On this day in 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Texas native Doris Miller responded courageously to the assault. He was serving as a mess steward on the USS West Virginia. When the ship was attacked he went on deck and manned an unattended deck gun. It was Miller's first experience firing such a weapon because black sailors serving in the segregated steward's branch of the navy were not given gunnery training. Although later news stories credited Miller with downing from two to five airplanes, these accounts have never been verified and are almost certainly apocryphal. Miller himself told navy officials he thought he hit one of the planes. The navy awarded him the Navy Cross for bravery in battle. He died on November 24, 1943, when his ship, the aircraft carrier Liscome Bay, was torpedoed and sunk.
On this day in 1925, the West Texas Historical and Scientific Society was organized at Alpine. The group received a state charter in 1926 and was governed by a seven-member board of directors. Members of the society conducted research in folklore, history, and different scientific fields and periodically published their results in the organization’s Bulletin. The first publication, Sul Ross State Teachers College Bulletin, came out in December 1926, and ten years later the society secured funding for a permanent museum (now the Museum of the Big Bend) located on the campus of Sul Ross State Teachers College at Alpine. The West Texas Historical and Scientific Society also worked in conjunction with the Peabody Museum of Harvard University and the Work Progress Administration to publish one of its bulletins in 1940.
On this day in 1955, the board of trustees of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts issued a statement that they would "exhibit and acquire works of art only on the basis of their merit as works of art." The statement was a reaction to the so-called "red art" controversy, which reflected the city's generally conservative cultural climate. In March 1955 the Public Affairs Luncheon Club, a local women's group, charged the museum and its director, Jerry Bywaters, with exhibiting the work of artists with communist affiliations and neglecting the work of Dallas artists. The museum temporarily removed works by Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, and other ideologically suspect artists from display, but the trustees' statement and the support of the Dallas Morning News helped quell the controversy. The "red art" flap also led to the founding of the short-lived Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts as a venue for contemporary art free from political pressures. The DMCA opened in 1957, though real estate costs and competition with an older, more established museum drained the museum's resources, and in 1962 the board sought a merger with the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. In April 1963 the boards of both museums voted to merge the two institutions under the name Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. The name was changed to the Dallas Museum of Art in 1984.
On this day in 1830, Noah Smithwick was banished from Texas as "a bad citizen." Smithwick, born in North Carolina in 1808, came to Texas in 1827 and eventually settled in San Felipe. When San Felipe authorities ordered a friend of his who was accused of murder chained with leg irons, Smithwick, a blacksmith by trade, provided a file and a gun so he might escape. As a result, the authorities tried Smithwick, declared him "a bad citizen," and banished him from Austin's colony and Texas, providing an escort as far as the Sabine River. Smithwick returned to Matagorda in the fall of 1835 and reached Gonzales the day after the battle of Gonzales. He served in the Texas Revolution, married, and after an unsuccessful stint as a Williamson County cattle rancher established a mill near Marble Falls. With the coming of the Civil War, the Unionist Smithwick received threats and decided to abandon Texas. He sold his property and, with a number of friends, left Burnet County for southern California in 1861. In California, Smithwick gradually lost his eyesight but dictated his memoirs to his daughter. After his death in 1899, she had the manuscript published by Karl H. P. N. Gammel as The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days.