The journalistic profession has not always been a safe one in Duval County. Neither has it been boring. Newspapermen and women covering Duval County over the years have won a Pulitzer Prize and a pass to the graveyard. At least one reporter has lost his life while in pursuit of the truth of Duval County corruption.
Such was the volatility of the county’s political history, especially in the 1950s. In 1952, returning World War II and Korean War veterans launched their own assault against the decidedly undemocratic Parr regime. It made for a decade-long struggle, making the 1950s tense times in Duval County.
While the Duval County Facts was a newspaper of longstanding in Duval County, it had never been an activist organ. The Facts, which began publication in the 1920s and seized printing in the mid 1960s, reported information that did not make waves. It served an important function as the chronicler of the weekly affairs of the community but it shied away from the political controversy of the Parrs.
Outside news organizations had to report the dicey political developments in Duval County. In nearby Alice, the Alice Daily Echo and the Alice News (a weekly) picked up some of the slack. The metro daily, the Corpus Christi Caller, also fed off the Duval County scene. Another Corpus Christi newspaper, the Spanish weekly La Verdad, also actively reported the Duval County political shenanigans. In its heyday of the 1950s, every major Texas newspaper had an interest in Duval County and the Duke of Duval. Even the auspicious New York Times reported many a Duval County tale.
One reporter, Caro Brown, with the Alice Daily Echo, won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting of Duval County and George B. Parr’s escapades. Her colleague, Bill Mason with an Alice radio station, was not as fortunate. Mason was shot and killed because of his stories. Ironically, the story that did him in did not involve Parr corruption.
Mason aggressively reported the Duke’s political skullduggery but it was a story about a bar-owning daughter of a Jim Wells County deputy that caused his demise. The deputy gunned down Mason after an unfavorable report about his daughter.
Given the atmosphere of the times, most folks believed that Mason’s death resulted from his uncompromising reporting of Parr’s activities. Parr pointed out that he was part owner of the radio station at which Mason worked.
It is no wonder, that when I started the Duval County Picture in 1986 so many people would ask whether I feared for my life in reporting so straightforwardly about Duval County politics. The truth is I never feared physical harm. One childhood friend, who was actively involved in politics with the faction most adversely affected by the Picture’s reporting, informed me that my antagonists had a nickname for me.
“What is it,” I asked.
“Marroquin,” he responded.
Manuel Marroquin had been the owner of a tortilla factory and drive-in restaurant in the outskirts of San Diego, just across the county line in Jim Wells County. He joined the Parr opposition, known as the Freedom Party, and eventually was forced to leave town. In January 1956, Marroquin began publication of New Duval, an independent weekly of general information. It proclaimed in its banner (in Spanish) “To tell the truth is to serve the society and community you represent.” He published his newspaper for less than a year before Parr’s pistoleros forced him into exile.
My detractors’ nickname for me was their way of sending me a message that they would force me into exile as well.
“Tell your friends that they do not have the nerve Parr had and I have more mettle than Marroquin,” was what I told my friend. I actually used cruder language.
I tendered the retort as self-protecting bravado. I certainly had no intention to besmirch the memory of Manuel Marroquin who was indeed a very courageous man. I remember Marroquin as a short, barrel-chested man. He was my parents’ compadre, although I do not know exactly which of my siblings he was Godfather to or for which sacrament.
As a news reporter, Marroquin held nothing back. His style, while strongly biased, was very blunt, often referring to George Parr as a “clown.”