Documenting the Lone Star State

September 8, 2010

The Texas WPA writers came up against some of the most virulent anti-WPA sentiment anywhere, and it was stoked by a Texas congressman Martin Dies from Beaumont. That didn’t stop them from producing a clear-eyed view of the state, including hot-button topics like labor history and poverty, such as this recap of the violence between unions and union busters:

Longshoremen on Houston’s cotton docks

In the early 1930s the longshoremen at Houston and in the chief shipping centers of southeast Texas, although organized along craft lines, developed a strong militant unit… In 1934 striking longshoremen, strikebreaker guards, and non-union workers clashed frequently and violently for four months. On one occasion three men were killed. The oil workers are the largest group of the Texas membership of the CIO…

And this look at culture, poverty and housing problems in cities like San Antonio:

In west San Antonio are odd shops, women wrapped in black rebozos huddling over baskets of freshly made tortillas, and brilliant paper flowers… The poorer section covers about 25 blocks… The very poor live in housing conditions devoid of comfort… In 1936 a slum clearance program was begun by the city… more than 2,300 houses were razed or closed… The necessities of the very poor have been exploited by various interests… In 1934, the average piece work wage for a 54-hour week was $1.56.

These excerpts appear in honor of their work on the guidebook, published 70 years ago yesterday (Sept. 7, 1940). Don’t mess with Texas.

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