The Capitol Dome

2017 Dome 54.1

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49 THE CAPITOL DOME Homer Thornberry: Congressman, Judge, and Advocate for Equal Rights HOMER ROSS TOMLIN (Fort Worth, TX, 2016), 222 pp., $32.50 Looking back at the 1960s in Wash- ington, it is easy to be mesmerized by the sheer, sprawling scope of the Great Society as a legislative under- taking. Not to be overlooked, how- ever, are the individual transforma- tions upon which the program was built. After all, the Great Society, and the sea changes of the sixties, were the sum of these numberless revolutions in individual hearts and minds that, together, remade A mer i- can societ y du r ing the decade. The career of Homer Thornberry (1909-1995)—eight-term Democratic congressman from Texas's tenth dis- trict, Fifth Circuit judge, and erst- while LBJ Supreme Court nominee, memorialized here in a new biogra- phy offered by his grandson—is an exemplar of such transformations. Thornberry would be of anec- dotal interest to history if only for his close relationships with fellow Texas Democrats Lyndon Johnson and House Speaker Sam Rayburn. The Thornberry and Johnson fami- lies were close socially. The three Thornberry children knew the Johnsons as "Uncle Lyndon" and "Aunt Bird." Thornberry helped Johnson through convalescence from his near-fatal 1955 heart attack with nightly marathon domino games in his hospital room and was with him at Parkland Hospital in Dallas on 22 November 1963 (although not, as recounted here, one of the party in the vice president's car when the assassination occurred). Bach- elor Rayburn was a frequent dinner guest at the Thornberrys', enjoying "southern staples like buttermilk, buttered corn on the cob, and chilled raw onions" (64). Thornberry became one of the select few included in the Speaker's "Board of Educa- tion," the bourbon-fueled pow-wows that Rayburn hosted after-hours in his private office in the Capitol. A life story like Thornberry's puts to shame our present genera- tion of callow Americans: adversi- ties were overcome, in fact lever- aged, to launch life-long careers of public service. Thornberry's parents, William and Mary, were teachers at the Texas Deaf and Dumb Asy- lum in Austin. Both were deaf and mute; Homer learned to sign before he could speak. As a neighbor rec- ollected, the couple were "about as poor as Job's turkey… [t]here just wasn't anything that they had at all" (11). The family's situation was made even more tenuous by Wil- liam's death in the 1918 influenza pandemic. Out of these straitened circum- stances, Thornberry climbed rapidly. He graduated from the University ofTexas at Austin—a seedbed for Texas politicians-in-the-making— and then from its law school. He The Dome Bookshelf New and Noteworthy Books on Congressional and Capitol History We resurrect our series on recently-published books on congressional or Capitol history that are worthy of the attention of our readers. If you have a recommendation for a book to add to the Capitol Dome bookshelf, please contact us at Books should be nonfiction, pertain to the history of Congress or the Capitol, and have been published within the last two years.

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