The New Deal in East Texas

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a series of New Deal programs intended to bring relief to millions of impoverished Americans. This tour highlights the profound impact that the New Deal had in East Texas. It highlights the work of agencies like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, and the Works Progress Administration. In addition, it showcases reforms enacted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Rural Electrification Act, and other federal legislation.

Folklorist John Avery Lomax toured prisons in the South to record the voices and music of those who were incarcerated there, particularly African American inmates or as his records indicate, "Negro convicts." Lomax and his son Alan, a student at the University of Texas who assisted him,…
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As part of their Southern States Recording Trip in 1939, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax attempted to expand their catalog of folk music by incorporating a wider variety of genres, and the contributions of Huntsville resident Grace Crawford Longino reflect that effort. The Lomaxes…
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To collect authentic, undocumented folk music, John A. Lomax and his son Alan specifically sought out "made up" songs, ones that had been created and developed by everyday people. In 1934, while searching for the local and secular music of African Americans, the Lomaxes stopped at the…
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In his pursuit of folk music, John A. Lomax visited penitentiaries throughout the South specifically to document the music of African Americans that, because of racial segregation and the isolation of prison life, remained pure or relativity free of the influence of whites or popular music. In…
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During their field recording sessions in fall 1940, John A. and Ruby T. Lomax visited the Lufkin area collecting songs that ranged from gospel music to blues to popular 19th century tunes. In Keltys, a lumber mill town then just outside of Lufkin, instead of documenting work songs they had found…
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In 1933 and 1934, folklorist John A. Lomax and his son Alan visited the Darrington prison farm to record the music of African American convicts. At Darrington, they captured not only the vocals of inmates who sang as they worked in rhythm, but also the powerful words of the prison chaplain as he…
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Searching for authentic folk music, John A. Lomax made multiple trips to the Sugar Land area in the 1930s. First in 1933 and 1934, he and his son Alan visited the Central State correctional facility to document work songs of African American inmates. Then in 1939 he returned with wife Ruby Terrill…
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While seeking folk songs in African American communities, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby visited two schools for black students in Newton County in May 1939. They first recorded at Liberty High School in the emancipation community of Liberty and then at Wiergate High School in the lumber town…
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In April 1939, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax visited Ramsey State Prison Farm near Otey with the hope of documenting more songs by African American prisoners after disappointing visits to Darrington and Central State where inmates sang very few "old songs." At…
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During his Southern States Recording Trip in 1939, folklorist John A. Lomax sought out songs by African American performers and inmates. Accompanied by his wife, Ruby Terrill Lomax, John visited Clemens State Prison Farm in mid-April 1939. The couple stayed at the Varner-Hogg Plantation in West…
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In fall 1940, folklorist John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby visited Jasper where a friend introduced them to an elderly African American man they referred to as "Uncle Billy McCrea." Documented in most other records as Bill McCray, he had been interviewed three years earlier by the Federal…
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During the twentieth century, Minnie Fisher Cunningham (1882-1964) worked as a leading reformer on women’s issues, including voting rights and equal pay. Born near New Waverly, Texas in southern Walker County, Minnie was raised by her parents, Horatio and Sallie (Abercrombie) Fisher, to be an…
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Morris Sheppard (1875-1941) served as a Democratic Congressman and United States Senator from Texas. He authored the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed the production or consumption of alcoholic beverages, and introduced it in the U.S. Senate. As a result, he is…
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Thomas Terry Connally (1877-1963) spent his career in government as a progressive New Dealer and Southern Democrat who fought against America's long tradition of isolationism in foreign affairs. Connally was born on August 19, 1877, to Jones and Mary Ellen Connally on the family farm in…
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Martin Dies Jr. (1900-1972) was a second-generation Congressman who served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1931 and 1959. His time in Congress proved controversial due to his role as chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Born in Colorado City,…
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Born on a farm near Tadmor, Texas, on February 26, 1881, Nat Patton was the third child of Francis Marion and Elizabeth Patton, who had a total of eighteen children. His father, Francis, briefly moved the family to Brown County, Texas, in the mid-1880s, but in 1889 they returned to rural Houston…
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During the Great Depression, more than 2,300 former slaves were interviewed by writers and journalists working under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The leaders of this project believed, as historian Norman R. Yetman has written, that “slavery could best be described by…
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During the Great Depression, the U.S. Government funded a special Federal Writers' Project to support authors like John Steinbeck and Ralph Ellison. As part of this effort, the government also paid interviewers to record the personal stories of African Americans who had experienced slavery…
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During the Great Depression, journalists and writers working under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviewed more than 2,300 former slaves across the American South. The stories these writers recorded were then published in a landmark book titled, “Slave Narratives: A Folk…
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During the 1930s, the rural citizens of Texas made do without electric lights, running water, refrigeration, and many appliances now considered necessities. Electric power had been part of city life since the turn of the century, but few farms had electric power and the modern conveniences it…
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Douglassville, Texas, with a population hovering around 200, is home to Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative, Inc. (BCEC). How BCEC, which provides electricity to more than 34,000 locations spread over six East Texas counties, came to be headquartered in such a tiny place is a story of rural citizens…
