Ben H. Procter

WORLD WAR II. On the home front during World War II Texans sacrificed whatever was necessary to support "our boys overseas." Rationing became a way of life-stamp books for meat, sugar, coffee, shoes, rubber, auto parts, and eventually gas became a necessity. At increasingly frequent intervals communities held scrap-iron drives; adults bought war bonds; school children had time allotted during class periods to buy, then paste, savings stamps in bond books; and many a family, as in World War I, planted "victory gardens" to conserve food for the war effort. During these years Texans thrived; the Great Depression became only a memory. Along the Gulf Coast from the Beaumont-Port Arthur area southward to Corpus Christi, the greatest petrochemical industry in the world was built to refine fuel for the American war machine. Farmers, with prices high, cultivated the soil to its maximum, thereby helping the United States become the granary for the Allied nations. And wartime industries mushroomed throughout Texas: steel mills in Houston and Daingerfield, the largest tin smelter in the world in Texas City, enormous aircraft factories in Garland, Grand Prairie, and Fort Worth, extensive shipyards in Beaumont, Port Arthur, Houston, Galveston, and Corpus Christi, a revitalized paper and wood-pulp industry in East Texas, and munitions and synthetic rubber factories in different parts of the state. As a result manufacturing increased fourfold, from $453,105,423 in 1939 to $1,900,000,000 in 1944. Labor was therefore at a premium, especially with men in the service, with defense contracts readily available, and with wages escalating. Consequently, 500,000 Texans moved from rural areas to job markets in nearby cities, as did thousands of people from other states. Women entered heretofore male occupations and became punch-press operators, assembly-line workers, and riveters-hence a popular song of the day, "Rosie the Riveter."

While the state government cooperated with federal authorities to sustain an all-out war effort, Governor Coke R. Stevenson seemed to epitomize a dual role, that of cooperation as well as representation of Texas interests. Because of his relaxed demeanor-he was a pipe smoker with a calm expression that seldom betrayed his thoughts-this staunchly conservative man received the appellation "Calculating Coke" from Capitol correspondents. Although he accepted rationing in 1942, Stevenson denounced gas rationing in Texas, where gasoline was as much a necessity, he asserted, as "the saddle, the rifle, the ax, and the Bible." Coke also negotiated a no-strike agreement with labor, an arrangement that pleased antiunionist Texans. At the same time he received high approval ratings from his constituency for raising departmental budgets, while eliminating the $42 million debt that had accrued since the depression. During these war years Stevenson improved the state highway system, raised public school salaries, initiated a building program for the University of Texas, and emphasized the necessity of soil conservation. During the Stevenson administrations a number of trends developed that greatly affected Texas in postwar years. After 1937 the anti-New Deal Jeffersonian Democrats gained adherents, and with each passing year their disaffection hardened. In 1940 they were appalled when Roosevelt ran for a third term; four years later he repeated this desecration, which, they believed, was leading the nation toward dictatorship. Besides, he was far too liberal for them, first in his support of labor unions, then in New Deal spending programs, and, most devastating of all, in replacing Vice President John Nance Garner of Texas in 1940 with left-winger Henry A. Wallace of Iowa. And if price-fixing of Texas oil was not enough, then the president's "communist" wife Eleanor surely was. Texans deplored her outspoken support for black equality under the law, together with the Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Allwright (1944), by which blacks obtained the right to participate in white primaries. Consequently in 1944 the Jeffersonian Democrats formed a new political organization named the Texas Regulars; and in the November election they polled 135,000 votes for president, even though no one headed the ticket. Their divisiveness caused tremendous difficulties in postwar Texas for the dominant Democratic party.

Many Texas Regulars and those of like ilk also concerned themselves with higher education as represented at the University of Texas. Under Governors W. Lee O'Daniel and Coke Stevenson a majority of their number received appointment to the University of Texas board of regents and then attempted to rectify what they considered to be the evils of academia. In the spring of 1942 the regents, by a four-to-two vote, fired three liberal economics instructors. Over the course of the next two years they tried to abolish the tenure system, but University of Texas president Homer Price Rainey obstinately blocked their efforts. After they proscribed John Dos Passos's novel USA from a supplemental reading list of the English Department, declaring it to be obscene and perverted, Rainey dramatically denounced the regents at a general faculty meeting on October 12, 1944. Three weeks later they fired him. Such threats to academic freedom and the growth of higher education were of utmost concern to Texans in August 1945, especially since Rainey decided to run for governor in 1946.

