Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ann Richards - Keynote of the Twentieth Century

Ann Richards, known as the Thorny Rose of Texas, overcame the Jim Crow attitudes of her era, the 'Good Old Boy' network and addiction, and became Governor of Texas, the second female to hold that office.

Thorny Rose of Texas: An Intimate Portrait of Governor Ann Richards
Thorny Rose of Texas:
An Intimate Portrait
of Governor Ann Richards
“I've been tested by fire, and the fire lost,” said the late Ann Richards, second female Governor of Texas (1990-94), The Thorny Rose of Texas. However, unlike many of today's celebrities and politicians who suffer debilitating addictions and distasteful habits, Ann Richards accepted personal accountability for her condition, actions within the condition, and treatment for the condition. Most of all, Ann Richards accepted being a role model to those who may have been looking up to her for direction in their own lives. “I believe in recovery,” Ann said. “And I believe that as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.”

Thorny Rose of Texas: An Intimate Portrait of Governor Ann Richards (Carol Publishing  Corporation) by Mike Shropshire and Frank Schaeffer, is a biography of Dorothy Ann Willis Richards, covering her personal  and political life. Ann was born in 1933 in poverty during the Depression on a rural farm outside of Lakeview, Texas, current population 100, located 35 miles north of Waco. She said, “I believe Mama would have liked to have had more children, but times were hard and I was the only one. Daddy had the fear--maybe that fear is indigenous to the Depression generation--that he wouldn't be able to afford all the things he wanted to give me, and he wanted to give me everything he'd never had. So they never had another child.”

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Ann Richards, more than a mere politician, is being introduced to a younger generation of Americans as a national treasure by 68-year-old Holland Taylor--most recently known as the mother of the characters played by Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer, and the cougar lover of the character played by Ashton Kutcher, on CBS' Two and a Half Men. Taylor is taking time off from the popular televisions show to pay tribute to the late Ann Richards in a one-woman play, ANN: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards, which Holland wrote, produced and stars in. The play was sold out in Austin, San Antionio and Galveston, and was so successful in Chicago, that the production will be traveling to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC this month and moving on to Broadway in New York City in the Spring.

Texas Through Women's Eyes
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Texas Through Women's Eyes

In addition to theatrical tributes, Ann Richards' contributions to women's history in America and the history of Texas are also featured in Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth Century Experience (University of Texas Press) by award-wining historians, Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith, both professors at the University of Houston, Victoria. McArthur and Smith’s book won the Texas State Historical Association’s Carpenter Award for Research in the History of Women.

Using data from their own original research into women's lives and information from published histories, McArthur and Smith pay special attention to the relationships between men and women in the eras of their investigation; explore the hierarchies of race and ethnicity; and include first-person accounts from women's letters, memoirs and oral histories. My book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, is also featured in this distinguished volume. 

Ann Richards is most noted for her Keynote Speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Dorothy Ann Willis 
High School Debate Club 

A star high school debater in Lakeview, Ann earned a scholarship to Baylor University in Waco, down the highway from home. “I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could," Ann said. "I was in college before I found out he might be wrong. In 1950, when Ann graduated from college, she and other women with professional ambitions faced the 'good old boy' network, firmly in place throughout the nation, and found doors closed to them. 

There were few choices for women at the time--volunteer in the political or other arena, teach school, marry and have children or make some combination of that. I write about Jim Crow laws, which affected every aspect of society, including women like Ann Richards, who mothered a state as its second female governor. Ann received a teaching credential from the University of Texas at Austin in 1955 and took a social studies and history position at Fulmore Jr. High School in Austin. Ann said, “Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date.” Ann was teaching during the Jim Crow period, in which Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were making history in the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Although Ann Richards' life was influenced by some of the most tumultuous periods in American history, she did not wear her feelings on her sleeve. We must remember this was mid-1950s in the Jim Crow South. Everyone had to be careful about what they said, especially in the classroom, where Ann was making her living at the time. Even my black social studies teachers during the 1950s and '60s guarded their feelings in the classroom about the Civil Rights Movement and the so-called trouble makers from up North.

For fear of being reported by faculty spies and losing their jobs, teachers hid their opinions because this was a period that labeled of people as Communists if they held certain views and belonged to organizations, like the NAACP, other civil rights groups and some churches. Rosa Parks, who started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was a known member of the NAACP and was booked and charged with the crime of not obeying Jim Crow laws and for igniting a civil protest against those laws. After volunteering on several successful political campaigns, Ann decided to run for an elected office herself. She won the local race for Travis County Commissioner in 1976. In 1982, Ann decided to run for a state-wide office and won the Texas State Treasurer's race. She ran for re-election in 1986 and again she won Treasurer.

With grit, Ann stepped onto the national stage at the Democratic Convention on July 19, 1988, in Atlanta, Georgia. As keynote speaker, she made remarks on then Republican presidential candidate, George Herbert Walker Bush. She said, "Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Ann brought down the house, making Republican enemies including, George W. Bush, the son of the presidential candidate she impaled with her prime-time national insult. Oh, she was just having a little fun some of her supporters said, at what she thought was Mr. Bush’s expense, but would end up being at her own expense later in her political career.

