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

March 6th, 2009
Hightower donates archive to Whitliff Collections

National commentator and professional Texas Jim Hightower has donated his papers to the Whitliff Collections at Texas State.


Jim Hightower, the former Texas Agricultural Commissioner, and current national commentator, author, populist, public speaker and professional Texan, has donated his archives to the Whitliff Collections at Texas State.

“The Whitliff Collections fit me like a comfortable old boot, for the archives are populist in nature,” Hightower said. “Not only do they depict our region’s broad sweep of grassroots voices, but the Whitliff team also knows how to present its treasure trove of materials in ways that appeal to ordinary folks as well as scholars. It’s in honor to join the team.”

Whitliff curator Connie Todd, along with assistant curator Steve Davis and lead archivist Katie Salzmann picked up more than 100 boxes from Hightower’s office in Austin recently. The papers document every aspect of his career, including many of his so-called “Hightowerisms,” such as, “The water won’t clear up ’til we got the hogs out of the creek.”

Once completed, inventoried and boxed the materials are expected to reach about 200 linear feet. Hightower and his assistant, Melody Byrd, have already organized the papers and separated them into categories including commentary files, show files, show tapes, book files, Lowdowns, and various other categories filed by year and date.

“We here at the Whitliff Collections are thrilled to have such a comprehensive archive covering Jim Hightower’s distinguished and eventful career,” said Todd. “J. Frank Dobie said on many occasions that good writing transcends its region but never ignores its native soil. Jim’s work fully embodies this idea, and in these times of dynamic political activity, we look forward to showcasing his materials and his conversation as a voice distinctly southwestern and globally significant.”

Hightower’s staff is also digitizing more than 600 photographs that show him with Cesar Chavez, Willie Nelson, Dan Rather, Robert Redford, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Ted Kennedy, anti-war activist “Granny D,” and many others. The originals will also be housed in the collection. Of further note is a small document from 1964 that exempted Hightower from the Poll Tax because he was a first-time voter.

Raised in Denison, TX, Hightower was raised in a family of independent businesspeople and tenant farmers. After graduating from the University of North Texas, he served as a legislative aide to then U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas. Hightower then co-founded a public-interest program called the Agribusiness Accountability Project, which focused on corporate power in the food economy. In 1976 Hightower served as the national coordinator for the Fred Harris for President campaign. Harris was a Democratic Senator from Oklahoma and Hightower targeted the party’s activist base with a message based around liberal and populist positions.

Hightower returned to Texas after the campaign in 1976 to become the editor of the bi-weekly Texas Observer, succeeding Molly Ivins, whose personal library also resides in the Whitliff Collections. Hightower went on to serve as director of the Texas Consumer Association before winning the first of two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner from 1983-1991. While Ag Commissioner, Hightower became involved in the Farm Aid series of concerts, working with Willie Nelson and Bill Whitliff, screenwriter, photographer and founder of the Whitliff Collections.

In the 1990s, Hightower was the host of two radio shows, and he started to develop his radio commentaries, which are now carried on more than 150 radio stations and on the web. He maintains blogs in The Huffington Post, Alternet and many other websites. His column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

He has written several books, including Thieves in High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take It Back, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos, and his most recent, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow, co-authored with Susan DeMarco.

His monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown, has more than 135,000 subscribers and has won several awards, including the Alternative Press Award and the Independent Press Association Award for best national newsletter. Hightower delivers about 100 speeches a year and is a frequent guest on television and radio. For more information visit his website.

The Whitliff Collection also houses the Southwestern Writers Collection, which includes the papers of noted authors Cormac McCarthy, Sam Shepard and John Graves, as well as the production archives of Texas Monthly magazine, the Fox television show King of the Hill and the CBS miniseries Lonesome Dove. The Southwestern and Mexican Photography Collection houses the largest archive of modern and contemporary Mexican photography in the U.S., including the major works of Kate Breakey, Keith Carter and Graciela Iturbide.

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