Maury Maverick, Jr.: A Fearless, Cantankerous, Free Thinker From Texas

Retired Texas state legislator and attorney Maury Maverick, Jr. has won cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, has known presidents (FDR, JFK and LBJ), belongs to one of the first families of San Antonio, is willing to launch a crusade for any cause—no matter how unpopular—if he believes in it, and prefers the company of dogs, birds and trees over that of most conservatives. Now many of his columns—much loved or equally detested by liberals and right-wingers, in that order—which he began writing in 1980 at the age of 59 for the San Antonio Express-News have been collected in a book, Texas Iconoclast.

Over the past two decades, Maverick has become concerned that the Zionist lobby is playing too heavy a hand in influencing Congress. He's also become a champion of Palestinian statehood, a cause introduced to him by liberal Jews and bitterly protested in letters to his editors by right-wing Israel-firsters. He became acquainted with the history and humanity of the Palestinian people through San Antonio writer Naomi Shihab Nye, a Palestinian American whose work Maverick admires so much, he's asked her to read some of her poems at his funeral.

Most of us recognize the word "maverick" as meaning a nonconformist, but the word originated with the practice of Maverick's great-grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick, who refused to brand his longhorn cattle. Unbranded longhorns were rounded up and labeled mavericks, one story goes. Another links the obstinate, independent nature of Sam Maverick with his cattle, who were also unmanageable. After graduating from Yale University, Sam Maverick headed west in 1835 for San Antonio. He signed the Declaration of Independence for the Republic of Texas and helped draft its constitution. In 1842, he was taken prisoner along with other Texans and force-marched 1,800 miles to a prison in Mexico. The chains Sam had been shackled with became a family relic.

One might wonder why Maury Maverick, at 76, insists on appending Jr. to his name, particularly since he became famous in his own right in the 1950s for battling Communist-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy and, during the Vietnam War, drew national headlines for representing conscientious objectors to the draft. In Texas, people don't wonder, however, because Maury Sr. was a legend, perhaps the most liberal of all New Deal Democratic congressmen from 1935 to 1939.

As a teenager, it was commonplace for Maury Jr. to meet Justice Hugo Black, Louisiana's Huey Long or poet Archibald MacLeish as guests in the family home in Washington, DC. Maury Sr. subsequently served as San Antonio's populist mayor from 1939 to 1941. He is credited with mustering WPA funds to channel the city's river into its signature RiverWalk promenade of restaurants and boutiques as well as restoring the 18th century La Villita. During World War II Maury Sr., a close friend of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, headed the Smaller War Plants Corporation of the War Production Board and also oversaw the production of necessary goods in prisons.

The latter post led to a family anecdote. One morning, FDR is said to have asked his secretary, Grace Tully, "Where's Eleanor today?" The secretary replied, "She's in prison with Maury Maverick." Without looking up from his newspaper the president responded, "I'm not the least bit surprised."

Maury Jr. often mentions colorful relatives in his columns. He admits his father was a testy man who would deliberately cross the street to get into an argument with someone who was minding his own business. It was said he couldn't open the refrigerator door without getting into a fight. At the same time, Maury Sr. took his son for long walks and reminded him that even at the Alamo, site of Texas leader Davy Crockett's heroic, doomed stand against a vastly larger Mexican army, there had been a down side. Slaves had been kept there. Maury Sr. would often hold up the chains that had bound Sam Maverick in a Mexican prison and lecture his son on the dangers of not speaking out against injustice.

As he retraced with the writer some of those walks along downtown streets in San Antonio, Maury Jr. pointed to a building that almost got his father lynched in 1939. Ever ready to grant free speech to unpopular causes, Maury Sr. gave permission to the Texas Communist Party to hold its convention in the city auditorium. As a result, a mob hanged Maury Sr. in effigy and tried to break into the Maverick town house while the Ku Klux Klan searched for Maury Sr. at the family ranch.