I liked Ann Richards. She said what the rest of us sat quietly thinking and pretending to be too polite to say aloud. If you didn't agree with what or how she said it, she was still your friend and didn't vilify anyone who disagreed with her on issues, at least, that's how I saw her--honest and in your face. Ann had the tone of a female 'good old boy,' which is the kind of character needed to participate in anything Texan, whether the participant is male or female, white or person of color. Ann, though, had the sincere desire to extend opportunity to those who were traditionally without power. That's just how she was. 

Lee Roy Young First Black Texas Ranger 1988
Lee Roy Young 1988
First Black Texas Ranger
In 1990, Ann won Governor of Texas and wanted more black and female officers appointed to the Texas Rangers, the second oldest law enforcement agency in the United States, carrying its name long before the baseball team once owned by former President George W. Bush before he was Governor.

Texas Rangers: Legendary Lawmen
 by Spradlin, Michael P./ Munro, Roxie
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The Texas Rangers law enforcement organization dates back to 1820 when the Mexican Government permitted 300 families to settle in Texas. In 1823, 10 men from the Texas settlement were officially hired to ride the ranges and protect the frontier. Since 1935, the Texas Ranger organization has been part of the Texas Department of Public Safety. In 1988, Lee Roy Young was the first Texas Ranger of color--African American and Seminole ancestry--to be appointed as a Texas Ranger in the group's 165-year history. 

Ann Richards Second Female Texas Governor
Ann Richards
Second Female
Texas Governor
Ann Richards was not the first female Governor of Texas, however. The first female Governor of Texas was Miriam ’Ma’ Ferguson, who ran for her husband’s gubernatorial seat after his impeachment in 1924. The Ferguson’s had their issues, as well. Although Miriam had been born and raised in wealth, her husband, Governor Jim Ferguson had been what some called a gold digger when he married her. When they were thrown out of the governor's mansion, the couple had to raise chickens and sell butter to make ends meet before Miriam won the governor's seat with the slogan, "Two for the Price of One."

Miriam Ferguson First Female Texas Governor
Miriam Ferguson
First Female
Texas Governor
Miriam Ferguson Books
My father met Miriam “Ma” Ferguson. He was nine years old when ‘Ma’ Ferguson brought her campaign and dog and pony show, as my father called it, to his church near Edge, Texas, not far from our family farm. In my grandparents' mule-drawn wagon, my father brought neighbor ladies, dressed in their Sunday best, to the black church where Ferguson was to speak to an integrated audience. Back then, black people were not allowed to enter a white church, so the white community members came to the black church to see her. It was Miriam's idea because her schedule was too tight to make two separate appearances. 

My father told me there was no way “Ma” Ferguson was getting a vote in our community. Everybody out in that part of Texas, black and white, voted Republican. But everyone out there wanted to see the "Ma" Ferguson Show, predicted to be better than the traveling Medicine Man Show.

Governor Ann Richards Texas Monthly Magazine
Governor Ann Richards
Texas Monthly Magazine
Ann spent more money and lost the governor's race to the newcomer, George W. Bush in 1994. Some say he ran against her to retaliate for the disparaging remarks she made about his father at the 1988 Convention. Whatever his reasons for challenging Richards, he was determined to more than make a mere showing. Ann let some people in her camp convince her that she was so popular in Texas she would crush Bush with little effort. 

While riding a wave of popularity of her own and chairing the Democratic National Convention in 1992, the Convention that selected Bill Clinton, Ann lost sight of the real threat Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush by Ivins, (Google Affiliate Ad) posed to her gubernatorial candidacy. And we all know where it all led the nation. Because George W. Bush decided to make a run for president, he left his Governor's seat to be filled by the then Texas Lieutenant Governor, Rick Perry, who has held onto that seat for more than a decade and has tried to trade up like his predecessor. Ann Richards may not have realized something about Bush that the world has since learned. Bush didn't let people get away with insulting his father. Getting back at them became his passion, whether the insult was perceived or real. “I've always said that in politics," Ann said. "Your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you.” And that is exactly what happened. Her friends underestimated her opponent. 

I'm sad Ann is gone. I still miss her; I will always miss her. Ann Richards may have been compared to a thorny rose but she is a role model, who took on the responsibility with enthusiasm, honor and grace. I hope that I am able to contribute even a fraction of what she gave to society in her lifetime. Keep up with Texas news with a Texas Monthly Subscription.

© 2011 Sunny Nash
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African American  National Biography Harvard & Oxford
African American
 National Biography
Harvard & Oxford
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press) by Sunny Nash was chosen by the  Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, and also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.
Sunny Nash has work in the African American National Biography, a joint project by Harvard and Oxford, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; African American West, a Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways L; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.
Robin Fruble of Southern California said, “Every white person in America should read this book (Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s)! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But, if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher,” Fruble said.
Rosa Parks challenged Jim Crow laws igniting the Montgomery Bus Boycott when she refused to give up her seat to another bus rider. Article includes photographs, newspaper accounts, television newsreels and legal documents.
Rosa Parks started the Montgomery Bus Boycott to free Alabama citizens of segregated bus seating and to show the nation how to overcome the tragedy that slavery left behind.
Woolworth's sit-ins by black and white college students in Greensboro NC between February and July 1960 ended segregated lunch counters across the nation.
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