even more determined to maintain their positions than their white counterparts. Public employment had a special attraction for blacks and other racial minorities. Private industry seldom offered white-collar positions to blacks, so they anxiously sought them in the public sector. In addition to economic security, these jobs provided symbolic evidence of racial progress. Blacks also wanted efficient city government, but unlike Maverick, they had racial goals as well. The situation held great potential for creating misunderstandings on both sides.

During Maverick's administration the number of blacks on the city payroll increased from thirty-one to ninety-one, but the number holding white-collar positions declined. While the Maverick administration hired black garbage collectors, janitors, and maids, it removed black health inspectors, librarians, and nurses. In doing so, Maverick angered the most politically active elements in the black community. C. H. M. Furlow, secretary of the Negro Voters' League, lost his position as food inspector. Mrs. Pearl Arzolia Thompson, a police department employee, was also fired after having held white-collar city positions for twelve years. As a result, she became an implacable and active foe of the Maverick administration. Even George J. Sutton, the local NNC president and a Maverick supporter, protested the removal of a nurse from the Negro clinic. Maverick replied that the nurse was incompetent and promised to replace her, yet the number of Negro city nurses dropped from three to one during the Maverick administration. Maverick's civil service reforms in the police department prevented blacks from entering the force for almost two years. Remaining black workers also experienced salary cuts. Despite Valmo Bellinger's biases, his words provide a summary of the dismay many blacks must have felt toward the Maverick administration by 1940: "Maverick. . . is determined not to see a Negro in any leading capacity. . . . [He] 'has made brave and courageous speeches in the South and over the country for civil rights and for economic justice to the Negro, but here in San Antonio he hasn't done a goddam thing for Negroes that they didn't receive and to a much greater extent under Quin or Tobin'."

Maverick had indeed often urged increased economic opportunities for blacks, and his administration did hire large numbers of them to serve in menial jobs. But the assignment of white-collar jobs presented complex problems. In his campaign Maverick had promised efficient government and removal of political appointees from the payroll. The police and health departments, where many blacks held white-collar jobs, were the specific targets of reform. Many of these people lost their jobs as the Maverick administration made changes. If Maverick made efforts to hire blacks to replace those who had been fired, these efforts were not vigorous enough to satisfy even those who, like the members of the NNC, already supported him. He certainly did not win over hostile or uncommitted blacks with his hiring policies. On the contrary, the results of Maverick's efficiency drive confirmed suspicions that his progressive reform would backfire against the black community.

Maverick brushed off local blacks' criticism of his public relations and patronage policies because he believed he had little chance of winning black votes anyway. By 1940 frustrated local blacks evidently appealed to their national organizations to get Maverick's attention. In an ironic twist, national black leaders found themselves trying to explain San Antonio's black citizens to their own mayor. In January Maverick received a letter from William Pickins, national director of branches of the NAACP, who assured Maverick that more San Antonio blacks supported him than it might appear. In a phrase that must have infuriated the reform-minded Maverick, he explained that San Antonio blacks "do not dare sometimes to turn the old machine loose, lest the new machine fail and leave them high and dry." A few months later, after Maverick's actions had further disillusioned even his national supporters, John Davis, secretary of the NNC, felt compelled to remind Maverick that not all San Antonio blacks were "gamblers, racketeers, and voters whose votes were at the disposal of the highest bidder."

In early 1940 Maverick's national black critics grew louder. They questioned not only his judgment but also his commitment to racial reform. In March 1940, for instance, Maverick went to Washington, D. C., to testify before a House subcommittee on behalf of an impeccably liberal cause—the abolition of the poll tax. Although he argued the right cause, his line of reasoning dismayed more militant racial reformers. Maverick virtually endorsed the white primary when he claimed that it would prevent Negro domination even if the poll tax were abolished. His main concern, he told the subcommittee, was to enfranchise the poor white man, not the black man. This pragmatic approach infuriated John Davis. Soon after Maverick testified, Davis wrote a caustic letter of disapproval. Several other blacks objected to Maverick's testimony, and some of his northern friends also demurred. At the same time the southern press attacked him for his position on the poll tax itself.

