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News Release — April 6, 2010

Swim Against the Current: Highlights from the Jim Hightower Archive

On exhibit now through July 31, 2010

Exhibit reception, lively panel discussions, great Texas music, local food, and other populist-related festivities—plus Jim Hightower speaks—on May 1, 2010

SAN MARCOS, Texas— In December 2008, Jim Hightower named the Wittliff Collections as the official repository for his archival legacy, and now his papers are the focus of the next exhibition from the Southwestern Writers Collection: Swim Against the Current: Highlights from the Jim Hightower Archive. The show opened March 22 and runs through July 31, 2010 at the Alkek Library on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos. Exhibition hours are online.

On May 1, Hightower will be the featured speaker for a full day of festivities celebrating the gift of his archive and the exhibition. Also, two free-wheeling forums will discuss our state’s populist past and future. Participants will include such grassroots champions as Fred Harris, Ben Sargent, Linda Chavez-Thompson, and Alan Pogue. In addition, the event will feature live music, food, and more—all free and open to the public. The full schedule is below.

“When we took delivery of Hightower’s archive in early 2009, our first priority was to preserve and inventory the materials,” said Steve Davis, assistant curator at the Wittliff Collections. “Now that that’s done, we’re looking forward to a great turnout for our exhibition and the big May 1 event.”

Jim Hightower is considered America’s #1 populist, a man admired as a radio commentator, syndicated political columnist, best-selling author, and sought-after public speaker. Hightower believes the true political spectrum is not right-to-left but bottom-to-top, and he is dedicated to battling the Powers That Be on behalf of—in his words—the “Powers That Ought To Be”: working families, farmers, consumers, environmentalists, small business owners, and “just plain folks.”

Hightower’s archive consists of over 100 boxes that document every aspect of his long and prolific career, including the many inimitable “Hightowerisms” (such as “The water won’t clear up ’til we get the hogs out of the creek”) for which he’s become famous.

Archival Assistant Mary García, with help from student worker Bianca Marshall, spent much of 2009 preserving and inventorying the current 135 linear feet of the Hightower archive. The materials arrived from his office already very well organized, separated into categories such as commentary files, show files, show tapes, book files, the Lowdown (Hightower’s long-running monthly newsletter), promotional items, speeches, videos, and travel.

In addition to the archive’s wealth of paper documentation, there are 1,964 photographs and 4,613 audio/visual materials. The collection will continue to grow as Hightower’s career moves forward. The Jim Hightower preliminary archive inventory is online.

Curated by Davis with assistance from García and other staff, the exhibition Swim Against the Current: Highlights from the Jim Hightower Archive traces the life and work of Hightower, beginning with his experience in the 1960s as an aide to the U.S. senator from Texas, Ralph Yarborough, and his first organizing efforts on behalf of family farmers and farm workers in the early 1970s.

One of the earliest pieces among the papers is a small document from 1964: a Certificate of Exemption From Poll Tax issued to a 21-year-old Hightower, then a junior at the University of North Texas, because he was a first-time voter. Finally abolished in Texas in 1966 as unconstitutional, the poll tax was designed to deter poor people, especially blacks and Latino Americans, from voting, an issue in the Civil Rights Movement that inspired the young Hightower to set out on a political path.

Also on display are Hightower’s papers from his work as the national campaign coordinator for U.S. Senator Fred Harris’s crusade for president in 1976, as well as numerous campaign photos and memorabilia from Hightower’s own runs for office. Hightower served as Texas’s Commissioner of Agriculture from 1983-1991, and while in office he implemented many of his populist ideas, including consumer protection, worker safety, organic production, and direct marketing by small farmers.

The exhibition also highlights Hightower’s post-government work as syndicated daily radio commentator, speech­maker, and prolific author of several best-selling books, including his latest, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow, written with his “co-conspirator” Susan DeMarco.

Jim’s bio, weekly commentary, Hightowerisms, and much more are online at

The Wittliff Collections present JIM HIGHTOWER and
“The Living Spirit of TEXAS POPULISM: In Our Politics, In Our Culture”
from 1:00 to 7:00 pm

Jim Hightower is the featured speaker for this day of festivities celebrating the gift of his archive to the Wittliff Collections and the exhibition, Swim Against the Current.

At 1:00 pm, the first of two panel discussions, “Populism in Texas Politics,” will feature former Senator Fred Harris, Jim Cullen, editor of the national newspaper Progressive Populist, Linda Chavez-Thompson, former executive VP of the national AFL-CIO, and Bob Moser, editor of the Texas Observer, who will serve as moderator.

Jimmy LaFave will perform a few songs in the break between panels.

At 3:00 pm, discussing “Populism in Texas Culture” will be Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, photographer Alan Pogue, and Tom Pittman, lead man for the Austin Lounge Lizards and host of KUT’s “Folkways.” The moderator will be Dr. Bill Stouffer, Texas State professor of Political Science.

A public reception and talk by Jim Hightower will follow from 4:30 to 5:30 pm, and performances by Carolyn Wonderland with Shelley King, and the Austin Lounge Lizards add live music to the mix from 6:00 to 7:00 pm.

There will be local food and drink throughout the day, sponsored in part by St. Arnold’s Brewery and the Cool Mint Café, whose staff works to support area growers whenever possible. The Wittliff Collections are located at the Alkek Library, Texas State University-San Marcos.