V. McMurry to Shivers, January 10, 1955
Allan Shivers' term was marked by thorny controversies that stirred painful emotions. This note from a constituent typifies attitudes towards two issues that dominated Shivers' time in office: federal orders to desegregate the public schools, and the battle over the Tidelands.
After emancipation, African American Texans experienced legal segregation in the form of an elaborate system of "black codes," often enforced by violence. An informal but no less real segregation was also enforced against Tejanos. Schools, churches, public places such as restaurants and theaters, and residential districts were all segregated by race and nationality. Many higher-paying jobs were not open to blacks or Latinos, and they were usually forced to work in menial jobs in areas such as housekeeping, fieldwork, and construction.
After World War II, the civil-rights movement began in earnest, and one of the first bastions of segregation to fall was education. In Texas, African Americans and Tejanos faced glaring inequalities. Their schools were poorly financed, inadequately staffed, housed in substandard buildings, and stocked with cast-off books, desks, and other equipment. Higher education provided the activists with their first victory when in 1950, the United States Supreme Court mandated that the University of Texas law school admit black students. But nothing sent shockwaves through the system of segregation like the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, when the Supreme Court mandated desegregation of the public schools.
Governor Shivers was a stauch advocate of states rights, and believed that Texas should resist any federal attempts to integrate the public schools. Many white Texans agreed with him, and his mailbag was flooded with letters, many of them unprintable, opposing integration. In 1956, the Mansfield school district near Fort Worth was the first in Texas to be ordered to desegregate. An angry mob prevented three black students from entering the high school. Shivers ordered the Texas Rangers to the town to protect the mob and prevent the students from attending school. The Eisenhower administration, in the middle of a reelection campaign, did not intervene. Shivers' example inspired Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus the next year in his resistance to the desegregation of Central High in Little Rock. In that case, the federal government sent in the Army and enforced the law of the land. In the years that followed, many Texas school districts willingly desegregated, but others held out until 1965, when the federal government threatened to withdraw funds.
Shivers is perhaps best remembered for another states-rights issue, the fight for the Tidelands. The Tidelands controversy involved the title to 2.4 million acres of submerged lands in the Gulf of Mexico between low tide and three leagues (10.35 miles) from shore. Texas had reserved this land when it became a state in 1845, and its ownership of the land was recognized by the United States in the annexation treaty. When oil was discovered in the Gulf, the federal government moved to seize the Tidelands of Texas, as well as those of California and other oil-producing states.
The case became the most serious conflict between the states and the federal government since the Civil War. The Tidelands conflict dominated Texas headlines in the late 1940s and early 1950s, particularly because the Tidelands were a source of dedicated revenue for the public schools. The controversy raged in the courts and in Congress for years. The Tidelands were the major issue for Texas in the 1952 presidential campaign and were key to Governor Shivers' historic decision to break with the Democratic party and support Dwight Eisenhower for president. On May 22, 1953, President Eisenhower signed a bill that restored the Tidelands to the states.
V. McMurry to Shivers, January 10, 1955, Records of Allan Shivers, Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.