Past Treasure of the Month – April 2020

The Galveston City Party
Buttons worn by volunteers for the Galveston City Party (gift of the Estate of J.A. Niederman).

Buttons worn by volunteers for the Galveston City Party (gift of the Estate of J.A. Niederman).

During the early decades of the 20th century, several local political parties including the Popular Party, the Galveston Business Party, and the Independent Citizens Party were active in Galveston elections. A fourth party — the Galveston City Party — formally organized its membership in April 1919.

During the spring of 1919, a group of citizens met to discuss their common desire to establish a new political party on the island. In April of that year, representatives from each of the city’s twelve wards formed a nomination committee to select City Party candidates for mayor and city commissioners. In addition to creating their ticket, the group adopted a party platform.

Campaign buttons won by supporters of the City Party during the 1931 election cycle (library collection).

Campaign buttons won by supporters of the City Party during the 1931 election cycle (library collection).

The City Party’s platform stated its commitment to serve in the best interest of tax-paying residents. Members advocated for improved lighting, street and alley maintenance, and better drainage. Additionally, they wished to extend the city’s sewer system to neighborhoods on the island’s western end and strongly supported the grade raising.

City Party members demanded that Galveston residents be given priority in regards to employment with the city. They advocated for compensation insurance for city employees who became ill or disabled. The City Party’s platform called for fair wages, reasonable hours, and safe conditions for workers; they also desired to create a pension fund for city employees.

In a 1923 political advertisement, candidates for the City Party pledged to treat all community members in a fair and honest way “regardless of race, creed, color, or position.” From the beginning, the membership of the City Party included both white and African-American citizens. During the Jim Crow era of segregated public facilities, the party’s platform included the establishment of a park, playground, and bathhouse for African-Americans.

The City Party’s membership included some of the island’s most prominent and successful business leaders. Among the primary concerns of these individuals was the partial municipal ownership of the Galveston Wharves. In 1909, the City of Galveston received one-third ownership of the Galveston Wharf Company as a result of a settlement from a long-standing lawsuit. Under this arrangement, the City was allowed to appoint three of the nine directors on the Wharf Company’s board.

Accusations of conflicts of interest and political corruption arose, prompting residents to join the City Party in its push to oppose municipal ownership of the wharves. During the 1920s and 1930s, the City Party dominated local politics.

In 1940, the City of Galveston bought out the company’s shareholders and converted the wharves into a private utility governed by an independent board of directors. In 1943, Galveston City Party leaders announced in the Galveston Daily News that the organization would no longer be active in local politics.

Rosenberg Library’s Galveston and Texas History Center preserves a collection of records related to the Galveston City Party which is available to researchers.