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Bud Kennedy: Texas had two Thanksgivings? Yes, we were stubborn turkeys

Fort Worth Star-Telegram logoFort Worth Star-Telegram 11/25/2020 Bud Kennedy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

We’re ornery about everything in Texas.

Including Thanksgiving.

As late as 64 years ago, Texans dined twice on turkey dinners, because the Lone Star State celebrated Thanksgiving on a completely different day from the rest of America.

Until 1956, Texas’ official state Thanksgiving holiday was the last Thursday in November. Some years, that’s a week after the national holiday, which was originally cussed in Texas as a federal abomination.

In the newspapers, the two holidays were called “Texas Thanksgiving” and (President Franklin) “Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving.”

The Star-Telegram headlined: “Take Your Pick, 2 Days Slated for Thanksgiving.”

Stores and federal post offices closed on the federal holiday. But public schools and state colleges and offices closed the following week.

“Big business caused it,” an unnamed “woman shopper” complained in The Dallas Morning News.

Actually, politics caused it.

Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel

The new, earlier holiday was derided as a business scheme and Roosevelt’s “New Deal Thanksgiving.”

“While much of the world is at war,” O’Daniel said, “ … we, the citizens of Texas, have so much for which we should be thankful, we can very well observe two days of thanksgiving.”

The double Thanksgivings came again in 1940 and 1941. Texas’ turkey breeders liked the extra sales.

Football also played a part. The 1939 college rivalry games, including the University of Texas-Texas A&M game, had already been scheduled on the last Thursday before Roosevelt’s proclamation.

Texas couldn’t afford to be thankful twice, because state workers wanted to take both holidays.

A ‘states’ rights’ Thanksgiving

Still, the Texas Legislature bickered mightily over changing it.

State Rep. Calvin Matthew from Cuero, “turkey capital of the world,” fought hard to protect the bird business: “You’re cutting in half the number of turkeys we can sell.”

With civil rights and school desegregation both prominent issues, state Rep. James Cotten of Weatherford called for Texas to defend celebrating its own separate Thanksgiving as “states’ rights”: “It is a Texas tradition and a Texas holiday.”

Never mind that Texas was solely American Indian country when the Pilgrims feasted in Massachusetts. Or that when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving in 1863 during the Civil War, Texas was fighting on the other side.

Even in 1956, State Rep. Scott McDonald, a Fort Worth attorney, was making the same states’ rights argument.

“Don’t you think if Texas holds the line, the other states will come along with us?” he asked.

By then, Texas had celebrated a separate Thanksgiving seven times in the 17 years since 1939.

Finally, in May 1957, Gov. Price Daniel — a graduate of Fort Worth’s Central High School, now Paschal — signed a new set of Texas holidays into law, aligning the state and federal Thanksgiving.

In conservative Montague County, the Saint Jo Tribune complained that he “went Yankee.”

A ‘Yankee institution’

That wasn’t even the first time Texas went rogue on Thanksgiving.

From 1879 to 1882, we had a governor who refused to declare the holiday.

Gov. O.M. Roberts hated it.

He called it a “damned Yankee institution.”

Not until 1868 did Texas first celebrate Thanksgiving.

Even then, the Austin State Gazette mocked the day and asked why any Texan should ever celebrate “Reconstruction, the 14th amendment and [n-word] voting.”

Roberts called Thanksgiving a “religious exercise.” He said prayer wasn’t a government function.

Northern newspapers did not take him well.

The Cleveland Dealer called Roberts an “unrepentant rebel and traitor.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that he “seems determined to keep up his state’s record for barbarism.”

Even the Southern New Orleans Times called him “the most consummate demagogue … pandering to the worst prejudices.”

A 1907 Star-Telegram story calls him a Texas hero while adding casually that his slogan was “ ‘Civilization begins and ends with the plow’ — the motto of the Aryan race.”

Texas was stubborn about more than Thanksgiving.

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©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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