Citizens Charter Association

By: Russell Stites

Type: General Entry

Published: May 19, 2021

Updated: June 18, 2021


The Citizens Charter Association (CCA) was a political organization that dominated municipal politics in Dallas for most of its existence from 1930 to 1977. The CCA formed out of a movement to implement a council-manager form of city government in Dallas to replace the existing commission form of city government. After advocates drafted a new charter reflecting this change, Mayor J. Worthington “Waddy” Tate twice vetoed submitting it to voters. In response to this, supporters of the proposed charter formed the CCA. Hugh Grady and Louis Head, two of the drafters of the charter, were the first president and vice president, respectively. The organization drafted thirty-nine amendments to the existing 1907 charter that would achieve the same ends as the vetoed charter, raised the signatures necessary (10 percent of eligible voters) to force a referendum on all proposed changes, and campaigned vigorously for their adoption. Voters approved the amendments on October 10, 1930. Founding members elected to turn the CCA into a permanent political organization that would gather ahead of every municipal election to propose, endorse, and campaign for candidates for city council. The group functioned similarly to the earlier Citizens Association. The CCA was intended to protect Dallas citizens from self-serving politicians by endorsing only men of integrity. However, the nomination process was controlled by the CCA leadership, which was dominated by businessmen and professionals, and candidates tended to have pro-business sensibilities. The first slate of nine candidates endorsed by the CCA in 1931 was made up of prominent, conservative businessmen. The cost of running in a city-wide race against such candidates, whose campaigns were funded by a well-financed political machine, was prohibitively expensive. All nine candidates either ran unopposed or won in landslide victories. The full CCA slate won again in 1933. Except for the years 1935–39, CCA-backed candidates held a majority on the city council from 1931 until 1975.

The city manager appointed by the first CCA-controlled city council was John N. Edy, who was a controversial figure due in large part to his strict budgetary policies. Edy’s efforts to quickly raise revenue to compensate for the cost of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition were particularly unpopular. A competing slate of candidates swept the 1935 election. Ahead of the 1937 election, the Progressive Voters League and the Negro Chamber of Commerce registered four times as many Black voters as had been registered three years prior. This was the first election in Dallas in which Black voters had a strong presence. The Progressive Voters League endorsed a slate of candidates proposed by the Forward Dallas Association, which also received support from White working-class voters. The Forward Dallas Association won five seats to the CCA’s four. In subsequent elections, the CCA successfully appealed to Black and labor interests.

A major reason for the CCA’s dominance during the next several decades was the formation of the Dallas Citizens Council (DCC) in 1937. In addition to working closely with city hall between elections, DCC members influenced the selection of CCA candidates through their membership in the organization or through their association with other CCA members. Although no formal relationship ever existed, the CCA eventually came to be characterized as the political arm of the nominally apolitical DCC. Roscoe L. Thomas, who assumed the presidency of the CCA in 1938, opened the doors to such close collaboration by placing DCC founder Robert L. Thornton on the nominating committee in exchange for contributions. In 1939 the nine candidates, chosen with Thornton’s input, swept the election. Except for two losses, one in 1947 and one in 1959, the CCA would win every seat for the next twenty years. J. Woodall Rodgers was appointed the first mayor during this period of CCA dominance. After the resounding victory of all CCA candidates in 1941, the 1943 election was uncontested. This was the first uncontested election in the city’s history, and CCA candidates also won uncontested elections in 1945 and 1955.

The CCA promoted the idea that their candidates were not professional politicians and would represent Dallas as a whole, rather than catering to specific interest groups, thereby avoiding the political squabbling that attended clashing interests and political ambitions. However, by the late 1950s the CCA was increasingly vulnerable to criticism for its undemocratic nature and for purported favoritism toward downtown business interests. Neighborhood-specific political organizations and the Republican party grew in importance in Dallas politics and undermined the position of the CCA. Charges that the CCA was a political machine, with longtime CCA president Laurence Melton as its boss, led to Melton’s resignation prior to the 1961 election. In addition, the CCA nomination process was opened up to allow more public participation. Nevertheless, the CCA lost the mayorship to Earle Cabell in 1961 and 1963. As part of an effort to broaden its base of support, the CCA began proposing more women and more racially-diverse candidates. In the 1969 election, the CCA endorsed George L. Allen, a civil rights activist, and Anita Martinez for city council. Martinez became the city’s first Hispanic council member, and Allen was the first Black city council member elected to that position. Although the CCA maintained its majority on the council, the non-CCA mayor Wes Wise won the elections of 1971, 1973, and 1975.

In January 1975, as a result of a lawsuit brought by Dallas civil rights leader Al Lipscomb, a district court ruled that Dallas’s at-large voting system was unconstitutional, as it diluted the voting power of minorities and made the cost of running prohibitive. In the 1975 election, council candidates for the eight city districts were elected only by votes from those districts, while the remaining three, including the mayor, were elected in a city-wide race. This amounted to a deathblow to the already weakened CCA. CCA president John Schoellkopf, who had led the effort to modernize the CCA, resigned to run against mayor Wise but lost by a large margin. Despite running a diverse and less business-oriented slate of candidates, the CCA won only six of the eleven council seats. It lost this slim majority when Allen resigned later that year; his resignation rendered the CCA a minority on the council for the first time since the 1930s. In a special election following the retirement of Wise in 1976, Robert Folsom, despite aligning with the pro-business politics of the CCA, chose to run without their endorsement. With its image having deteriorated to the point that an endorsement could be considered a liability, the CCA dissolved in 1977.

Robert B. Fairbanks and Kathleen Underwood, eds., Essays on Sunbelt Cities and Recent Urban America (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1990). Darwin Payne, Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century (Dallas: Three Forks, 2000). Darwin Payne, Dallas Citizens Council: An Obligation of Leadership (Dallas: Dallas Citizens Council, 2008). Harold A. Stone, Don K. Price, and Kathryn H. Stone, City Manager Government in Nine Cities (Chicago: Public Administration Service, 1940).

Categories:

  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Organizations
  • Associations
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders

Time Periods:

  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Russell Stites, “Citizens Charter Association,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 23, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/citizens-charter-association.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 19, 2021
June 18, 2021

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