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Caro Crawford Brown (April 2012)

Caro Crawford Brown
By Emily E. Hyatt

The citizens of Angelina County have always valued being informed of the day's news, whether local, national, or world. Once the railroad came through, Lufkin and Diboll were popular stopping places for the big city reporters that traveled the rails looking for news throughout the state, and today, researchers can usually find a mention of local stories in the Dallas or Houston papers of the late 19th and early 20th century. Though Angelina County has sometimes guarded its place "behind the pine curtain," its residents have not lived cut off from the world.

This value on news and news reporting has led to several awards for local reporters, including the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Angelina County native Caro Crawford Brown received the award in 1955 and Lufkin's own Lufkin News received the prize in 1977. Both awards recognized the writers for hard hitting investigative reporting that exposed injustice and illegal activities, resulting in excellent informative stories and real social change.

Though she moved away at the age of 15, Caro Crawford Brown was born in the sawmill town of Baber, near Huntington, where her father worked in the mill. The family moved to Beaumont when she was in high school and she never lived in Angelina County again. After high school in Beaumont, Caro attended what is now known as Texas Women's University, though the stock market crash of 1929 ended her time there. Eventually landing a job in Conroe, Texas, she met Jack Brown, they married, and by 1945 had three children. Jack eventually took a job with Texaco in South Texas, and Caro Crawford Brown traveled to the place that would shape the next part of her life.

Duval County, Texas was one of South Texas' most notorious "boss rule" counties, and its ruling bosses were Archer Parr and his son George B. Parr. Duval County was their base, but they also controlled factions in several neighboring counties, giving them "patronage" over a vast swath of South Texas. The bosses controlled the political and economic engines in these counties, often times serving as county judge or sheriff. They practiced a form of patronage reminiscent of the patróns of Mexico, financing weddings and funerals and providing aid during hard times to the poor Mexican residents of the county, who would, in turn, offer their loyalty to the boss and vote for his candidates. Bucking this system often led to recriminations - even physical harm or death.

In 1948, Caro Brown took a job at the Alice Daily Echo as a proofreader, but quickly advanced to writing her own column. She received the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for her work during the trials that followed political violence in Duval County. Hispanic World War II veterans returned from their time in the war dissatisfied with the patriarchal, racially discriminatory boss rule in South Texas and formed a new political party known as the Freedom Party. They ran candidates in 1952 elections, setting off a wave of violence intended to preserve the Parr family rule, including 3 murders. State officials sent special investigators and over the next several years handed down over 650 indictments. Caro Brown became the Associated Press reporter for the area and spent many hours sifting through documents, attending trials, and investigating, at great personal risk, the Parr machine. Eventually, her investigative efforts and articles helped the authorities with their criminal cases. George Parr himself avoided conviction, but his machine slowly unraveled and by the 1970's was ineffective and no longer in control.

The Pulitzer committee commended Caro Crawford Brown for her articles "written under unusual pressure both of edition time and difficult, even dangerous circumstances… showing professional skill and courage." Her efforts led to real change in the lives of South Texans and Angelina County is proud to claim Caro Crawford Brown as a native daughter.

*Next time, how the Lufkin News exposed military training practices that led to the death of a local man.