Complex historical figure explored in new biography

By Gabriel Burnaman/reporter

An author spoke to students about the challenges of documenting the life of a well-known Fort Worth figure in his new book.

NW history associate professor Brian Cervantez discussed “Amon Carter: A Lone Star Life” March 28 in Walsh Library on NW Campus.

“Writing the biography was more challenging than I expected it to be because you’re writing about the life of a human being,” Cervantez said. “There’s all kinds of things that you’re going to encounter.”

Cervantez, who grew up surrounded by the legend of Amon Carter, got the idea of writing a biography while he was working on his dissertation at the University of North Texas, that paper itself sourced partially from work he’d already done for his master’s thesis.

Carter used his natural salesmanship to make money around the country before returning to Texas and moving to the Fort Worth area, Cervantez said. It was there Carter saw an opportunity to plant himself among the city’s elite by co-founding the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“Carter’s ambition will take that newspaper to the top of Texas’ newspapers by the 1920s and ‘30s,” Cervantez said. “This is a period when newspapers enjoyed a lot more political influence than today. If you were a politician running for office, you sought the endorsement of God and newspapers.”

With the power of the most influential news publication in Texas, Carter curried favor and ballooned his enterprise into the subtle but all-encompassing legacy we know today.

“If you’re someone like Carter, who ultimately identifies with Fort Worth, sees that Fort Worth’s interests and his interests are the same, you can use that power,” Cervantez said.

Although Carter was known for financing Fort Worth and established many famous Texan institutions, Cervantez said that to write about the man, he had to dig into public records, where he found incidents of casual racism and other things that point to Carter being “a man of his time.”

“You have to take the entire figure into account,” Cervantez said. “It’s very tempting if you’re writing about a giant figure like this who is so influential in a city’s past, someone who, at one point, a quarter of the Fort Worth workforce owed for a job… to basically canonize him.”

Cervantez talked about finding correspondence from famed New-York columnist O. O. McIntyre where the journalist said Carter casually slapped a black waiter during a train ride for failing to provide good service to McIntyre. The casual nature of the attack, and Carter’s remarks afterwards, suggest this behavior wasn’t out of the norm for him.

“Here’s the thing,” Cervantez said. “People are more than just the good part of them. Often times, people have sides of them that we don’t care for [and that] we don’t like.”

Though Carter’s dealings with the black community were unkind and typical in the South during the time, Cervantez mentioned that more of Carter’s philanthropic efforts went to help the black community in Fort-Worth as he aged.

“Whether or not we’re conscious of it, we live in Amon Carter’s region,” Cervantez said. “We enjoy the fruits of a lot of his efforts. At the same time, he’s a complex character in a lot of ways.”