In turn, conditions emanating from World War II motivated minorities to demand equal partnership in Texas. Blacks, suffering from segregation under the "separate but equal" clause of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), saw no change in attitude by Governor Stevenson. In Texarkana on July 13, 1942, a mob dragged black Texan Willie Vinson from a hospital bed and hanged him after he was identified by a white woman as the man who had victimized her; the governor, however, took no action on the matter, reasoning that "even a white man would have been lynched for this crime." Again on the night of June 15, 1943, when a riot exploded in Beaumont, where three people were killed and hundreds injured, Stevenson ordered the President Pro Tem of the Senate to handle it since both he and Lieutenant Governor John Lee Smith were, at that time, out of the state. Then in 1944 came the Smith v. Allwright decision and in August 1945 the end of the war. Since 257,798 black Texans had registered under the selective-service system and approximately one-third had served in segregated units usually commanded by white officers, they returned home after being discharged more militant in their demands for equal rights under the law. Mexican Americans were also discriminated against, but usually in less obvious ways. In 1945 thousands of Mexican Americans, upon returning home from service to their country-five had won the Medal of Honor-were determined to seek equality under the law. By 1948 the American G.I. Forum was formed to protest discrimination against Mexican-American veterans and soldiers. As for women, after their many contributions to the war effort both on the home front and militarily, they too began to demand equality, having been placed in the same category, one writer stated, "with minors and idiots." Although having the right to vote, they could not serve on juries and grand juries until January 1, 1955. Nor could a woman buy a car or house or stocks and bonds, make contracts, agree to promissory notes, sue if injured, or sign a bail bond without her husband's signature. In fact, she could not establish a business without the court's permission and, even then, could not have a credit rating. And besides suffering salary discrimination both in public and private sectors, women had to endure a double standard under the law. As much as anything else, however, in 1945 Texas women had to combat "tradition and custom," Judge Sarah T. Hughes insightfully asserted, as well as being "satisfied with their role" or "too humble about their abilities."

Yet during World War II the most obvious changes in Texas were demographic and economic. Because of wartime demands people migrated to the state in increasing numbers, as many as 450,000 in less than four years. Since industrial jobs were plentiful in or near such cities as Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth, Texans saw rapid urbanization, along with its accompanying benefits and evils. In turn, oil became the dominant resource and commodity in the state-cotton and cattle were no longer "king"-and the petrochemical industry along the Gulf Coast stimulated the economy. Texans, however, had instituted a more diversified approach in productivity during the war years. In West Texas, from El Paso to the Pecos River to the Panhandle, farmers depended more and more on irrigation and scientific agriculture; in East Texas a number of people shifted to dairying and cattle ranching, while maintaining a prosperous lumber industry; and, from Brownsville to Laredo, the Rio Grande valley continued its development as a lush truck-farming and citrus country. With better roads connecting all parts of the state, with rural electrification touching even the most remote areas, and with more than 600,000 veterans returning home in anticipation of enjoying greater freedoms and the benefits of a victorious war, Texas in 1945 was moving to a more diversified, urban status.


Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). Alwyn Barr and Robert A. Calvert, eds., Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981). Seymour V. Connor, ed., Saga of Texas Series, Vol. 6, Seth S. McKay and Odie B. Faulk, Texas After Spindletop, 1901–1965 (Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1965). C. Dwight Dorough, Mr. Sam (New York: Random House, 1962). George N. Green, The Establishment in Texas Politics (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1979). Richard B. Henderson, Maury Maverick: A Political Biography (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970). William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper, 1963). Seth Shepard McKay, W. Lee O'Daniel and Texas Politics, 1938–1942 (Lubbock: Texas Tech Press, 1944). Irvin M. May, Jr., Marvin Jones: The Public Life of an Agrarian Advocate (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1980). Lionel V. Patenaude, Texans, Politics and the New Deal (New York: Garland, 1983). Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Roosevelt: The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1959). Bascom N. Timmons, Jesse H. Jones (New York: Holt, 1956).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Ben H. Procter, "WORLD WAR II," accessed August 25, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 31, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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