Revered by many Texans and other Americans as “the People’s Senator,” Ralph Webster Yarborough (1903–1996) fought for “the little people” in a political career that places him in the ranks of the most influential leaders in Texas history. The only U. S. Senator representing a former Confederate state to vote for every significant piece of modern civil rights legislation, Yarborough became a cornerstone of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs in the areas of education, environmental preservation, and health care. In doing so, he played a major role in the social and economic modernization of Texas and the American South. He often defied conventional political wisdom with his stands against powerful political interests and with his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet to this day, his admirers speak of Yarborough as an inspiration for public service and a model of political independence and integrity.
This biography offers the first in-depth look at the life and career of Ralph Yarborough. Patrick L. Cox draws on Yarborough’s personal and professional papers, as well as on extensive interviews with the Senator and his associates, to follow Yarborough from his formative years in East Texas through his legal and judicial career in the 1930s, decorated military service in World War II, unsuccessful campaigns for Texas governor in the 1950s, distinguished tenure in the United States Senate from 1957 to 1970, and return to legal practice through the 1980s.
Although Yarborough’s liberal politics set him at odds with most of the Texas power brokers of his time, including Lyndon Johnson, his accomplishments have become part of the national fabric. Medicare recipients, beneficiaries of the Cold War G. I. Bill, and even beachcombers on Padre Island National Seashore all share in the lasting legacy of Senator Ralph Yarborough.
Patrick Cox is the former Associate Director for Congressional and Political History at the Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.