Author Bill Minutaglio took the title for his latest book, “A Single Star and Bloody Knuckles: A History Of Politics And Race In Texas,” from the words of a Texas politician many may not remember – Vice President John Nance Garner.
“He said, ‘If you want to play politics in Texas, you’re going to get your knuckles bloodied. You’re going to have to get down on the mat and do some wrestling and fighting,'” Minutaglio told Texas Standard.
Along with stories of rough-and-tumble political battles in the state, Minutaglio says he wanted to focus on people who hadn’t been written about in previous political histories of the state. He says many of them were essentially anonymous, and often worked to address issues of racial inequality.
“They weren’t deep-wedded members of political parties, but they were the ones driving a lot of the discussion and debate, and ultimately change, especially around racial matters,” he said.
Minutaglio says the murder of George Floyd, and the national reckoning catalyzed by that tragedy, convinced him that it made even more sense to “view Texas through the prism of folks who were trying to change things in the racial arena.”
Minutaglio employs the metaphor of a dinner party to imagine Texas political figures meeting to talk about what they’d done and seen. He would include Jovita Idar, a journalist in Laredo and San Antonio who protected her newspaper’s printing press from Texas Rangers sent to destroy it. Idar had angered authorities with her writing about immigration and the border.
“She stood in the doorway, folded her arms and said, ‘You shall not enter. You shall not pass,'” Minutaglio said.
Minutaglio would also invite women’s rights advocate and union organizer Emma Tenayuca to his dinner. She began organizing workers in San Antonio as a teenager.
“[She] basically took down an entire industry, the pecan-shelling industry in San Antonio, which was not an insignificant business, and a big corporate cornerstone of South Texas,” Minutaglio said.