San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 30th, 2010
Populism-themed fete honors firebrand Jim Hightower this weekend


The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University will host “The Living Spirit of Texas Populism: In Our Politics, In Our Culture” on Saturday  honoring folksy firebrand Jim Hightower, the former state Agricultural Commissioner who will speak at the event.

The events are scheduled for 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Alkek Library on the university’s campus. For information, visit the website here.

In December 2008, Hightower donated his personal archives — more than 100 boxes of documents and artifacts — to the library’s Southwestern Writers Collection. An exhibition, “Swim Against the Current: Highlights from the Jim Hightower Archive,” runs through July 31.

“When we took delivery of Hightower’s archive in early 2009, our first priority was to preserve and inventory the materials,” said Steve Davis, assistant curator at the Wittliff Collections. “Now that that’s done, we’re looking forward to a great turnout for our exhibition and the big May 1 event.”

Known for rustic ‘Hightowerisms” like “The water won’t clear up ’til we get the hogs out of the creek,” the event’s namesake is a radio commentator, syndicated political columnist and best-selling author.

Archival Assistant Mary García, with help from student worker Bianca Marshall, spent much of last year preserving and inventorying the current 135 linear feet of the Hightower archive. In addition to mountains of paper, the archives includes 1,964 photographs and 4,613 audiovisual materials. A preliminary inventory is online here.

Curated by Davis with assistance from García and other staff, the exhibition traces the life and work of Hightower, beginning with his experience in the 1960s as an aide to the U.S. senator from Texas, Ralph Yarborough, and his first organizing efforts on behalf of family farmers and farm workers in the early 1970s.

One of the earliest pieces among the papers is a small document from 1964: a Certificate of Exemption From Poll Tax issued to a 21-year-old Hightower, then a junior at the University of North Texas, because he was a first-time voter. Finally abolished in Texas in 1966 as unconstitutional, the poll tax was designed to deter poor people, especially blacks and Latino Americans, from voting, an issue in the Civil Rights Movement that inspired the young Hightower to set out on a political path.

Also on display are Hightower’s papers from his work as the national campaign coordinator for U.S. Senator Fred Harris’s crusade for president in 1976, as well as numerous campaign photos and memorabilia from Hightower’s own runs for office. Hightower served as Texas’s Commissioner of Agriculture from 1983-1991, and while in office he implemented many of his populist ideas, including consumer protection, worker safety, organic production, and direct marketing by small farmers.

Saturday’s event schedule follows:

1–2:30 p.m.

Jimmy LaFave will open the first of two panel discussions with some live music. “Populism in Texas Politics” will feature former Senator Fred Harris, Jim Cullen, editor of the national newspaper Progressive Populist, Linda Chavez-Thompson, former executive VP of the national AFL-CIO, and Bob Moser, editor of the Texas Observer, who will serve as moderator.

3–4:30 p.m.

Discussing “Populism in Texas Culture” will be Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, photographer Alan Pogue, and Tom Pittman, lead man for the Austin Lounge Lizards and host of KUT’s “Folkways.” The moderator will be Dr. Bill Stouffer, Texas State professor of Political Science.

4:30–5:30 p.m.

Reception and viewing of exhibition: Swim Against the Current:
Highlights from the Jim Hightower Archive.

5:30–6 p.m.

Talk by Jim Hightower.

6–7 p.m.

Live performances by Carolyn Wonderland with Shelley King, and the Austin Lounge Lizards.

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One thought on “Populism-themed fete honors firebrand Jim Hightower this weekend

  1. Dear Mr. Hightower,

    I watched you last night on Bill Moyers’ Journal!

    Your remarks defining the word “populist” were superb and of invaluable service in helping people understand that we, the people, are responsible for whatever changes are in order in this time of chaos, confusion, and “anarchy”.

    Thank you for providing us with your leaderhip and wisdom.

    Best wishes,

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