Streetcars

The Austin History Center has a new photographic exhibit on streetcars in Austin. It is a lovely exhibit that presents gorgeous photos of both mule drawn cars and electric cars. Followers of People’s History in Texas should definitely get by to see it before it closes.

One of the interesting aspects of the streetcar period is that it ended in 1940. The rationale for changing from electric streetcars to gasoline buses was unclear. The streetcar company was given a new franchise but only if it converted to gasoline buses. The price from buses was a dime and the price of a streetcar token was a nickel. It was odd.

People’s History in Texas is performing archival research to find out why. There was a famous incident in Los Angeles in which General Motors was accused of buying the electric streetcar company in order to switch from electric streetcars to gasoline buses. Those who have seen the movie Who Killed Roger Rabbit will be familiar with the topic.

Additions to this story will be posted as the archival search continues.

LBJ and Grassroots Federalism: Congressman Bob Poage, Race, and Change in Texas

by Robert H. Duke

Grassroots Federalism is a neatly threaded tale of three interrelated stories. The author slyly notes the comparison of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Bob Pogue—both from Central Texas, both poor, both from political families, and both politically ambitious. One became President of the United States and the other the Chair of the powerful House Agricultural committee. It is also the story of the two towns that these two men represented in Congress. Austin and Waco are separated by a 100 miles, a mere hour and a half on I-35. But the different racial interactions of the two towns were stark and that sense of place affected the development of the two towns, and the political trjectory of their two two representatives. But despite the differences, 40 years of federal programs led to vast change in both cities.

The author weaves this narrative by bouncing between the differences and similarities of the cities, comparing and contrasting the friendship and eventual conflict between the two political titans, and detailing the interworkings of the federal agencies of the National Youth Agency, Model Cities, and federal support of dams.

The differences in the reaction to the racism and federalism of both representative and district, he says, is due to place. LBJ represented the Hill Country and Austin, beacons of liberalism and tolerance, and the home of the Texas German community Pogue represented Waco, famous mostly for its intolerance and bigotry and racial violence.

LBJ was able to adapt when the time came for change. Pogue was not.

But Pogue’s friendship with LBJ led to a funnel of federal money into Waco and that money saved Waco after the devastating tornado of 1953 and the floods of 1955.

The prime thrust of the story, though, is to provide a case study of how the federal government impacted local government. The federal government provided money and permitted local control of that money, but only if advisory committees were set up, advisory committees that ended up changing the racial dynamics of Waco.

A worthy read and a contribution to scholarship.

Richard Croxdale