Caught in the classic crossfire so often aimed at southern liberals, Maverick protested loudly. In April 1940 Maverick spoke on the poll tax before the second general meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), an organization that had been formed in 1938 to combat the South's economic problems and its disregard for the civil rights of both blacks and whites. In martyred tones Maverick chided blacks and northern liberals for their impatience. He thought he deserved his liberal credentials and willingly took abuse from southern conservatives, but criticism from other liberals disturbed him. He had not changed, he said, yet now fellow liberals acted as if he were a turncoat. Though Maverick continued to oppose the poll tax, his enthusiasm for the cause waned appreciably.

In fact, the rising tides of racial liberalism had swamped Maverick. The atmosphere of the nation was changing, but Maverick had not modified his basic attitudes in over a decade. Now economic equality was no longer enough. Political and social equality had also become goals. The acceleration of the movement left Maverick and other southern liberals struggling with their prejudices; they were dangerously close to lashing out at what they believed was the source of their confusion—the black race. Maverick himself recognized this danger. The bitter example of Tom Watson haunted him. But he vowed he "would never go the Tom Watson way"; he would not turn upon those he felt had betrayed him. Yet he defensively challenged blacks to make the first move toward improved race relations in the South, advising them to "free themselves from political domination of any machine or party, and when they vote, vote for those who stand for better living conditions for the Negro people, and don't support those who flatter, cajole, promise, and extend temporary political or financial benefits."

Maverick's own interpretation of the local situation had reinforced his prejudices about blacks' political abilities. He would not uphold their right to political equality until they proved themselves worthy by "properly" exercising the limited rights they already had.

Unfortunately for Maverick, events in the spring of 1940 kept the white primary issue alive. In May the NAACP launched a statewide fund-raising drive to finance a legal challenge to Texas's white primary. Prominent black San Antonians, including Valmo Bellinger, participated in the effort, and it received ample publicity in the San Antonio Register. In his official capacity Maverick could do little to aid or to hinder the NAACP effort. But his earlier stand put his black supporters in a difficult position during the campaign, especially since the machine had often opposed the white primary. San Antonio blacks chafed under the white primary's limitations, but they felt secure in their ability to affect San Antonio's "nonpartisan" municipal elections.

Maverick and the commissioners shattered this security in November 1940 when they submitted a proposal for a new city charter. In the handling of this issue Maverick's strong dedication to progressive municipal reform once again overwhelmed his tenuous commitment to racial liberalism. In his 1939 campaign Maverick had advocated charter revisions in order to reduce the machine's ability to dominate city elections. The machine had long ago subverted the supposedly incorruptible commission form of government. To correct this problem Maverick wanted the city to adopt a council-manager plan in which an elected council appointed a professional, disinterested administrator to manage city affairs. As a general theory of municipal government the council-manager plan contained nothing inimical to black political participation. Maverick's handling of the reform, however, and the specific provisions of the plan offered to the voters in 1940, outraged the black community. Maverick failed to appoint any blacks to the committee drafting the reform, and when his black supporters pointed out this oversight he still took no action. More important was the fact that portions of the committee's plan threatened to curtail black political influence.

Because of the apathy of San Antonio's white population, the organized black bloc had for years carried disproportionate weight in the citywide commissioners' elections. Although the at-large nature of these elections made the victory of a black candidate for mayor or commissioner very unlikely, the black community had been able to use its bloc to bargain with the white machine for racial benefits. In the new plan, however, the committee proposed to replace the election of at-large commissioner candidates with candidates chosen from eleven geographically based councilman districts. Such a change would have prevented a black bloc from operating as a swing vote in the mayoral and the commissioners' races. On the other hand, single-member districts usually enhance the possibilities of black officeholding. But the council districts the committee proposed divided the black community, gerrymandering it out of the opportunity to affect any council race. In short, the new plan would have reduced the blacks' former advantages without replacing them with any new opportunities.

If Maverick had been as fearlessly dedicated to racial reform as he was to many other controversial issues, he might have tried to influence the charter committee to create at least one predominantly black district. Not only would this have been seen as a stunningly liberal move, but it might have garnered a political payoff. If properly constructed, single-member council districts could have given the reformers a big bargaining chip in the black community. The machine, after all, had never offered blacks a chance for elected office.

But Maverick exercised no such liberal leadership. The committee's plan promised to achieve his major goal of breaking the machine's hold over municipal politics by splitting the black vote so the machine could gain nothing through "unprincipled" attempts to win black votes. The plan, however, created a situation in which no political candidate, machine or otherwise, could gain much by courting blacks. In other words, the destruction of black political power was, for Maverick, an acceptable solution to the "irresponsible" use of such power. He endorsed the plan as written, though he did not vigorously campaign for it.

