|Cotton bales await railway transport
City sees big growth after cotton takes root
By Doug Hensley
for the Avalanche-Journal
Once Lubbock began to emerge as the crown jewel of the South Plains, its reputation as a center of agriculture literally took root.
King Cotton was but a mere prince during the advent of the city’s second quarter century of existence, but between the eternal optimism of the people who farmed and the unwavering commitment of those dedicated to improving the practice, the world’s largest cotton patch was about to take shape.
Before the 1920s and ’30s, cattle grazing was the most common practice in the area. Soon, though, residents realized the potential of the soil beneath their feet. The practice of irrigation became widespread between 1940 and 1950, enabling farmers to cultivate larger acreages.
As cotton sprouted, so, too, did an agribusiness complex. Lubbock had traveled a long way from 1904, when the county’s first gin was built.
By 1956, it was time to organize. A group established to "represent the South Plains of Texas in all cotton matters" took shape during a meeting of more than 1,200 farmers and businessmen from a 20-county area at the Fair Park Coliseum. W.O. Fortenberry, a Lubbock County farmer, was named chairman of what would become the Plains Cotton Growers, according to an A-J story.
The city’s second quarter century would forever be linked to the second World War, as well. In 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, Lubbockites responded in the same manner as citizens around the country, storming local Army and Navy recruiting offices as lines of volunteers stepped up to do their part. The bombing prompted The Avalanche-Journal to publish the first "Extra" edition in the newspaper’s 40-plus years of covering the community.
South Plains residents felt a similar sense of pride regarding an Army Air Training Base that was approved in 1941. The announcement of the long-wanted facility was made in a telegram from U.S. Rep. George Mahon in Washington, D.C.
It capped a 10-year effort by city officials to land a military base.
The first class of aviation cadets reported to Lubbock Army Flying School on Feb. 25, 1942. After graduating more than 7,000 pilots, the base was closed at the end of 1945 but was reactivated four years later. The facility was renamed Reese Air Force Base on Nov. 5, 1949, honoring Augustus Reese Jr., a Shallowater native who was killed during a bombing mission over Italy in 1943.
Reese and Lubbock enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for more than 50 years until the Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced in 1995 that Reese would be shuttered. Official deactivation came two years later, but Reese, redeveloped and repackaged with a new purpose, left an unforgettable imprint on the region and world.
Another lasting mark was left by Dr. Joseph A. Chatman, who moved to Lubbock in 1939 with $7 in his pocket and, through will and determination, soon became owner and medical director of the 30-bed, two-story Chatman Hospital with a vision to serve the citizens of East Lubbock, which was where the majority of the city’s black population resided.
When he opened the facility at 23rd Street and Cedar Avenue, there were fewer than 150 black physicians in the state.
In a 1955 A-J article, Chatman said there were no black-owned and staffed hospitals "nearer than Kansas City to the north, Fort Worth to the east, Los Angeles to the west and Corpus Christi to the south" before his hospital was built.
The doctor did more than build a hospital, though. He helped build a city. A gifted orator, Chatman said during a presentation to the Lubbock Social Welfare Society that, "Science has made this world a neighborhood, but only God can make it a brotherhood."
He went about doing his part to forge that brotherhood. He was active in a number of civic organizations and was recognized on numerous occasions for his contributions to the community. A Democrat, Chatman was the first black elected to an official post in the Lubbock County Democratic party and to serve as a delegate to the state Democratic Convention.
Texas Tech and its traditions continued to grow, as well. In 1936, George Tate, one of several Tech students to serve as a "ghost rider" at the school’s football games, made his first ride while the Matadors played TCU. The "Red Raiders," who wore red satin capes made by students, would jump on a horse and ride quickly around the field before vanishing. The school also dedicated a new 15,000-seat stadium and claimed one of its biggest wins in school history that same September night. Jim Neill scored the lone touchdown on a rainy night as Tech upended mighty TCU 7-0.
The Saddle Tramps, one of the school’s oldest spirit organizations, made its debut then, as well.
A brick drive to help complete the West Texas Museum building on the Tech campus neared 100,000 in 1940 after 4,000-brick donations by First National Bank and Lubbock National Bank.
Another tradition came to life in 1938, when classes were dismissed at noon in recognition of Arbor Day. More than 20,000 trees and shrubs were planted by faculty, staff and some 1,000 members of student organizations. Tech President Bradford Knapp is credited with starting the tradition.
By 1950, the push was on to see if Lubbock would reach 100,000 in population, a magic number that granted "metropolitan area" designation. In June of that year, the chamber of commerce announced that it would pay $1 for each name up to 2,000 of persons residing in the country who were missed in the census. The quest was to make sure no head went uncounted. The increase would be significant for Lubbock, which had a population of just more than 31,000 a decade earlier.
Tech dedicated the Student Union building in 1953, providing a central location for student life that is still enjoyed more than 50 years later. It was a convenient gathering place as well, when word came that Tech was "moving on up" as far as athletic competition was concerned.
The official word arrived at 10:32 a.m. May 12, 1956, when one of Tech’s longest-running dreams was realized: The Red Raiders had been accepted into the Southwest Conference.
Euphoria reigned across the city and throughout the campus.
DeWitt Weaver, Red Raider football coach and athletic director, and J. William Davis, longtime faculty athletics chairman, were credited with being the driving forces behind the SWC’s decision to admit its first new member since 1922. Because of scheduling challenges, Tech wouldn’t play its first SWC football game until 1960.
Exciting days were on the horizon for Tech . . . and for Lubbock.