"I saw my father's career come to an end that night," Maury Jr. wrote in a June 8, 1980 column. "My father understood the mob, made up mostly of blue-eyes like he was, but he never got over the mob being led by a Jew, a Catholic priest and a Lebanese-American. 'These are three minorities who have suffered and ought to be the first to stand up for free speech,'" he said.

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific during World War II, Maury Jr. earned a law degree from St. Mary's School of Law in San Antonio. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1950, just in time to square off against the Red-baiting, blacklisting and Communist witch-hunts launched by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. During that period, Maury Jr. voted 18 times against anti-Communism bills. When the state legislature called for the death penalty for anyone convicted of belonging to the Communist Party, with tongue in cheek Maury Jr. tried to counteract it by recommending a life sentence for suspected Communists.

"It sounds funny now," he acknowledged, "but at the time they were talking about putting people in the electric chair for mere membership in the Communist Party. We pulled stunts like that just to slow the bill down."

Seated in his tree-shaded office across the street from the grammar school he attended decades ago, Maverick petted his faithful mixed Lab Samantha and ruefully recalled: "Nothing in my life has been as cruel an experience as the McCarthy era while I was in the state legislature. The McCarthy period was so mean-spirited I broke out in hives. It was just one thing after another. They were killing the Bill of Rights."

Maverick, along with A.D. "Buffalo" Downer, Doug Crouch and Edgar Berlin, were the only state legislators who voted against outlawing the Communist Party. Rumors spread of an impending communist takeover of the city of Port Arthur. It was a contrived lie, Maverick says. "The real purpose was to bust unions and to keep poor Mexican-Americans and blacks from having decent wages. A side purpose was to intimidate teachers of the University of Texas at Austin."

Maverick won his first major legal victory in 1951 in Elder vs. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., when an appellate Texas court decided in favor of his client, Billy Elder, a child who sought worker's compensation after being injured while delivering newspapers.

The next victory: Harvey vs. Morgan, was Maverick's challenge to a Jim Crow law. A 1933 Texas statute forbade professional boxing matches between white and African-American fighters. Sporty Harvey, an African-American boxer, had walked into Maverick's law office and said "I could be champ of Texas in the heavyweight division, but they won't let me box."

If Sporty could box he would make more money, Maverick reasoned. Hence because he was black, he was denied an equal opportunity to make a living. During the trial, the state boxing commissioner testified riots could break out if interracial professional boxing were allowed. Maverick didn't argue the law was unfair, he pointed out it denied his client a fair chance at earning a living.

The appeals court sided with Maverick and co-counsel Carlos Cadena in 1954 and said it "had no hesitancy" in declaring the law unconstitutional.

"No Back Door"

Maverick earned plenty of headlines in 1960, not all of them favorable. When John F. Kennedy arrived in town during his presidential campaign, Maverick gave him a tour of the Alamo. Crowds hovered to catch a glimpse of the handsome candidate, who commented to Maverick: "Get me out the back door of the Alamo. I've got to catch a plane for Houston." Unaware a reporter was standing next to him, Maury Jr. replied: "There is no back door. That's why they were all heroes."

Kennedy started laughing and asked Maverick to repeat the statement to his entourage. He did. The next day, the San Antonio Express-News emblazoned a headline: "Maverick Says No Back Door to Alamo." This wasn't received well by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas or other groups he had to mollify when he announced he was running for the Senate seat Lyndon Johnson had vacated when he was elected vice president. In fact, Maverick had waved the shackles of his great-grandfather when he stood in the state Capitol to announce his candidacy. Republican John Tower eventually won LBJ's seat.

Maverick recalls the last time he saw JFK in November 1963. During that fateful visit to Texas, JFK was briefly in San Antonio and spotted Maverick. "Didn't a relative of yours write Washington Wife?" Kennedy queried. Maverick said his great-aunt Ellen Maury Slayden was the author. "That is the funniest book," JFK remarked. "Jackie, come here, this man's great-aunt wrote Washington Wife."

