UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 29, 2009

RECOVERED HISTORY: CREEKMORE FATH

One of those who helped your editor when he first arrived to cover Washington in 1957 has passed. Creekmore Fath - both a character and a man of character - was then in his 50s; I was 19. He was of a sort one doesn't find in the capital any more.

Washington Post - Creekmore Fath, 93, an Austin lawyer and one of the last of the FDR New Dealers, died June 25 of renal failure at his home in Austin. Mr. Fath held several positions in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration and played a key role in several important Texas elections, including the controversial 87-vote "landslide" that sent Lyndon B. Johnson to the Senate in 1948.

In 1940, Mr. Fath left a fledgling law practice in Austin to become a staff attorney with a House committee chaired by Rep. John H. Tolan (D-Calif.) that was investigating the plight of destitute migrant workers.

Twenty-three years old and unfamiliar with the ways of Washington, Mr. Fath didn't know that he had signed on to work for a select committee slated to disband when a new Congress convened in 1941. When he found out, he suggested asking first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to testify before the committee as a way to generate publicity and keep the committee in business. He reminded committee members that she had expressed concern in her newspaper columns for the Okies and other Dust Bowl migrant workers.

"Okay, Creekmore, you take care of that," Tolan said. The veteran lawmaker laughed, and his fellow committee members laughed with him. They knew, as Mr. Fath did not, that no first lady had ever testified on Capitol Hill.

The next morning, Mr. Fath called the White House and talked to Malvina Thompson, Mrs. Roosevelt's secretary. "I told her I desperately needed to use Mrs. Roosevelt at a hearing in December, that I wanted to use her as the gimmick," he recalled.

Mrs. Roosevelt invited him to tea at the White House the next afternoon, and, after clearing it with her husband, she agreed to testify. The panel stayed in business, in large part because of her endorsement of its work.

Later, Thompson told Mr. Fath that Mrs. Roosevelt agreed to meet with him because he was the only one who had ever admitted that he wanted to "use" her. Thompson also told Mr. Fath that the first lady had said, "I wanted to meet him because he sounds like he's 14 years old.". . .

When Mr. Fath arrived in Washington, he was tall, prematurely bald and politically astute, and he soon developed a gravitas that inspired confidence. "Creekmore Fath has the best political judgment of anyone his age in Washington," President Roosevelt was quoted as saying.. . .

After turning down an offer to teach patent law at Yale University, Mr. Fath, at 30, took his wife with him back to Austin. He resumed his law practice and plunged into Democratic Party politics. He also announced for Congress as an unreconstructed New Dealer. He and his wife campaigned in a car with a canoe roped on top and painted with the slogan, "Fath for Congress . . . He Paddles His Own Canoe." He finished third in the primary. . .

Mr. Fath never liked Johnson, personally or politically, but in 1948, he agreed to help him in his U.S. Senate race against former governor Coke Stevenson. Mr. Fath considered the governor a racist.

Johnson won the Democratic primary by 87 highly questionable votes, and the outcome hinged on a notoriously corrupt South Texas county that reported election results late. A Johnson partisan told Mr. Fath: "Well, they were stealing in East Texas. We were stealing in South Texas. So God only knows who really won the election, Creek. But today, God was on our side by 87 votes."

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