Carl Philip Brannin, social reformer and journalist, was born in Cisco, Texas, on September 22, 1888, the second son of seven children born to Lewis E. and Catherine (Bacon) Brannin. After graduating as valedictorian from Cisco High School, he enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), became editor of the student newspaper, took part in his first protest when students demonstrated against the college president, and in 1909 graduated with a bachelor of science degree in textile engineering.
Brannin took a job as an apprentice at a textile mill in Dallas but found the work unsatisfactory. He then sold life insurance and real estate, both similarly unfulfilling. In 1911 he read a book that greatly influenced not only him but an entire generation of reformers–Henry George's Progress and Poverty. This work inspired in Brannin a lifelong zeal to improve conditions in society through political and economic reform. After finding work as a desk clerk at the Dallas YMCA, he began organizing classes to study George's single-tax theory, the socialism of Upton Sinclair, and the social gospel of Walter Rauschenbusch. His energy led him into other activities at the YMCA as well, especially that of helping young people find employment in the city.
In 1914 he accepted an offer from Rev. Herbert S. Bigelow in Cincinnati to become his assistant at the nondenominational People's Church, where Brannin edited a weekly paper, the People's Press. As editor he advocated a single tax, pacifism, civil liberties, old-age pensions, and unemployment insurance. He arranged for a variety of speakers on these and other topics, and became secretary and organizer of the People's Power League, a lobby group.
On March 2, 1918, he married Laura Haeckle of Cincinnati, herself a dedicated reformist whom Brannin met at the People's Church. The couple involved themselves in social activism in a number of cities over the next fifteen years before settling permanently in Dallas in 1933. These cities included Kansas City, Missouri, where Brannin joined a group of socialists that included Earl Browder in opposing American involvement in World War I; Washington, D.C., where Brannin worked as a publicist for the Plumb Plan and from where he traveled through the East to seek support for public ownership of the railroads; and Seattle, Washington, where the couple worked at odd jobs for two years and associated with the radical community. Meanwhile, oil had been discovered on a small, generally worthless peanut farm left to Brannin ten years earlier by his aunt. The income derived did not represent a fortune, but for years it provided the Brannins with a steady, moderate source of income that freed them from the daily job of earning a living and permitted them to travel widely.
During a three-month trip to Mexico in 1922 Brannin began what became a long-time association with the Federated Press, a labor news service. In the San Francisco area he worked for a while as assistant editor of Labor Unity. In 1925 the Brannins toured Europe and the Soviet Union, making contact with radicals wherever they went. Afterwards the couple returned once more to Seattle, where Brannin became director of Seattle Labor College. In 1933 they moved with their adopted son, Robert, to Dallas. There they continued for the next several decades to involve themselves on a grass-roots level with causes and politics. They joined the Socialist party, and in 1936 Brannin was the party's unsuccessful nominee for governor. He became state secretary of the party and was involved especially in efforts to organize labor. In 1938 he resigned this post; thereafter the Brannins aligned themselves with the liberal side of the Democratic party in Texas.
The Brannins joined the First Unitarian Church in Dallas in 1947. During the 1950s and 1960s their attention turned more and more to the civil rights movement. Brannin became a member of the executive committee of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The couple participated in efforts in Dallas to desegregate various facilities, often joining picket lines when they were in their seventies.
Laura Brannin died of cancer in 1965. Brannin continued to speak for liberal causes before local government bodies, to work with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (the founder of which, Roger Baldwin, was an old friend), to write letters to editors on current topics, and to join antiwar picket lines as well as desegregation efforts. On March 18, 1977, Brannin was honored at an appreciation dinner at Eastfield College, Dallas, sponsored by a wide range of friends. He died on June 16, 1985.