Sam Rayburn History: Rayburn and His District

On Thursday, July 22, the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site and the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History’s Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham teamed up for an in-depth webinar exploring the life and career of one of the most influential Americans in the 20th century. 

This was the first in a new series delving into specific facets of Sam Rayburn’s personal life and political career, focused on Rayburn’s deep-rooted ties to the Fourth Congressional District of Texas and the projects he was able to secure for his people. 

Please enjoy this recording of the webinar Sam Rayburn History: Rayburn and His District. 

We were able to answer most questions during the webinar. However, there were a couple that required a little research. After some investigation, we were able to answer these below: 

Sam Rayburn was instrumental in a major change to the Pledge of Allegiance. Can you comment? 

Since its introduction in 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance has been revised four times: first in the year it was written, adding the second “to”; second, changing “my Flag” to “the Flag of the United States” in 1923; third, adding “of America” in 1924; and finally, seeing the addition of “under God” in 1954.  

Sam Rayburn served in Congress during three of the four changes. However, Congress was not involved in the initial changes to the Pledge; those were made by the National Flag Conference. It wasn’t until June of 1942 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint congressional resolution adding the Pledge into the 1923 Flag Code. 

Over the next decade, public sentiment pushed the idea of adding the phrase “under God” after “one Nation,” and strengthened with the election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In early 1953, Democratic Representative Louis C. Rabaut of Michigan sponsored a resolution to incorporate “under God” into the pledge.  

In the Senate, a similar resolution was sponsored by Homer Ferguson in 1954. The measure quickly found bipartisan support and was sent to be signed into law by President Eisenhower on Flag Day—June 14, 1954. 

As Speaker, it was rare for Sam Rayburn to take the floor or even speak publicly about legislation. While there is a Pledge of Allegiance file in the Sam Rayburn papers at the Dolph Briscoe Center, unfortunately they have not been digitized and are currently unavailable due to COVID.  

Did Speaker Rayburn ever make a public statement about the race riot in Sherman in 1930? 

The Sherman race riot was sparked when an African American man named George Hughes was accused of assaulting his white employer’s wife. While Hughes surrendered to the sheriff, stories of the attack quickly spread, escalating with each retelling. As the public grew angrier, officers moved Hughes from the jail to ensure his safety.  

On the day the trial was scheduled to start, a mob gathered outside the courthouse. They forced open the courtroom corridor doors just as the first witness had begun testimony. The Texas Rangers cleared the courtroom, and Hughes was taken to the district court vault for protection. By mid-afternoon, hostilities had reached a fever pitch, and a fire was started in the county tax collector’s office that quickly spread throughout the building.  

It is uncertain whether Hughes refused to leave the vault or if it was unable to be opened, but the result was the same. George Hughes perished in the vault. That evening, his body was recovered by the mob and dragged behind a car to the Black business district, where he was hung from a tree. The mob set a fire under Hughes’ body and burned most of the town’s Black businesses. 

As far as we can find, Sam Rayburn never made a public statement or spoke to the press regarding the attack. However, when a fellow congressman spoke out, claiming Texans were more interested in upholding Prohibition than preventing the lynching, Rayburn did speak before Congress on July 3, 1930: “…the mob at Sherman was certainly not gathered because the county and the State are for prohibition.”  

He went on to give a brief accounting of the event and stated that the majority of the people of Grayson County were not involved in the mob. “Such regrettable instances as that which happened at Sherman happen in many sections of the country. It is not just, it is not fair, it is not truthful to indict a whole people.” His entire statement can be found in the congressional record, available online at Congress.gov. 

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