Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era by Max Krochmal
In Blue Texas, Max Krochmal meticulously documents the formulation of the Democratic Coalition in Texas, which comprised progressive leaders from African American, Mexican American, and liberal white communities [End Page 243] that intermittently combined forces to attack the most difficult barriers blocking access to social, economic, and political power for countless disadvantaged Texans. Krochmal outlines the decades-long process, beginning on the eve of the New Deal in the 1930s and moving to the mid-1960s, in which Texan reformers of all races participated in a slow, yet steady process of experimentation in the realm of interracial cooperation, characterized by brief periods of crossing racial lines, forming connections, and learning lessons for future battles.
This interracial cooperation among civil rights leaders, political progressives, and labor reformers, however, did not come easily or naturally, and when it did occur, it was only in fleeting moments. For the most part, Krochmal does acknowledge that separate movements were being created, but claims that rather than following parallel paths, the various entities often crisscrossed when it was beneficial. The author particularly emphasizes the forgotten degree of intraracial disagreement present within each group. It was precisely this dissention between conservative and progressive leaders that often made these brief, yet effective, alliances necessary.
The chronological manner in which Krochmal organizes his ten chapters underscores his point that the creation of the Democratic Coalition was indeed a process comprising trial-and-error and experimentation. Each chapter focuses on a particular movement in one of Texas's urban centers, spanning the spectrum from civil rights struggles to labor unrest, voter mobilization, and registration efforts. In each case, a pattern emerged in which barriers blocking the path to interracial cooperation were overcome by mutually beneficial efforts, only to be followed by the collapse of the new alliances. Although moments of cooperation may have been brief, Krochmal sees them as producing some of the most profound changes in the social, economic and political order of Texas. He also sees these collaborations as a blue print for progressives in Texas hoping to continue the unfinished work of the Democratic Coalition.
Krochmal is an excellent writer, and his book is simply an enjoyable read. He is able to bring fascinating characters to life through his deft use of oral histories and archival material, allowing the reader an up-close-and-personal glimpse at grassroots reformers of all races in Texas. Krochmal is certainly passionate about his subject matter, which makes his book a vivid account of a difficult and harrowing struggle. On the other hand, a slight lack of objectivity on the part of the author makes obvious who the heroes and villains in the story are, and it is abundantly clear for whom the author is rooting.
This does not detract from Krochmal's significant scholarly contribution, one that spans a number of historical fields. The book won the 2016 Coral Horton Tullis Prize for the best book on Texas history. It is a must-read for historians studying black-brown relations and anyone researching grassroots civil rights activities in Texas and the Southwest or even as a [End Page 244] piece of the larger effort to uncover the contributions of ordinary people. His extensive discussion of labor activists and their vital role in his story of interracial cooperation in Texas is certainly something that labor historians in Texas cannot do without. Those simply interested in a fresh take on Texas politics during the mid-twentieth century will certainly find new nuggets of wisdom to challenge old modes of thinking.