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Debate for Padre Island (1962)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1962

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  •  The proposal to turn Padre Island into a national seashore began in 1936, but only after World War II did the island’s value come into perspective. With the housing boom of the postwar era, Texans took notice of Padre Island’s attractive real estate and commercial development potential. 
  •  Senator Ralph Yarborough, interviewed here, introduced the Congressional bill about designating Padre Island as a national seashore in 1958. The public largely sided with his argument for preservation, giving him the nickname, “the People’s Senator.” 
  •  United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall 
  •  General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Sadler, seen here, initially opposed the bill because he worried that turning over the land and its minerals to the federal government would result in millions of dollars of lost local revenue. He ultimately supported the initiative after ensuring the protection of the Permanent School Fund.   
 
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  • About the video
  • Ralph Yarborough Ralph Yarborough
  • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
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Located in the Gulf of Mexico, Padre Island National Seashore is located on North Padre Island. Protecting 70 miles of coastline, dunes, and prairies, the park is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. The clips in this footage—shot in 1962 by KTBC cameraman Gordon Wilkison—consist of government personnel discussing plans for the future of Padre Island. At the time, Congress was debating a bill about establishing the island as a national seashore. (President John F. Kennedy ultimately signed the legislation into law in September 1962.) Officials featured include General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Sadler, United States Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, and United States Senator Ralph Yarborough of Texas.
United States Senator Ralph Webster Yarborough, known as "Smilin' Ralph," represented Texas from 1957 through 1971. Yarborough was born in Chandler, Texas in 1903 as the seventh of nine children, and went on study at the Sam Houston State Teachers College as a young man before attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated from the law school in 1927.
 
In 1931, Yarborough began a short but notable career as an assistant attorney general.  As an expert in Texas land law assigned to represent the interests of the Permanent School Fund, Yarborough won a number of cases against major oil companies such as Magnolia Petroleum and Mid-Kansas, through which he was able to guarantee that public schools and universities receive revenues from Texas oil. This litigation has since brought billions of dollars to public education.
 
In 1938, Yarborough decided to run for attorney general but lost; it would take another 12 years for him to run for any kind of office again. In the interim, he served in the Texas National Guard and the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1952, running against conservative incumbent R. Allan Shivers for the governorship, Yarborough lost his second race. He continued this losing streak against Shivers in the 1954 primary and then again against Senator Marion Price Daniel, Sr. in 1956. In 1957, however, he was able to win Daniel's vacated seat in the Senate next to Lyndon Baines Johnson.
 
In the Senate, Yarborough pursued a progressive agenda, first refusing to sign the Southern Manifesto against desegregation and then being one of only five Southern senators to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1957. For the environment, he pushed through a bill to elevate Padre Island to the status of National Seashore.  For education, he introduced the first Bilingual Education Act in 1967, which was signed into law a year later.  He worked to expand health care funding and to extend the G.I. Bill to Cold War veterans.  In 1969, Yarborough chaired the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare.
 
Aside from his legislation, Yarborough is also remembered for riding in the 1963 Dallas motorcade in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The story goes that, being at odds with several of the other politicians on the President's tour, Yarborough originally refused to share a car with Johnson, who was friends with his rivals. This so outraged Kennedy that on the morning of the motorcade he took Yarborough aside and threatened to end their friendship if Yarborough did not cooperate.  The Senator conceded and ended up just two cars behind the President when he was fatally shot that afternoon.  When interviewed about that day, Yarborough described it as "the most tragic event of my life."
 
In 1970, Yarborough lost his seat in an upset election against Lloyd Bentsen. While he ran once more for office, he did not win again.
 
In 1996, Yarborough died at the age of 92. He is buried in Austin at the Texas State Cemetery.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation.  At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
 
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
 
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.