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Judge Marvin Jones Oral History Interview, April 3, 1970

Oral History Interview with Judge Marvin Jones

Member of U.S. House of Representatives (from Texas), 1917-40; Judge, U.S. Court of Claims, 1940-43; U.S. War Food Administrator, 1943-45 (on leave from U.S. Court of Claims); Chief Justice, U.S. Court of Claims, 1947-64; and Senior Judge, 1964 to the present.

Washington, D.C.
April 3, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Jones Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened May, 1971
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Jones Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
Judge Marvin Jones

Washington, D.C.
April 3, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Judge, before we get into the days of the War Food Administration and Mr. Truman's administration, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where and when were you born?

JONES: I was born in the country, on a farm, about ten miles south of Gainesville, Texas on February 26, 1884; I believe that's the date. I grew up on the farm, went to country school, one room schoolhouse, and I took an examination for a teacher's certificate when I was sixteen


years old and passed it and was given a certificate to teach in the state; but the trustees would take one look at me and say, "You are too young to manage our school." I taught school one year when I was only about eighteen or nineteen years old.

HESS: What grades did you teach?

JONES: There were no grades. I just taught a one room country school one year at Elm Grove. I was a tenant farmer one year, growing both wheat and cotton. Father had eleven children, nine of them lived to adulthood. He wasn't able to send us to college on the farm prices of those days.

I followed a schoolteacher out to Miami, Texas, in the Panhandle of Texas, in 1901. I was very fond of the teacher and went to school out there a year in a school that was


called Miami College. It was really a good high school. I was graduated from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. That's the predecessor of Southern Methodist University. I finished a four-year college course there in three years. I worked my way through school and paid my own expenses. I won the Commencement Debate at Southwestern, which was regarded as the school event of the year.

I then entered the law school at the University of Texas. I took a three year law course there in two years, and was the second man in the class, and was appointed one of the three quizmasters. We conducted weekly quizzes and graded papers for the weekly quizzes. I won an oratorical prize -- a gold watch.

In 1908 I located in Amarillo, Texas for the practice of my chosen profession. I practiced law there seven years. I was chosen by the


Court of Civil Appeals as Chairman of the Board of Legal Examiners for the people who wanted to practice law in the sixty-nine counties of the Court of Appeals District.

I had wanted to get into politics from the time that I can first remember. I ran for Congress in 1916. The sitting man was John H. Stephens of Vernon, Texas. There were fifty-three counties in the 13th Congressional District which was 20 percent larger than the State of Ohio and larger than any state east of the Mississippi except Georgia. Georgia had fifty-nine thousand, and Ohio had forty-three thousand square miles.

HESS: Was that all of the Texas Panhandle?

JONES: All the Texas Panhandle and went down into North Texas -- it had been gerrymandered.

HESS: How far down did they go?


JONES: They went down within thirty-five miles of Dallas, Cook, Denton, Wise, Montague -- a shoestring district. It was more than 400 miles long.

HESS: What was the population back then? Do you recall?

JONES: There hadn't been a redistricting for twenty years and they had at that time nearly seven hundred thousand population. The Legislature had difficulties in redistricting the large state. I knew they would redistrict soon. I thought it was a good time to run. A whole group of men I knew were planning to run as soon as there was a redistricting act.

I announced in 1916, and two other men announced. One was a rich man, Reuben Ellerd. I carried all but five of the counties. I really worked at it. I bought a Model T and I drove


it like the wind, worked day and night, wore myself out, but I was elected.

HESS: Did the other men work as hard as you did?

JONES: No, they didn't. They spent more money. One of them didn't work anything like as hard and the other one was a great big man, physically -- he was also a great talker. He spent a lot of money, a lot of money for those days, and I didn't have it to spend, so I used his lavish expenditure of money as my text. I said it's his money, he has a right to spend it in any way he wishes.

We didn't have loud speakers much in those days. There were no movies -- no radios. People came to public speaking in that era. I would say, "It's Mr. Ellerd's money. I'm not criticizing his spending, but," I said, "I want to talk to you about approving that lavish


expenditure of money in seeking public office. If you want to close the door of opportunity to every young man in the country, this is the way to do it. In England, the men with money are in the House of Lords. They don't get any salary. The body has only rich men, and much of the legislation for the people is killed in the House of Lords because they don't understand the needs of average people. Do you want to make a House of Lords out of the .American Congress?"

I would see a boy standing by his dad, or a man with a boy in his arms. I would look at the man with the boy standing by him and I would say, "Before you scratch my name from the ticket on July 22, I want you to take that blue eyed boy (or brown eyed boy), in your arms and say, 'Son, I voted today to close the door of opportunity in your face. I love you, but


this is what I decided I had better do."' I believe that argument was very effective.

HESS: Do you think that swung some votes?

JONES: I think it helped. Anyhow, I saw a great many people personally. That was the most effective way in those days.

I would like to tell you one incident that happened that was published all over the state later. They had a picnic reunion at Matador, Texas. It is right out on the prairie and there wasn't any shade. They had an arbor built covered with gunny sack material -- the only shade on the grounds. There were some mesquite trees, but it was summertime and dry and those mesquite trees simply stopped the breeze and didn't stop the sun.

Everybody came into that arbor bringing


their children. The arbor was oblong with the speaker's stand on one side. A big mechanical merry-go-round was located on the opposite side from the speaker's stand. It produced the most mechanical music I ever heard, and was pulled by two small mules. There were not many people riding on it, mostly the youngsters. Very few could hear the speaker. The women would let the children blow up the singing balloons. Dr. Samuel Brooks, President of Baylor University was running for the Senate. He was a magnificent speaker. I admired him very much. He spoke at 11 o'clock and very few could hear him.

HESS: Drowned out by the merry-go-round?

JONES: Yes, drowned out by the merry-go-round. Mr. Ellert and I spoke in the afternoon. By agreement, we would alternate in speaking


that day -- he spoke first. Mr. Ellerd was the rich man, a great big husky fellow, and he puffed and blew and hollered and just wore his voice out. I was sitting there with the chairman whom I had known in school, Wendel Johnson; and I said, "What do you think that fellow makes on that clanking merry-go-round?"

He said, "Not very much, about eight or ten children are riding on it."

I said, "If you can hire him to break down for about three dollars when I start speaking, I think it'd be a good investment."

He says, "That's a good idea." He slipped out and went around. He came back grinning. I didn't think he had had time to get back. He said, "I got him for two."

HESS: He went cheap didn't he?

JONES: Yes. I think he wanted to rest his mules


anyway. When I started speaking I had a magnificent hearing of country people. The folks stopped all the talk, and I had a wonderful hearing before the big crowd and a lot of handshaking followed. After it was over I met Mr. Ellerd, my adversary, out on the grounds. He said, "You're the luckiest damn man I ever saw. That machine broke down just after you started speaking."

I said, "Yes, I guess I was lucky, wasn't I?"

I have a picture of that merry-go-round. The newspaper had coincidently take a picture of that whole contraption at that time. Years later when the story was published over the state, Douglas Meador sent me a clipping which I have in my files.

You may not want to use it and may take it out if you wish.


HESS: It's all right.

JONES: Anyhow, I came to Congress.

HESS: One thing on that: What was your first impression of Washington when you came here?

JONES: I had never been east of the Mississippi River and they had told me when I was running, this wealthy man would say, "This is no time to send a boy to Congress. The war was over in Europe, and sparks were flying all around in 1916. He said, "Why, if you elect him, he can't find his way to Washington."

I just laughed and sa