1956: King Cotton South Plains farmers vote to establish West Texas organization

An organization to “represent the South Plains of Texas in all cotton matters” was voted into being at 3:34 p.m. Tuesday by the unanimous standing vote of more than 1,200 farmers and businessmen from a 20-county area surrounding Lubbock.

 

The action at Fair Park Coliseum was seen as ushering in a new era of importance for the region by giving it a powerful, organized voice in legislative halls and by providing it a vehicle for the promotion of West Texas Cotton.

W.O. Fortenberry, Lubbock County farmer and agricultural leader, was named chairman of the new group.

A name for the organization will be selected at a meeting of the directors at noon Friday in the Caprock Hotel. Organizational and financing details also will be worked out at that time.

The board of directors includes two men — one farmer and one businessman — from each of 18 counties represented at Tuesday’s mass meeting. Those present from each county held a “county caucus” to elect their directors.

Two other counties represented at the gathering will name directors later. Other counties may become members in a manner to be prescribed by the board of directors.

The organization, first of its kind ever formed to represent the South Plains, climaxed two hours of discussion at the Tuesday meeting, which itself climaxed weeks of planning and years of need.

As envisioned, the organization will work for legislation favorable to the South Plains cotton industry fight for the area’s “fair share” of acreage allotments, work for greater user of West Texas cotton in the spinning mills, promote the use of cotton products in this area and elsewhere, work for better cotton markets, especially as affecting this area, and serve as a watchdog over the South Plains’ cotton interests in general.

Proof that the area’s farmers and businessmen agree that their futures are “tied together was provided in the fact that, of the 1,179 who registered Tuesday, 754 were farmers and 425 were businessmen. Another 60 to 100 persons at the gathering did not register.

In opening the meeting, Fortenberry, who served as chairman of a steering committee for the organizational gathering, pointed out that “we grow 10 percent of the cotton grown in the United States, as much or more than any other state except Texas.

“Certainly we have the right to a voice in the decisions in Austin and Washington that affect the cotton industry. We have the right to an organization to look after the interests of cotton in this great cotton empire.”

Expressing the thanks of the group to The Avalanche-Journal, which rented the Coliseum for the meeting and which sparked the drive for the organization, Fortenberry quoted Chas. A. Guy, editor and publisher of the newspaper, and agreed with him that “there isn’t a man on thse Plains who in some way isn’t tied to agriculture.”

Guy, in turn, pledged “continued support” to the organization by the newspaper, saying, “if cotton doesn’t do well out here, if agriculture in general doesn’t do well out here, neither will any business.”

Other speakers, including farmers Sherman Nelson, Jack Yarbrough, Charles Hedtes and Wilmer Smith, banker Charles Signor and agriculturalist Don L. Jones, defined the aims and ambitions of the new organization.

Attaching what he called a “widespread and untrue belief that West Texas cotton is inferior cotton,” Jones urged as one of the aims of the organization the puncturing of that belief.

“An organization such as this can ferret out where that information is coming from and prove it untrue,” the chief of the agricultural experiment station here asserted.

He explained that this area’s shorter, cooler growing period cuts the staple length of its cotton, but he said that this shorter staple doesn’t make it inferior cotton.

“Every other area of the cotton belt has been sniping at us,” said Smith, a Lynn County farmer.

“Nobody will be as quick to attack us if we’re organized,” added Jones.

“We must promote the sale of our product,” Smith said, “so that we can take over the market. We can do it because spinners can blend our cotton with longer cotton and not turn out an inferior yard. We produce a standard cotton. We must promote it 100 per cent of the time.”

The “cotton-versus-synthetic” problem also entered the discussion.

Signor, vice president of Lubbock National Bank, pointed out that the cotton industry as a whole spends only 20 cents per bale – or per $150 worth of product — in promoting cotton. The synthetic industry on the other hand, spends $6 per $150 worth of product on promotion, he said. This promotion, he added, has resulted in synthetic materials taking many markets away from cotton. Wood, he noted also, competes with cotton for many markets.

Even in this area, he noted, cotton producers and businessmen themselves buy less than half of their clothing in cotton. Only 10 percent of the carpeting used in this cotton area is made of cotton, he said.

“If we’re going to do any yelling, maybe we ought to take a little inventory of our own area,” he included.

 

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