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John Ben Shepperd: National Federation of Press Women

April 19, 1957

National Federation of Press Women (San Antonio, Texas)

 

Thank you for that very flattering and truthful introduction. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anything I enjoyed so much or agreed with so completely.

However, she probably found herself in the same predicament as the Mistress of Ceremonies who had to introduce another obscure character from a small Texas town by saying, “Our next speaker needs no introduction; even if I told you who he is, you still wouldn’t know him.”

It falls my happy duty tonight to welcome you in behalf of the great state of Texas.

I was selected for this honor for three reasons: First, I am one of the few successful politicians in Texas—I quit; second, I’m a rare Texan because I have an inferiority complex about Texas; third, and actually the controlling factor—I do it for nothing.

It is, of course, customary on such an occasion to say a few words about the host state. I’ll talk about Texas whenever there is the slightest interest in that noble subject and frankly, you have indicated the slightest interest in the subject of any group I have talked to recently.

Yes, I want to extend a very warm and cordial welcome to those of you who are from outside the Lone Star State. Let me reassure you at the outset that we don’t blame you for being born somewhere else. You’re still welcome in the great and bountiful State of Texas. We trust that you will be able to stay here long enough to become thoroughly inTexicated.

It would be helpful though if you brought your own water. The drouth is so bad we’ve started letting in wetbacks just to get the moisture.

We’re getting smarter in Texas though as you no doubt have already discovered. We finally are learning that it’s easier to pick a tourist—particularly a convention tourist—than it is to pick cotton. And it’s a lot more fun too. I’ve tried both and I know. We’re doing well at it too. Last year we just picked four million bales of cotton but we picked eight and one-half million Yankee tourists for a total of $379,000,000.

I guess you wonder when I’m going to get around to bragging about Texas.  We Texans actually don’t enjoy that sort of thing, but it has come to be expected of us and were to polite not to fulfill our obligations.

When you come right down to it, there aren’t actually many Texans who brag. If all the bragging Texans were laid end to end—it would meet with the unanimous approval of the rest of the country.

You out-of-staters think we don’t have a very high regard for the truth, but the fact is we value it very highly and that’s why we’re so economical with it. Remember though, there’s a one sure way to tell if a Texan is lying—if his mouth is open, he’s lying.

While you’re here, you’ll find that Texas is the healthiest place in the world. We have to go across the state line to get sick. Texans are not only healthier but they live longer too. Texas is so much like heaven they don’t see the point in moving on. Besides, there’s always the element of doubt as to which way they’d go.

Texans are accused of having a nasal quality of speech. If we talk through our noses, it is because we don’t want to stop breathing Texas air while we talk.

Eighty percent of Texans are native born. More than two million citizens have moved here from other parts of the country. Many of them are from your home states. Many are your relatives and friends.  We call them refugees. If I were a typical Fourth of July orator, I’d tell you what a great contribution they have made to our State—what fine citizens they are—how much we love them. But we since I am out of politics, I’ll be perfectly honest. You can have them back any time you want them.

Actually we’re glad to have these refugees. We’re working hard to get more people; in fact, every sixteenth child born in the United States is a Texan and Texans are born four times as fast as they die. That’s pretty discouraging to the rest of the country.

Just remember while you’re in Texas, that of all these eight and one-half million laughing, bragging, hard-working, God-Fearing Texans with their feet on the ground and their heads in the sky, 9,500 are in the penitentiary, 29,000 are under indictment, 19,000 are out on bond, 2,500 are in jail and the rest have been assessed fines totaling $398,000 already this year. I tell you this because these figured will be popular with your friends back home.

But I had better get on or you will want me to stop.  My wife and I have four children, two of whom are twin girls. When my wife went to the hospital before they were born, my oldest son, Skippy, kept saying he hoped Mommy had a girl. So I told him, “Son, why don’t you try praying for one?” The first night he prayed for a long time and came in the next day and said “I prayed last night and nothing has happened—I’m not going to pray any more”.  I said, “No, son, go back and try again”. The second night he went back and prayed very, very long and devoutly and he came in the next day to say, “I prayed twice and I’m through”. Some time later we went down to the hospital and there was his mother with Marianne in one arm and Suzanne in the other arm. Bursting with pride on the arrival of his twin sisters, I walked across the room, patted him on the head and said, “Son, aren’t you glad you prayed?” He said, “Yes, and ain’t you glad I stopped?”

Texas is proud and honored to be host to this meeting of the National Federation of Press Women. We are proud of the objectivity and impartiality of the press of Texas. It has made a commendable record and a large part of its success has been due to its women members. We have more than our quota of woman publishers, editors, reporters, correspondents and employees. We have many other papers that men think they run—but that are actually run by women.

In fact, there is one thing that even our bitterest critics have to admit about Texas. Here, men are men and women are women and I defy you to improve on a situation like that. Or as the old maid said, “Who wants to improve on it? I just want to get in on it”.

Yes, we are a far-cry from the days of the “sob-sisters”. Women are not only established in the news fraternity but they have been, in a large measure, responsible for our free press that has been a mainstay to our nation.

Does America need a free, unfettered press? Yes, more than ever before in our history.

We need a free press—with the talent, curiosity, penetrating vision and the ability to judge character that only women possess guiding it—as long as there are closed doors in public office, public meetings held in secret and public files marked “Confidential”.

We need it as long as there are antiquated, harmful laws on the statute books, remaining there only because they suit somebody’s political or financial convenience and as long as there are loopholes in the law, left there by lawyer-legislators for the benefit of their private practice.

We need a free press as long as we have officeholders who refuse to forsake hypocrisy and put in its place fundamental honesty; as long as we have an officeholder who lets constitutional government die of cold feet because he is afraid to get into hot water or who is so concerned with the left and right that he forgets the above and below;

We need it as long as we have American citizens who do not have the ability or desire to separate the false from the true, the important from the unimportant—citizens who cannot see through the subterfuges of demagogues and quacks in high places;

As long as we live under big, bloated governments feeding on the lassitude of a citizenry that wants everybody to have a benefit at everybody else’s expense; as long as this nation is trying to live high on money borrowed from our children’s unborn children; as long as we have judges who cannot or will not lay aside their politics when they put on their judicial robes;

And as long as there is one little face prematurely bruised by the hard knocks from which irresponsible parents were unwilling to shield it, one child deprived of health, learning, love, sympathy and spiritual guidance or one young American denied the chance to rise to whatever heights God will lead him and by his strength to strengthen others—there is plenty of work for a free press.

Yes, unless there are lights along the way—cast there by a free press—freedom dies.

Because freedom is old, not young; yet it is born anew in the first cry of a free man’s son;
It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;
It is not weak, but strong; yet it must be defended;
It is light, yet it weighs heavy on him who is without it;
It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;
It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never, never found again.
Yes, to be born free is an accident;
To live free is a responsibility
But to die free is an obligation.

[Note: The views expressed in this speech were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.]