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Just a minute’s drive from the 1925 county courthouse in Quitman, Texas, one may find the thoroughly modern, electric blue headquarters of the Wood County Electric Cooperative, Inc. (WCEC). Like many contemporary buildings, the WCEC headquarters was designed to meet the rigorous LEED -- “Leadership…
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The Paris Public Library hosts four murals painted by Texas Jerry Bywaters as part of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) in 1934. Two of the panels tell the story of the Great Paris Fire of 1916 and the town's subsequent reconstruction. The historic fire destroyed most of Paris’…
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Founded in 1852, Linden is one of the oldest cities in Northeast Texas. Linden's unique musical history and culture is represented by the Music City Texas Theater. The city has also been home to many notable and talented artists including composer and pianist Scott Joplin, blues guitarist…
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Located at 515 Rusk Street in downtown Houston, the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse was named after U.S. Representative Robert R. Casey. The United States District Court for Southern Texas resides in the Casey building, and it serves a broad region of southeastern Texas, including the cities of Corpus…
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Located along the Trinity River, Liberty, Texas, is one of the oldest towns in the Lone Star State. Initially settled by Anglo-American squatters in 1818, the town became a key trading center by the time of the Texas Revolution. In 1837, local leaders incorporated the site, and it became the seat…
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The United States Post Office in Rusk, Texas, features a Bernard Baruch Zakheim mural titled "Agriculture and Industry at Rusk." Completed in 1939, Zakheim's powerful mural illustrates Rusk's rough agrarian and industrial history from multiple perspectives. In vivid colors, the…
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The National Park Service (NPS) required a "high standard of draftsmanship" from the architects employed on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), and the three-man team that documented the former Wyalucing Plantation in Marshall certainly met the standard. The team created…
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A month after the federal government authorized the Historic American Buildings Survey to document the country's historic structures, two teams of architects from Dallas headed to San Augustine to begin their mission in East Texas. Over four days in January 1934, one team measured and sketched…
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Two months after the Battle of the Alamo, another massacre took place on the Texas frontier. On May 19, 1836, hundreds of Native Americans ambushed Fort Parker near present day Mexia, Texas. In 1833, a group of Predestinarian Baptists left Illinois in twenty-five ox-drawn wagons. Many members of…
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Caddo Lake State Park is situated in the beautiful region of East Texas, near the Texas-Louisiana border. The park has been in operation for nearly 75 years, serving guests with its campgrounds, hiking trails, and cabins, as well as many other natural attractions. The park's rich history…
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Daingerfield State Park in East Texas covers an impressive 500 square acres of land, including an 80-acre man-made lake. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed construction of the park in 1939 and the public has enjoyed it ever since. Today, the park lies in the heart of Morris County,…
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Oscar De Priest was the first black congressman from Illinois. In 1933, De Priest introduced an amendment to ban racial discrimination in the new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Throughout the history of the CCC, black enrollment was capped at ten percent. This was to match the roughly ten…
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Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but for many the plantation was merely replaced by the chain gang. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many southern states participated in convict lease programs. Texas was no different. The state provided prisoners for cheap…
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Present-day Mission Tejas State Park encompasses 660 acres of rolling hills and forest lands in Weches, Texas. Nestled in the beautiful Piney Woods of Houston County, the park offers both a rich historical landscape and a scenic location for picnicking and hiking. The park site was originally…
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During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt joined with Congress to create a public relief program called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Designed to provide jobs and stability for young men across the country, the CCC enrolled single, unemployed men between the…
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Located in Fanning County northeast of Dallas, Texas, Bonham State Park consists of 261 acres in the northern region of the Blackland Prairie. The park includes a sixty-five-acre lake, rolling hills, and scenic woodlands. It has been in operation for more than 75 years and provides visitors with a…
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Kilgore, Texas, is located 120 miles east of Dallas in south-central Gregg County. Founded in 1872 by cotton planters, the town was named by the International-Great Northern Railroad in honor of Constantine Buckley Kilgore, a U.S. Representative from Texas. During the late nineteenth and early…
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Located 125 miles east of Dallas, the city of Longview is known for its rolling hills and scenic areas. The town was incorporated in 1871, after Ossamus Hitch Methvin Sr. sold one hundred acres of land to the Southern Pacific Railroad for the establishment of a new settlement. Railroad managers…
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In a 48 year career as a Congressman from Bonham, Texas, seventeen of which he served as Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn’s proudest accomplishment was passing the Rural Electrification Act. Rayburn was an outspoken supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, shepherding the…
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Electric light came to the farmers of Upshur County, Texas in July 1938. Citizens of the county and surrounding rural areas created the Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation (URECC) in 1937. They applied for a loan of $140,000 from the Rural Electrification Administration and built 28 miles…
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Davy Crockett may not have killed a bear at three years old as he claimed, but he still was the “King of the Wild Frontier.” Therefore, it is not surprising that in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt named a new national forest after the legendary frontiersman who died fighting at the Battle of the…
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During the 1930s, many farmers in East Texas noticed that their crop yields were steadily decreasing. Some of the problem was caused by the fact that farmers insisted on planting their crops in straight rows, producing the perfect environment for soil erosion. The fertile soil was simply washing…
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Huntsville State Park is a scenic 2000-acre recreational area that adjoins Sam Houston National Forest. The park offers a venue for camping, hiking, biking, and fishing around Lake Raven. Before European colonization, the park region was inhabited by the Bidai Indians. After disease and Anglo…
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