'Cult Of Glory' Reveals The Dark History Of The Texas RangersHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Texas Rangers, policing
The Rangers had quite a history with the Texas NAACP, didn't they?
SWANSON: Yes, they did. In fact, back in 1919, which is, you know, known as the Red Summer across the country for all the lynchings and racial incidents - there was one in the Longview, Texas, in east Texas - nearly collapsed in a race war. So the Rangers decided they had to do something about that. They were very concerned about racial outbreaks in Texas. But what they decided to do was force the NAACP out of Texas.
So again, on the governor's orders, they began meeting with police chiefs and sheriffs across the state, trying to figure out ways to infiltrate NAACP meetings, to stop black-oriented newspapers from coming into Texas. They would talk to the postmasters, you know? If you see any of these papers like The Chicago Defender and others, tear them up. Don't deliver them. They talked to gun stores and told them, don't sell any guns, legally, to black people. And then they tried to break up the meetings, where, as they warned, black people were trying to figure out ways to get their rights. That was a bad thing back in 1919 in Texas as far as the Rangers were concerned.
DAVIES: What was the impact on the NAACP?
SWANSON: Well, eventually, they were forced out of the state. This happened after the desegregation efforts of the 1950s. The state, itself - the attorney general and other powerful members of the state - took the NAACP to court and had them, for a while, thrown out of Texas. They were seen as an illegal operation in the state of Texas. The Rangers, again, were part of that, but just a small part.
But this goes back to the general theme, which is, yes, there were heroic Rangers. Yes, they'd done many good things. But they have acted, throughout their history, as the force of the white power structure and the state. That's been their role and large part.
DAVIES: I want to talk about the Rangers' role in a farmworker's strike in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1960s. But before we get to that, just tell me just a little bit about the Rangers' history of dealing with labor disputes.
SWANSON: Well, the Rangers have been, as I said, the agents of the government. So if the government thought a strike needed to be broken, they often sent in the Rangers. They broke up railroad strikes. They broke up longshoremen strikes. They even broke up a cowboy strike up in the panhandle a long time ago. So they had a long history as strike-breakers even before they got to the farmworkers down in south Texas in 1967.