Bookmark and Share
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

PARR, GEORGE BERHAM [1901-1975]

PARR, GEORGE BERHAM (1901–1975). George B. Parr, the political boss of Duval County for more than thirty years, son of Elizabeth Allen and Archer Parr, was born in San Diego, Texas, on March 1, 1901. At thirteen he served as his father's pageboy in the Texas Senate. Despite a disastrous educational record, which included brief enrollments at Texas A&M, the University of Texas, Southwestern University, and a trade school in Kansas City, George Parr entered the University of Texas law school as a special student in 1923 and passed the state bar examination three years later without earning a law degree. In 1923 he also married Thelma Duckworth of Corpus Christi. After a divorce and remarriage in the late 1930s, their relationship ended with a second divorce in 1949. From his marriage to Thelma and a later one to Eva Perez, Parr had two daughters. The disinclination of his brothers, Givens and Atlee, to pursue political careers paved the way for George to become the political heir apparent to his father, who had ruled Duval County since 1907. George Parr entered the political arena in 1926, when Archer chose him to complete Givens's term as Duval county judge. George was soon managing local affairs as the aging boss, already in his late sixties, struggled with various physical ailments and became increasingly preoccupied with state and national matters. In fact, George even surpassed his father in the role of "El Patrón" for the impoverished Mexican-American laborers who formed the majority of the county population and served as the mainstay of the Democratic machine. He became far more fluent in Spanish than Archer, tirelessly learned the names of his constituents and their children, and provided help in times of need in return for one concession-absolute loyalty. Under his leadership, both corruption and paternalism flourished in Duval County.

Not even a conviction for income-tax evasion in 1934 and his subsequent imprisonment for nine months in 1936 and 1937 destroyed Parr's growing political power. His handpicked candidates continued to sweep county elections, and by the time of his father's death in 1942, Parr stood as the undisputed boss of Duval County-in both a political and an economic sense. He amassed a sizable fortune with income from banking, mercantile, ranching, and oil interests and, of course, from the public treasury. His political influence extended into other South Texas counties as well. With pardon from President Harry Truman in 1946, he even reclaimed the right to run for public office, and later held the posts of county judge and sheriff for his home county.

The remainder of Parr's political career was highlighted by a seemingly endless series of spectacular scandals, involving election fraud, graft on the grand scale, and violence. His most celebrated scheme decided the outcome of the United States Senate race between Coke R. Stevenson and Lyndon B. Johnson in 1948. With Stevenson the apparent winner, election officials in Jim Wells County, probably acting on Parr's orders, reported an additional 202 votes for Johnson a week after the primary runoff and provided the future president with his eighty-seven-vote margin of victory for the whole state. Amid charges of fraud, the voting lists disappeared. Even more sordid controversies followed. As strong challenges from the Freedom party, consisting mainly of World War II veterans, developed in several South Texas counties, including Duval, two critics of Parr's rule and the son of another met violent deaths. While denying Parr's involvement in two of the killings, his biographer, Dudley Lynch, concedes that the evidence against Parr in the shooting of the son of Jacob Floyd, an attorney for the Freedom party, was both "highly circumstantial" and "highly incriminating." After this third murder, Governor Allan Shivers, Texas attorney general John Ben Shepperd, and federal authorities launched all-out campaigns to destroy the Parr machine. Investigations of the 1950s produced over 650 indictments against ring members, but Parr survived the indictments and his own conviction for federal mail fraud through a complicated series of dismissals and reversals on appeal. In the face of another legal offensive in the 1970s and a rebellion within his own organization, he finally relented. While appealing a conviction and five-year sentence for federal income tax evasion, the Duke of Duval committed suicide at his ranch, Los Harcones, on April 1, 1975. See also BOSS RULE.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Dallas Morning News, August 18, 19, 20, 1974. Dudley Lynch, The Duke of Duval: The Life and Times of George B. Parr (Waco: Texian Press, 1976).

Evan Anders

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Evan Anders, "PARR, GEORGE BERHAM [1901-1975]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpa36), accessed July 30, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.