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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 457

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This is the grave of Maury Maverick.

Born in 1895 in San Antonio, Maverick grew up in a well-off San Antonio family with deep Texas roots. In fact, the term “maverick,” i.e. “John McCain was never a maverick despite decades of fawning media coverage looking for a Republican daddy to tell them what to do,” actually came from his grandfather, Samuel Maverick, who for some reason refused to brand his cattle and thus the term was born. Mostly seems kind of dumb not to brand your cattle, but hey, whatever. Anyway, Maury went to college at Virginia Military Institute and then the University of Texas. He was admitted to the bar in 1916, volunteered when the nation entered World War I, was commissioned as a first lieutenant and won a purple heart.

When he returned from the war, he practiced law in San Antonio, while also moving west for awhile and practicing in California and Washington, but he was also interested in politics. Specifically concerned with poverty and social justice, Maverick wanted to provide a route to economic equality for the poor of San Antonio and Texas. He started the San Antonio Citizens League to fight for clean and progressive politics in the city. He was elected as Bexar County’s tax collector in 1930 and then was elected to Congress in 1934. This was a remarkable run. Maverick is one of the only white leftists to ever be elected to office from the South.

Of course, everyone was a Democrat in Texas. The real battle was over which kind of Democrat you would be. The dominant Democrat in Texas was John Nance Garner, FDR’s vice-president and a man who despised most of the New Deal. Maverick was very much not that kind of Democrat. He was closer to someone like Rexford Guy Tugwell or Harold Ickes than to the Texans in the administration such as Garner or Jesse Jones. And those guys hated Maverick.

Maverick served two terms in Congress. He mentored a young Lyndon Johnson, who was in his liberal stage because he wanted to curry favor with Roosevelt more than any commitment, as would be seen when he moved to the right and basically denied any relationship with people such as Maverick by around 1940, back when it made more sense to suck up to Sam Rayburn than FDR. Anyway, Maverick did not hold back his beliefs to get reelected. He was an ardent New Dealer and ally of the liberal flank. If anything, he thought the New Deal was too conservative and wanted a much larger public works program, with all the employment that would create. He proposed to replace the Works Progress Administration with something much larger and on a permanent basis at the same time that congressional conservatives were fighting to do away with it entirely. Basically, Maverick was calling for an early version of the government guarantee of employment based on some of the same lines as the Social Security Act. All of this made him Target #1 for Garner and his allies and they picked him off in the 1938 primary.

But Maverick wasn’t done yet. He ran for mayor of San Antonio in 1939 and, revving his multiracial coalition, won, once again on a liberal platform. But this once again outraged the other Texas Democratic leaders and they redbaited and racebaited him the whole time. Calling him a communist and accusing him of wanting to promote black and Mexican equality, Maverick’s enemies managed to defeat him in the 1941 primary. It’s worth noting here as well that even someone like Maverick, with his truly remarkable career, still was by any reasonable definition, a racist. He openly stated his opposition to social mixing of the races, but rather fought for political equality and economic opportunity for people of color. He was a man of his time, like so many, and growing up as a white man in Texas in the early twentieth century, avoiding pretty overt racism was very rare. He even supported the white primary–which did not exist in San Antonio because municipal elections were nonpartisan. But then, when in Congress, Maverick sponsored anti-lynching legislation, which was a really brave stance for any southern legislator who wanted to be reelected to take.

During all this, Maverick followed his grandfather in adding to our language. He invented the term “gobbledygook,” to describe pompous language that no one could understand.

His elected political career over, Maverick turned to where he could be useful, which was working in the Roosevelt administration. During World War II, Maverick worked for the Office of Price Administration and the Office of Personnel Management, while also serving on the War Production Board and the Smaller War Plants Corporation. After the war, he returned to San Antonio and returned to the law. He died in 1954, at the age of 58.

Maury Maverick is buried in San Jose Burial Park, San Antonio, Texas.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions. Thanks so much! I hope you thought it was worth your resources and that you will consider again making sure this series continues. Other people mentioned in this post I could visit include John Nance Garner, buried in Uvalde, Texas, and Sam Rayburn, buried in Bonham, Texas. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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