The subject for Kyle G. Wilson of Collin College was Yeoman, Sharecroppers and Socialists: Poor Peoples’ Protest in Texas, 1870-1914.
He explained that the small tenant farmers, sharecroppers and owners of very small farms felt increasingly shut out by landlords, bankers and large farmers. The white and black poorest farmers came to feel that land ownership as then existing violated moral precepts. The ablest among them, Wilson said, turned to populism and agrarian socialism in a quest for land redistribution.
By 1912, 16 percent of rural Texans were voting Socialist, Wilson said. (Towns people never took part.)
IN THE Nov. 14, 1916, Mirror, a story said commissioners had canvassed the general election ballots and reported that Coffeeville went Republican with 33 votes to 27 for the Democratic slate, and in the Rocky box, there were 17 Socialist, 15 Republican and 10 Democratic votes.
The entire Democratic ticket was elected, the other parties not making much showing except in these two boxes.
Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1916 with 49.1 percent of the vote, ahead of Republican Charles Evan Hughes with 46.1 percent. The Socialist nominee, Allen L. Benson, got 3.2 percent.
THAT SAME election season, my grandfather, the late Mirror Publisher George Tucker, wrote about a Socialist rally he attended south of Pritchett.
Here is part of what he wrote in the Aug. 16, 1916 Mirror:
“About a mile and a half south of Pritchett, in a pretty grove with a beautiful lake hard by, there was a Socialist encampment last Friday and Saturday.
“There was a large brush arbor constructed in a grove of oaks, with pulpit and seats. There were numerous refreshment stands.
“On the pretty lake there were boats, on which some of the younger attendants were drifting about running their hands through the cool clear waters . . .
“Scattered around over the grounds there were hundreds of vehicles ranging from the most primitive to the modern limousine, and in these there were many young people who seemed not to care for the proceedings, but enjoying themselves just the same.
“The Mirror man accompanied Mr. J.C. McDonald down there Friday afternoon, and we wended our way to the arbor, where every available seat had already been taken and hundreds were standing on the fringe listening to a speech by Mrs. Kate O’Hara of St. Louis, she of “Rip Saw” fame, the editorial genius that promulgates through this organ with its 250,000 circulation the doubtful doctrine of Socialism.
“Owing to the reconstruction of a bridge between Gilmer and Pritchett that delayed our arrival for nearly an hour, we missed a good deal of the speech. We were informed Mrs. O’Hara had been speaking for something over two hours . . .
“She was dealing with the double standard of man and womanhood and pointing out the dangers to the sons and daughters. It was strong language for a mixed audience, and ugly, homely facts she was presenting that required plain language, but we could not help wondering if it wasn’t a chapter of her lecture more suitable to the larger cities, than in a rural neighborhood so far away from the red-light districts she so familiarly described, with all their sins and pollution, and that if it wouldn’t have been better to let the young people to have remained in ignorance of the ways and evils of such places.
“Her arraignment of man was severe — and there was no condonement of the sins of her fellow woman, but she said that where there was one of that kind, there were 20 men, just as guilty.
“She said that she never asked for recruits to the Socialist ranks, but asked them to read and get wise, to be enlightened, not to jump as conclusions of carping critics that thought Socialism meant ‘free love, and n______ equality.’”
“She talked of the horrors of war, and preparedness, on which she has written a motion picture scenario, that she says was suppressed at a cost of $250,000 by the manufacturers that want preparedness.
“She came from underneath the arbor and the Mirror man introduced himself, and learned that for 26 days she has been addressing large audiences along a mapped out route, and she was then looking for the committee to learn when she would get to Gilmer to catch a train for her next appointment.
“THE MIRROR MAN was sorry we didn’t hear her explanation of the Socialist propaganda, for there is no question but what Socialism is spreading, and at some remote time may become one of the political problems of the country, however much we may question its chimerical promises of an unattainable Utopia.”
Depending on where you are on the political spectrum, my grandfather was either prescient or a poor prognosticator.
Calling a political opponent “socialist” as a bad word is still a tactic used by Ron Paul’s libertarians and others on the far right. And since Ronald Reagan became president in 1980 there have been many trying to roll back President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal on grounds that it was socialistic.
Devoted followers of FDR — mostly those who were alive during his presidency which ended with his death in 1945 — think of him as neither socialist, conservative nor liberal. Rather, he was a pragmatist, willing to try anything that would help get America out of the Great Depression.
After World War I the Socialist movement, which depended on a coalition of white and black tenant farmers and sharecroppers, died out because the poll tax had effectively ended black voting.