"The next day, he was dead," Maverick recalled, voicing his opinion that Kennedy should never have traveled to Texas at that highly charged time.

Maverick's 1965 victory in Stanford vs. Texas in the U.S. Supreme Court was a landmark case in search and seizure. In its first edition of the History of the Supreme Court, the Federal Bar Association describes the Stanford case as one of the more important, but little known, cases in the history of the U.S.

"The Stanford case is the 'communist case' I tried for the American Civil Liberties Union at the peak of the Red scare era," stated Maverick, who knew by this time that the FBI had a 1,200-page file entitled, "Father and Son Maverick." John Stanford operated a bookstore out of his home, and on the suspicion he was a Communist, authorities seized letters, books, marriage certificates, insurance policies and files that filled 14 cartons. A general search warrant was used to confiscate the writings of Jean Paul Sartre, Theodore Draper, Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Pope John XXIII and Justice Hugo Black.

At the district court level, Maverick and his client were in need of police protection. Plainclothes men were staked around the court. When a stranger entered the courtroom and took a seat directly behind Maverick, Judge Solomon Casseb quietly said to Maverick, "Move to the right or left a bit, because if you get shot standing where you are, I will get it between the eyes."

In the U.S. Supreme Court, Maverick argued that all the confiscated books and letters, even a dissenting opinion by Justice Hugo Black, had been stamped by the Texas police as "SEDITIOUS." At this, Chief Justice Earl Warren stood up and angrily stated: "They did what to my brother Black?"

"Justice Black's face was flame-red with anger," Maverick continued. "I saw Justice William O. Douglas laugh and kind of poke Black in the ribs, but Black saw no humor in it. Then the judges came unglued. They raised hell with Texas and cited the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment guarantees against illegal search and seizure."

San Antonio is a military town, and during the Vietnam War many draftees who maintained their anti-war feelings were trained as medical corpsmen. "Then they discovered they were patching up the wounded in hospitals here so they could go back to Vietnam and do more killing," Maverick commented. "That's when they started coming to me. They were totally against war."

As a veteran of World War II, Maverick says it took some time for the young war protesters to convince him that the war in Vietnam was a Third World people's revolution against Western colonization. "Those kids educated me. They were mostly poor, Catholic and minorities. The rich kids could get military deferments by staying in college."

At the insistence of his young clients, Maverick read Robert Tarbor's The War of the Flea, which likened a big American dog trying to win a war with ubiquitous fleas that were sucking its blood dry. He sent the book to LBJ, hoping it would make him see the folly of trying to suppress an indigenous people's struggle for independence. He never heard from Johnson, but, he says, "the book changed my whole life."

For almost a decade Maverick was one of a handful of lawyers in the country who represented conscientious objectors. His clients earned little money. For the most part, even their parents disapproved of their anti-war stands. Maverick was lucky to earn $8,000 or $9,000 in any one of those years. Nevertheless, he stuck by his conviction that everyone, even a murderer, needs representation in court. As he gained notoriety for counseling "draft dodgers," he watched his better-paying clients disappear. He readily admits his wife, Julia, an artist, paid for most of the bills from her family inheritance during the peace advocacy years.

Constitutional Liberty

Maverick says his 1971 Helwick vs. Laird case is the most important of his life, even though it didn't go to the U.S. Supreme Court. "It goes to the question of constitutional liberty regarding conscientious objection," he explained. "Helwick was a top A student in college, but the Army said he didn't understand what he was doing when he applied for conscientious objector status."

While the Army denied Helwick a discharge, stating it was only after he entered the Army that he became a conscientious objector, Judge John Minor Wisdom opined that even as a medical corpsman, Helwick realized his efforts were to put men back into combat to kill.

A First Amendment victory also was won by Maverick in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972 in Flower vs. U.S. Tom Flower, a Quaker, was arrested while distributing leaflets at a San Antonio military base. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling, stating that while the base commander could limit public access, he could not limit the exercise of free speech when people were there legally.