The black community reacted immediately to the charter proposal. Coming so late in the year the election took everyone by surprise. For San Antonio blacks 1940 was an off year, since municipal elections normally occurred in odd-numbered years. Many blacks had probably failed to pay their poll taxes, even though a year earlier the farsighted editor of the San Antonio Register had warned that a special election might occur. Because of the short period between the announcement of the plan and the election, the campaign took on a tone of desperation.

The effort to defeat the charter united the black community. Robert (Bob) Sullivan, former Maverick supporter and head of the Bexar County Educational League, cochaired the Colored Anti-City Manager committee with Valmo Bellinger. Black ministers opposed the plan from their pulpits. The lists of speakers at the Anti-City Manager rallies included the names of the leaders of "Santone" society. Key members of the NAACP, the Negro Voters' League, an the Negro Chamber of Commerce opposed the plan, and even he had "little to say" about it.

The Anti-City Manager forces won, eliciting a nearly unanimous vote against the plan among blacks on the East Side. An editorial in the San Antonio Register claimed the election demonstrated that "when confronted by a common danger, the Negroes of San Antonio can, and will, present a determined united front against any inroads that might threaten their civil and economic security." Many San Antonio blacks saw the charter as a threat to the effectiveness of their municipal suffrage. Although some blacks probably excused Maverick from complete responsibility for the plan, the whole affair appears to have had his blessing.

For Maverick the East Side results of the special election confirmed the pessimistic conclusions that he had drawn after the 1939 election—the machine dominated San Antonio's black voters. Certainly machine politicians had exploited the issue, and on the surface the unity of the black vote recalled past triumphs of machine manipulation. But many blacks had opposed the plan in a rational exercise of political choice. Maverick, however, believed blacks to be incapable of such rationality, and he prepared for his 1941 reelection campaign expecting little black support.

Maverick again faced C. K. Quin as his major opponent in 1941. Moreover, during Maverick's two years in office, Owen Kilday had entrenched himself as county sheriff. In addition, a change in state law required San Antonio city officials to receive a majority, rather than a plurality, of votes. With the machine reunited, no split would aid Maverick. If the machine regained power through winning the mayor's office too, all of Maverick's new reforms would disappear, forcing any later challenges to start from scratch. Maverick had no time to play tug-of-war with a city machine for memories in the nation's capital were short. To return to Congress and to regain his privileged position in national politics, he had to destroy the machine completely.

Maverick decided to run on his excellent administrative record. As a progressive reformer he had secured much-needed improvements in the police and health departments and had rationalized tax collection. He had erected new tourist attractions in the city and had made a dent in the city's vice and gambling industries. Yet Maverick had made political mistakes and the machine focused on these mistakes to augment their campaign promises of more patronage jobs for blacks. Maverick had left town too often running off to make controversial speeches or to visit his Washington friends. Maverick was a "red"; had he not upheld the Communists' right to use the Municipal Auditorium? At black and Mexican-American rallies, the Anti-Mavericks chipped away at the mayor's image as a racial reformer, reminding audiences of their exclusion from city jobs and promising changes.

Maverick's record contained few items that he could use to counter the racially oriented appeals. He had worked for the city as a unit, not for individual groups. He complained about the Anti-Mavericks' special appeals. "You would think Kilday was a carpetbagger from the North down here just after the Civil war, attempting to raise the colored people against the whites," Maverick declared after Owen Kilday reminded blacks of certain deteriorations in their patronage benefits. Yet Maverick's opponents easily dragged him away from his record and into the quicksand of special-interest politics.

Meanwhile, the machine recognized changes in San Antonio's black political structure and quickly adapted. The Anti-Mavericks exploited the remnants of Valmo Bellinger's East Side influence, but they also branched out, collecting support through the back Bexar County Civic Association. The Reverend O. S. Wilkenson and J. W. ("Pops") Hemmings, who had lost his city job as director of the Negro Recreation Department, headed this new organization. It contained black voters who disliked Maverick but shied away from the disreputable Bellinger forces. Maverick had missed his opportunities to consolidate such support.

