Maury Maverick, Jr.

Maury Maverick, Jr., was a member of an illustrious family with ties to both the American Revolution and the War for Texas Independence. A lawyer and former state legislator and college professor, Maverick has been more interest in justice than the law. He became a successful columnist.

Where did the word “maverick” originate?

It came from my great-grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick. He came to San Antonio in 1835. He was not a cattleman, but somebody paid off a debt to him with cattle which he put on an island out in the Gulf of Mexico. When the tide went out, the cattle could go ashore. He didn’t bother to brand them, so they would say, “There go old Maverick’s cows.”

The way the word got around the world is that cattlemen would come to Corpus Christi to pick up cattle, and the cows that weren’t branded they called them mavericks. So they took the cattle to South America and called them “maverico.” In India, Kipling, the great poet, used the word one time: “The charge of the mavericks.”

So that’s how the word got around, and it means unbranded. In the contemporary political sense it would mean some person who doesn’t run with the herd. He might be liberal or even radical, politically.

Where did your ancestors come from?

The Mavericks came from England, Barbados Island, and one branch went to Boston and one branch went to South Carolina.

Last year I was lecturing at Harvard and I went to the old burial ground. The first battle for independence of this country was the Boston Massacre. The young people, not much older than you are, were throwing rocks at the British soldiers. The called the British soldiers “Lobster Backs” because the uniforms had a red back and looked like a lobster. One of the people killed, a seventeen-year-old boy named Samuel Augustus Maverick, was a distant cousin. I went to visit his grave and started crying.

My first name is Maury, a French name, and on that side my people came from Virginia. They were Huguenots, which is a French term for Protestant. They were Episcopal preachers. One of them was Thomas Jefferson’s preacher, and Mr. Jefferson indicated that Reverend James Maury was so narrow-mined and old-fashioned that he drove him into forming the Unitarian Church of America.

What was it like for you growing up in San Antonio?

I went to schools here in the city. Lamar Elementary School by Menche Parke. I was one of the few Anglo kids at Hawthorne. We were in the minority in those days. Then I went to Texas Military Institute. My father was in Congress, and I didn’t want to live in Washington so I boarded at the military school. I went to high school and played football but wasn’t any good at it. I was on the third string. I was a commencement debater, made grades of about C+. I wasn’t a very good student.

I barely remember the depression. My father, during that time, was the Tax Collector-Assessor of Bexar County. He was making eight thousand dollars a year, which is not a lot of money now, but it was then. My father and mother set up a place where people would get off the train and provided them with freight cars to sleep in. It was a commune for poor people and I remember it was pretty bad. Those were hard days, but in many ways they were also pleasant days because San Antonio was smaller.

Once, my father brought back two javelinas from Mexico and named them after two saints, Saint this and Saint that. They were tiny things. They followed me all over the neighborhood and they were wonderful animals. But one time when the javelina got about two and a half feet long and about two feet high, a great big German police dog picked a fight with my javelina and the javelina gave him up with his tusks. So my mother and father made me give him to the Brackenridge Zoo. But they were wonderful animals.

Were you ever caught doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing?

Yes. I was at Hawthorne Junior School and there used to be an old lady, Miss Hupperitz, there. I’m still scared of her. She caught me throwing an apple core at a car passing by and so she took me inside and made me put my fingers out and hit each knuckle with a ruler. When she was dying in a Catholic hospital on the south side, St. Benedict’s, I left some flowers for her. She was a wonderful lady. Republican, very conservative, and she gave me the dickens. She deeply touched my life. She taught me about discipline and good manners.

When you were growing up, did you play on the river?

Not much in the downtown river because it was dirty and full of old tires and junk and it was ugly and dangerous. Harry Drought, who was head of the Work Progress Administration, Robert Hugman, the architect, members of the Conservation Society, and my father got Mrs. Roosevelt to talk to President Roosevelt and then the river was fixed up. I remember going to the river at Brackenridge Park all the time because I lived next to Brackenridge Park. I also went down by the missions south of town and went to the river there.

How did you entertain yourself?

I came from a family, particularly my father, who knew a lot of interesting people all over the world. Washington, San Antonio, California, New York—some of the great writers and musicians and politicians. We would go to their homes or they would come to our home so I guess how I’d entertain myself was listening to people.

We used to go every Sunday to my grandmother’s house at what was called Sunshine Ranch. All the relatives would come and there would be a hundred and fifty of them. I now have over three hundred cousins in San Antonio. My father was the youngest of eleven children.

Did your father take you hunting?

I never hunted. My father encouraged me not to hunt, not to kill animals, and I never did. He was a good historian. He wrote two books which had history in them and knew a lot about Texas history. I think I do too because of him. He was mayor and congressman, and I saw a lot of important people and had some exciting times. I did things like that instead of hunting.

Did you get to spend much time with him since he was so busy as mayor?

He paid a lot of attention to me. We went a lot of places together. He died very young. He was fifty-eight and a half and had a hard political life. When he was mayor, there was a riot. A mob came to Municipal Auditorium to keep a woman, a Communist, from talking. She weighed about ninety-seven pounds and couldn’t hurt a flea. She had been putting up picket lines on the west side because Mexican-Americans were making about seventeen cents an hour in depression days, and were pretty close to starving to death. She did some brave things, so my father got caught up in the riot, fighting for her right to speak. That was the end of his political life. When he was in the Congress, before he was mayor, he was a lieutenant to President Franklin Roosevelt and the only congressman in the whole entire body who voted for the anti-lynching law. In the old days they would lynch black people and get away with it. My father lived a very controversial life and I was part of that as a child.

Do you remember that riot?

