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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 247

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This is the grave of Paul Kilday.

Born in 1900 to an Irish immigrant father and Texan mother in Sabinal, Texas, Kilday grew up in San Antonio, went to public schools and St. Mary’s College in that city. He joined the Air Force branch of the Army in 1918 and became a law clerk for the Shipping Board Emergency Commission. He graduated from Georgetown’s law school in 1922, the same year he left the military, went back to Texas, became politically ambitious, served as Bexar County’s first assistant district attorney from 1935-38, and ran for Congress in 1938.

Quite possibly the most interesting thing about Kilday is the 1938 Democratic primary and it really doesn’t have much to do with him. Kilday ran against Maury Maverick, who came from an old elite Texas family and was also a leftist in a very conservative place. Maverick was very close to FDR and very not close to John Nance Garner or Sam Rayburn, who were the big power players in the Texas Democratic Party. Maverick embraced the more lefty elements of the New Deal and mentored a young political ingenue named Lyndon Johnson in his early days. But Maverick was very liberal and Texans didn’t like that much. The San Antonio political machine, which included Kilday’s older brother Owen, who was the city’s chief of police, wanted to take out Maverick. So they ran Paul Kilday in the 1938 primary and he won by a narrow margin. Part of the reason he won is that Maverick had voted for federal anti-lynching legislation and Kilday attacked him over that repeatedly. Kilday said the election was clear. The voters of San Antonio would choose “communism vs. Americanism.” Classy. Because Maverick had supported the CIO, Kilday went after that too, saying “mass unionism–spells communism.” Kilday gained support of the Catholic Church, the Chamber of Commerce, and of course the American Federation of Labor, who happily would support candidates who attacked the CIO and industrial organizing. Because sigh. That was very much about race too. See, the CIO was organizing Mexican workers had there had been some strikes in Texas. So Kilday compared the radical Mexican scary people to the all-American AFL and lots of white unionists, once again placing their white identity far above their class identity, ate that up. Plus Maverick was actively courting Mexican-American voters outside the city’s political machine, which had never been done before. Using the kind of politics that Texas was known for, San Antonio’s mayor, who hated Maverick, hired 400 city employees for the fall of 1938, all from out of town, just to pad the city’s population for the election.

Kilday remained in Congress until 1961, not doing a whole lot. He was on the Armed Services Committee and then the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy after World War II. Perhaps his biggest policy priority was creating an independent Air Force, which no doubt makes him Farley’s favorite Congresscritter of all time. He was a conservative Democrat who upheld white supremacy and redbaiting, once again making me wonder about contemporary political commenters who say that the Democratic Party is way to the right of what it was in previous decades.

In 1961, the newly inaugurated John F. Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Military Appeals as a judge. He remained there until he died in 1965.

Paul Kilday is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you want this series to visit more bad members of Congress through American history, of which there are oh so many, you can contribute to defray the necessary expenses here. I do have a conference in San Antonio this fall and I hope to rent a car and visit some Texans, including LBJ, so you could help me do that. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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