The May 13 election discouraged the Maverick forces. The race between Maverick and Quin was close, and the presence of four minor mayoral candidates on the ballot meant that no one received a majority. Quin received a plurality with 17,435 votes to Maverick's 16,202. Maverick lost much of the West Side Mexican-American vote he had received in 1939. As he expected, he lost heavily on the East Side, but, once again, blacks had not voted as a bloc. In fact, more blacks voted for Maverick in 1941 than in 1939. He received 35 to 45 percent in some precincts. But Maverick, facing a tough runoff against Quin, searched wildly for a scapegoat. In his eyes San Antonio blacks had rejected him even though he embodied the New Deal liberalism that he believed was the true salvation for blacks all over the country. Maverick's disappointment and views of black voting habits kept him from acknowledging their increased support. What he interpreted as blacks' loyalty to the machine once again proved to Maverick that the city's blacks could not discern their own best interests. But this time Maverick contemplated this "fact" in the heat and desperation of a campaign that would determine his long-term political future. He had to win the election and break the machine so that he could eventually return to Washington as a champion of the people.

In his mind a group of irresponsible blacks stood between him and his cherished goals. He had fought his prejudices and had made concessions on racial issues. Having earned the praise of racial reformers in the 1930s, he thought his painful struggles were over. But now it seemed to him that blacks' demands were insatiable. He could never satisfy them, so why should he continue to try? Why should he treat these black people with careful consideration when they were about to ruin his election chances? Perhaps he could still win if he could somehow arouse white San Antonians. And so, at some point during the hectic days before the runoff election, Maverick decided to discard all efforts to maintain a liberal stance on race. Instead, he appealed to whites only. Frustration with San Antonio blacks made his demagoguery ring true, and he began to sound more and more like Tom Watson.

"If it hadn't been for the Negro vote, the complete Greater San Antonio ticket would have been reelected in the city's primary election," Maverick lashed out at a Denver Heights rally three days after the first vote. "Valmo Bellinger, son of the late Charles Bellinger, is Quin's chief supporter. . . ." Maverick declared that he no longer cared whether he got any black votes or not; he was "tired of petting Negroes!"

Sick and desperate, Maverick began the final week of campaigning by addressing an audience at Hermann Sons Hall on May 20. He raised the specter of Negro domination at which he himself had scoffed in the past: "If Quin goes into the city hall, Bellinger will be the most important man there. . . . Even your cook would be more important than you. We can't afford to have San Antonio dominated by the colored race."

Shocked black supporters of Maverick immediately protested, reminding Maverick that their hundreds of votes contributed to keeping him in the race. Leading black ministers jointly condemned all forms of racketeering in an effort to refute Maverick's contention that Valmo Bellinger controlled all blacks. The Bexar County Civic Association disclaimed any ties to Bellinger. But Maverick continued to vent his frustrations until the runoff election on May 27.

Amazingly, Maverick's tirades had only a slight effect on the black vote. Maverick's share of the vote in the black precincts dropped from almost 38 percent in the first election to 36 percent in the runoff. Maverick's scorned black supporters were loyal indeed. But his demagoguery gained him no white support either. The final tally gave Quin 20,982 votes to Maverick's 19,799. By doing virtually nothing, or at least nothing in public, Quin had gained bits of support throughout the city with a nice chunk from the Mexican-American West Side. Maverick never broke the machine and never held elected public office again, though within months he returned to Washington as a wartime administrator.

Maverick probably never recognized how his challenge to the machine affected San Antonio's black political development. During the time of his involvement in city politics, several changes had occurred in the black community. First, no one succeeded Charles Bellinger after his death, and Valmo Bellinger never could deliver a black bloc vote in the face of a real challenge. The closest Bellinger came to victory was in 1939, but even then the black bloc was starting to fall apart as black turnout, freed from the discipline imposed by Charles Bellinger, declined. More important, significant segments of the black community that did vote escaped Valmo Bellinger's control. Valmo Bellinger probably was not as good a politician as his father had been, but he also faced a changed black community.

In a way the black bloc vote destroyed itself. By voting as a bloc, San Antonio blacks received political experience and knowledge of government operations. Their political power shielded them from the kinds of intimidation that kept so many other southern blacks from developing alternate political tactics. The black bloc vote brought improved schools where black children learned to read and to interpret current events. Many of the black community's new clubs, political and otherwise, had affiliations with national organizations. Through these groups San Antonio blacks learned how blacks all over the country felt about various issues and people. The city's black voters became more independent and their political environment became more complex.

