Come one, come all to the Democratic Fun-Fest. The letter below sent to Billie Carr outlines logistics like how to name your booth, for example the Amy Carter Lemonade Stand. It would have been interesting to know what “fun” name Carr came up with for her fortune teller and fish pond booths.
Lately, the Billie Carr political papers have been getting some attention. In honor of the start of Women’s History Month, let’s shine a light on the woman and her work.
Billie McClain Carr (later known as “The Godmother” for her work on behalf of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party) was born in Houston, Texas, June 1, 1928. She grew up near downtown Houston, graduated from Sam Houston High School in 1946, and married three months later; she had three sons, and over the years took courses at South Texas College and the University of Houston.
Carr’s activities as a political organizer began in 1952, when political issues in Texas stirred her to run for Democratic chairman of her precinct and she unexpectedly won. Soon afterward she became a protégé of Frankie Randolph, a leader and benefactress of liberal causes who helped found the Harris County Democrats (a liberal precinct organization) in 1953. She taught Carr the art of grass roots political organizing, and over time Carr assumed a leadership role in Harris County Democrats and began to establish a statewide reputation as an organizer, convention strategist, and spokesperson for the statewide liberal coalition.
In 1954 Carr was elected a member from her precinct to the Harris County Democratic Executive Committee, serving in that capacity until 1972; she was also Harris County’s member on the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee from 1964 to 1966. She was a leader in efforts to achieve proportional liberal participation in presidential conventions and became nationally known in the Democratic Party for taking a rump delegation to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, an action which helped initiate a party-wide set of reforms abolishing the use of the unit rule by which conservative Democrats had been able to minimize the election of liberals as delegates to presidential conventions.
As a liberal activist and strategist, Carr also fought for civil rights. She protested the Vietnam War and fought for women’s rights in the 1970s, and for gay rights in the 1980s. She helped organize the 1966 campaign leading to the election of Barbara Jordan, the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate, and was later described by U. S. Rep. Mickey Leland as “the grand old lady of liberal politics” for her efforts in helping a number of minority candidates (including himself) win political office. She later established a business, Billie Carr & Associates, specializing in campaign and other political services.
In 1972 Carr was elected to serve as a member of the Democratic National Committee (a position she held until 2000); there she was elected “whip” for the progressive-reform caucus and in June 1981 was elected chair of the newly-formed Progressive-Liberal Caucus. At various periods she also served on the Credentials Committee, the Platform Advisory Committee on Older Citizens, and the Executive Committee. She passed away in 2003.
If you’d like to hear more from Carr, check out her oral history conducted by Rice’s own Dr. Chandler Davidson from 1974.