Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democractic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era

This book is about the Pecan shellers strike in San Antonio. On January 31, 1938, some 10,000 pecan plant workers walked off their jobs in San Antonio. The strikers — primarily Mexican-American women — were fed up with toiling in the city’s stuffy, tuberculosis-inducing pecan-shelling plants, shredding their fingers for 6 cents a pound. Activist Emma Tenayuca, nicknamed “La Pasionaria” for her fiery personality, spearheaded the strike. In an era when the voices of Mexican Americans and women were routinely silenced, Tenayuca was an unlikely leader. She was only 21 at the time, but was already well-versed in civil resistance; her first arrest came at 16, when she played hooky from high school to join the picket line of a cigar workers’ strike. Over the two-month pecan shellers’ uprising, police beat and tear-gassed the strikers, who responded by blowing out the tires of police cars with tacks and vandalizing shipments. In the end, “Pecan King” Julius Seligmann gave in to most of their demands. It was the dawn of the Mexican-American social justice movement, and it changed Texas politics forever. The pecan shellers’ strike is just one of many lesser-known stories Max Krochmal brings to life in his new history of civil rights movements in Texas. In Blue Texas, the Texas Christian University history professor recounts how four different forces — the Mexican-American civil rights movement, the African-American civil rights movement, white organized labor and white liberal political activism — came together. This coalition overthrew Jim Crow and Juan Crow, solidified the political careers of progressive legends Henry B. González and Ralph Yarborough, and energized grassroots activism throughout the state. The process was not without bumps. A decade after the San Antonio uprising, when the lily white Texas State Federation of Labor finally realized that African-American workers might well form a crucial part of its future, the union resoundingly elected Freeman Everett, a veteran of the black stevedore’s union, as vice president. The only problem? The federation held its annual meeting in a segregated hotel. Everett and 25 black union leaders, blocked at the door, sneaked in via freight elevator.
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University of North Carolina Press; Max Krochmal
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