At the very time that San Antonio blacks were developing independent political viewpoints, Maury Maverick arrived to challenge the San Antonio machine. His challenge actually forced the disintegration of the black bloc vote. Confusion resulted within the black community when it received conflicting political advice about Maverick. The machine counseled blacks to oppose him, yet national black organizations supported him even as they sternly urged him to continue his evolution as a racial liberal. Maverick's challenge forced cracks in the bloc in 1939, and by 1941 one could no longer call it a bloc, though Maverick himself did. The machine would retain some influence in the black community for years to come, but its control would never again be as monolithic as it had been in the legendary days of Charles Bellinger.

Logically Maverick, had he recognized them, could have exploited these changes more effectively than he did. After all, his liberal reputation had caused some of them. But he was more interested in questions of national policy than in the characteristics of his own constituents, and he missed the discontinuities between national and local politics. When Maverick entered municipal politics, he considered San Antonio blacks to be just a small subset of American blacks who should automatically favor the new Deal and the type of racial liberalism that he had been advocating for years. After all, many national black leaders had endorsed him. But San Antonio blacks had their own standards, and their expectations were higher than those of most southern blacks. Maverick never really took this local variation into account.

Even if Maverick had been more in touch with his black constituents' demands, his racial prejudices curbed his efforts to gain black votes. Maverick suffered from acute ambivalence in his attitude toward black political support. He was willing to accept, and at first even expected, the votes of San Antonio's partially enfranchised black citizens. He had, after all, actively supported economic equality for all races, and he had voted for antilynching legislation. Yet he had no firm commitment to uphold black political rights. At bottom, he felt that blacks could not be trusted to make rational political decisions in their own best interests. In 1939 Maverick was at least superficially willing to be proved wrong about blacks' political abilities, but the only evidence that he would accept was a wholehearted, unequivocal vote for him. When this failed to materialize, he minimized the black support that he did have and reverted to his original position by lumping all blacks together and viewing them as political puppets manipulated by an unscrupulous machine. As a result, he gave up any attempt to win black votes, partly because he felt such attempts would be doomed to failure and partly because he was disgusted at the idea of opportunistically appealing to such "unworthy" voters.

This attitude led the liberal "Texas Firebrand" into seemingly uncharacteristic behavior during his tenure as mayor. He upheld the white primary even though it deprived blacks of an effective franchise. He instituted progressive civil service reforms at the expense of the already painfully small group of black white-collar workers in the city. He stood back while the all-white charter committee that he had selected attempted to gerrymander blacks out of a voice in city affairs. And in 1941 he stooped to racial demagoguery in an attempt to gain votes.

This turned out to be the low point in Maverick's attitude toward blacks, however. Once out of elected office, Maverick's racial theories, which had been static for so long, began to evolve once again. By the time of his death in 1954 he had developed a more consistently liberal attitude toward blacks.

One of the touchiest aspects of the issue of political equality disappeared from the realm of controversy in 1944 when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled the white primary illegal. However Maverick reacted to this decision at first, by 1952 he was willing to accept black voters as an integral component in the Texas liberal coalition. In fact, he chastised Adlai E. Stevenson's campaign workers for failing to recognize their importance. He even reached some kind of modus vivendi with Valmo Bellinger. In a 1952 letter to Walter White he praised a speech that Bellinger had made at a Democratic party meeting that they had both attended.

Maverick's position on social equality also changed, perhaps in part because of his new perception of blacks as political allies. In 1952 he wrote noted southern liberal Virginia Durr, describing the racially integrated political buffets that he had begun hosting in his home. He staunchly opposed racial segregation at political fundraising affairs during the 1952 presidential campaign.

Maverick had at last taken the southern liberal's final step. His prolonged hesitancy to follow the black civil rights movement to its logical conclusion is a poignant testimony to the durability of southern racism. After all, Maverick fought fearlessly for civil rights throughout his adult life. In the case of blacks, he balked, not out of timidness or even political pragmatism, but rather because since childhood he had absorbed the idea that white people should treat black people with benevolent paternalism. It took almost an entire lifetime for him to admit the mistakenness of this attitude.

Judith Kaaz Doyle, The Journal of Southern History 53, Number 2

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