Yes. I was about fifteen. The police had to carry me away. I saw some of it. The mob came out to my grandmother’s house and threw rocks in the windows and we had to have a police escort for my sister, mother and father for a week to keep from getting killed. It was a very terrible experience.

Did your family celebrate Texas Independence?

Sure. My great-grandfather signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. He was in the Alamo when he was elected to Washington-on-the-Brazos and he signed it there so I knew something about it.

When you were growing up, what was the Alamo like?

It was pretty much like it is now. When I was your age my father would take me there and he would tell me both sides of the Alamo story. The Mexicans were brave too. You always hear one side. We Texans are not always right. Some of the defenders of the Alamo had slaves in there. They wanted liberty for themselves, but they had black slaves in there who were denied liberty. And that was bad. The Mexicans were bad because they were telling us how to pray, what religion to belong to, but we were bad because we had black slaves. When the battle of the Alamo was over, Santa Anna let the slaves escape and go to Mexico.

Did you have a particular favorite place in San Antonio?

I used to go to a lot of historical places when I was your age. My father and I would play the alphabet. He’d say, “With A, think of places to go to and talk about history.” That would force me to think about A. A for Alamo, A for aquifer, A for aqueduct. There is a Spanish aqueduct south of San Antonio. It is one of the few aqueducts in this part of the world. It runs over a river. You will find it near Mission Espada.

We would go down there and other places. My father would act out different historical roles, and we would have good times. That’s what I liked doing during those years.

When you were growing up, did you have an idol that you looked up to?

I thought Franklin Roosevelt was a great man. When the depression came, he came on the radio and said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. It was a time in American life when we helped each other and did creative things. Here in San Antonio, like all over America, artists and musicians were hungry and so they got them into the WPA. Eleanor Roosevelt was a great friend of the black people and all the poor people. She was, and remains, my favorite First Lady in the history of the country. Magnificent woman.

I met her several times at the White House. Then while she was visiting the troops during World War II, I was a young lieutenant in New Zealand, and I called out her name. All the prime ministers and generals and admirals were standing there in Wellington, New Zealand, and she dropped all the big shots and spent about ten minutes with me and some sergeants. She was very nice to people who were not powerful or rich and she would be very courteous. I used to correspond with her up to about six months before she died and I loved her.

Most kids want to be firemen or policemen when they grow up. Did you have any career dreams when you were our age?

Officially I was an old man in January 1986, when I turned sixty-five, and I still haven’t figured out what I want to be. Even as a child I never had any wild dreams about being anything in particular. I have been a lawyer for thirty-five years, and for the last ten years I have been a newspaper writer, and today I do both. I was a civil rights lawyer for many years. I represented a black man named Sporty Harvey from San Antonio. A few years ago it was a crime in Texas to let a black man have a boxing match with a white man. I am the lawyer who took it to court so that a black man would have a right to make a living. Sporty was a good fellow. He took me to the first integrated restaurant where I had ever eaten with black people in Texas. I was scared that I was going to be beaten up. Looking back on it, wasn’t that silly? They were nice to me. Sporty had a sixth grade education but that black man taught me something.

During the Vietnam War, I represented more conscientious objectors than any lawyer in Texas. The Vietnam War was very unpopular, unlike World War II which I was in. There were a lot of young people who didn’t think they ought to go to war in Vietnam and kill those people over there, where they were having their own revolution and wanted to have their own country. So young Americans came to see me to keep from going to war, and I represented them for eight years.

It was a very unfair war, the Vietnam War, because of who was drafted. We would put a cross on every house in San Antonio when a person would get killed and his body brought back. Over on the West Side of San Antonio where the Mexican Americans lived, there was a whole sea of crosses and on the north side where the wealthy Anglos lived there were very few crosses. So I came to conclude, unlike most liberals, that I am for an honest draft. One Anglo, one Mexican, one black. Fifty-fifty. No sweetheart deals because your skin is white or you are rich. Everybody dies equally.

Was your father being in politics what got you into law?

My father was a lawyer and I didn’t know what else to do. Like everybody I came back from the war and had to do something, so I went to law school. I think it has gotten a little cold-blooded. A lot of these young lawyers refrain from taking up controversial civil liberties and civil rights cases. Too many of them think of nothing but the money.

I believe in the practice of law where you don’t have to haggle over money all the time. I believe in the type of government such as they have in Sweden, for example. Accountable. A form of democratic socialism mixed with capitalism. People in Sweden are not as rich as they are in this country but neither are there as many poor people. I lived in New Zealand once, and it was a fair-minded country.

Maybe I would go into journalism completely if I had to do it over again. But that would be as bad because you could be working for a newspaper you didn’t like, and as a lawyer you have a measure of independence. At least you are your own boss and you can pretty much do whatever you want.

I had some hard times as a lawyer. Once I represented the alleged head of the Communist Party in Texas. The police came into the man’s house and took his books away from him. The police were the ones who were seditious. I don’t care if a person is Ku Klux Klan, or Communist, or Jew, or Baptist, or conservative, or reactionary, or rich or poor, I don’t think the police should break into a person’s house and get his reading material. I took that Communist case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won unanimously and the decision was rendered by a conservative Republican judge.

Robert Flynn and Susan Russell, When I Was Just Your Age, Remarkable Reflections On Growing Up in Another Era

The Works Progress Administration was part of the first “hundred days” of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Directed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA spent billions of dollars on reforestation, rural electrification, water and sewage plants, flood control and school buildings. The WPA employed artists to decorate public buildings, write state and regional guides and perform in the federal theater. In 1939, the WPA began work on the San Antonio Riverwalk as part of a flood control and beautification project.

No comments:

Post a Comment