Even though Maury Jr. and Julia are childless—he laments that his 150 Maverick cousins are all females and the name ends with him—he has had many legal protégés, including then-New York attorney Banks Tarver and San Antonio lawyer Gerald Goldstein, both of whom praise him as an attorney who will only try cases he believes in. Though he is more than willing to criticize the pomposities of the legal profession, Maverick takes great pride in receiving the 1991 American Bar Association Litigation Section's John Minor Wisdom Public Interest and Professionalism Award. This recognizes lawyers who perform exemplary pro bono, or public interest, casework at no charge to the client. He estimates he has handled more than 300 pro bono cases.

There is a soft side to this curmudgeon. He loves the abandoned dogs he has rescued and who live with him and Julia, particularly a spry three-legged mutt named Sweetie Pie. While he is famous for his outrageous but humorous statements, Maverick is also known locally as the "Crown Prince of Purple Martins." Just about anywhere in San Antonio that has a pole-like device with a nest on top marks the home of a Maverick reader or a place where Maury Maverick Jr. has been personally to install a home for the migratory swallows who do not build nests for themselves.

His detractors haven't yet labeled him a "tree-hugger" but, as we drove through the Texas hill country, Maury Jr. and Julia, who was driving, would remark on the appearance of pecan trees and oaks that caught their admiration. Maverick is loyal to his friends like the writer's cousin William McIntyre, who served with him in the U.S. Marines. Maury Jr. also is fiercely proud of his Texas heritage, and, above all, is able to make fun of himself. A case in point is Maverick's story that, late in her life, his mother became confused and once took him by the hand and said, "Big Brother, you have to help me with Maury Jr. He's not very bright." When Maverick told this tale to folk humorist John Henry Faulk, Faulk responded: "Your Momma's mind is clear as a bell..."

While he thought nothing would shock him after his bruising encounters with vicious McCarthyites in the '50s and '60s, Maverick has found a newer breed of equally mean-spirited adversaries since he took up the cause of a Palestinian state. Any time he writes candidly about Israeli persecution of Palestinians inside Israel or on the West Bank, angry protests flood the phones and faxes of the Express-News.

Commented Lynnell Burkett, the San Antonio Express-News editorial page editor: "Maury's column has become an institution that has developed a strong readership over the years. Obviously there is a much larger Jewish community in San Antonio than Arab, but it's important to understand different viewpoints. Maury defends liberal views in a lot of areas, but this is a conservative city. One thing special about his column is it is predictable—but unpredictable for any given week when the topic might range from Purple Martins to world over-population."

"Ironically," states Maverick, "the first people who put me onto the plight of the Palestinians were liberal, secular-minded Jews. Some 30 years ago they warned me certain elements of Israel would persecute the Palestinians.

"And I do not understand the American and Israeli persecution of Palestinians. I resent right-wing, mean-spirited Jews just like I do right-wing, mean-spirited Christians and Muslims.

"American Jews are suffering their own internal McCarthyism. It's coming from hard-line Zionists who are making the deadly mistake of convincing Gentiles that Zionism and Judaism are synonymous. If American Jews don't stand up to their own bullies, a hard wave of anti-Semitism could sweep America.

"While I'm at it, I don't understand the silence of American Arabs. Why don't they do more in getting out on the ramparts and speaking for the Palestinians?"

In June, a smear campaign against Maverick was launched by hard-line Jews accusing him of inciting anti-Semitism in San Antonio because he quoted Grace Halsell's statement that Jews are pushing Christians out of the Holy Land. Seemingly forgotten by such Israel-firsters is Maverick's lifelong record of defending Americans against all forms of racism and bigotry, starting with his record as a Marine inWorld War II, and continuing with his defense of individual rights against mob rule. His opponents in San Antonio have been as varied as the Ku Klux Klan and today's zealots for Zion. But Maury Jr. has remained steadfast, standing up for what he believes, and, in his self-deprecating manner, winning most of his battles with his dry but deadly wit.

Pat McDonnell Twair, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

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