Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

In the Governor's Shadow: The True Story of Ma and Pa Ferguson

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

In the Governor's Shadow: The True Story of Ma and Pa Ferguson

Article excerpt

In the Governor's Shadow: The True Story of Ma and Pa Ferguson. By Carol O'Keefe Wilson. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2014. Pp. [xvii], 302. $29.95, ISBN 978-1-57441-553-7.)

With this sturdy and intimate political history, Carol O'Keefe Wilson comes to bury the Texas political couple James "Pa" and Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, not to praise them. The subtitle, though trite, serves notice of Wilson's intent to relegate the revisionism of Ferguson apologists--which, she argues, has yielded over the decades an inaccurate public memory of the family and its politics--to the dustier enclaves of university libraries. Though

her prose struggles to find eloquence, Wilson largely succeeds in this endeavor, generously seasoning her narrative with a measure of detail heretofore lacking in Ferguson historiography. As befits a certified public accountant and former fraud examiner, Wilson locates James's insatiable appetite for wealth at the heart of his political ambition, and the monograph excels in making this case.

Less convincing is Wilson's explanation for the gubernatorial victories of Miriam in the years following James's 1917 impeachment. To account for her 1924 win--a candidacy cast transparently as a Trojan horse for her disgraced husband--Wilson lays blame decisively at the feet of the Ku Klux Klan, whose escalating influence birthed an opposing electoral coalition of strange bedfellows that seemingly catapulted Miriam to victory. Wilson is right to see an anti-Klan insurgency animating Miriam's candidacy. The Republican ticket, however, was no less hostile to the Klan but was hamstrung by an untimely tactical blunder that forced a replacement candidate with barely a month to campaign. These drawbacks did not prevent the Texas GOP from enjoying its strongest gubernatorial electoral returns to date. …

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