Does People Do It?: A Memoir

Overview

The well-known “people’s politician” recalls his life and career

One of Oklahoma’s most famous native sons, Fred Harris faced life’s challenges with the same resolve as a favorite uncle: “Does people do it? If people does it, I can do it.” In this engaging memoir, he describes how he met those challenges head-on.

A child of the Great Depression, Harris grew up in the small town of Walters, Oklahoma, where he was born in a two-room house. He ...

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Overview

The well-known “people’s politician” recalls his life and career

One of Oklahoma’s most famous native sons, Fred Harris faced life’s challenges with the same resolve as a favorite uncle: “Does people do it? If people does it, I can do it.” In this engaging memoir, he describes how he met those challenges head-on.

A child of the Great Depression, Harris grew up in the small town of Walters, Oklahoma, where he was born in a two-room house. He describes that upbringing and his initiation into state politics, and tells how he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of thirty-three. As he recounts his experiences in national politics, he yields an insightful look at the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.

Earning a reputation as a “new populist,” Harris chaired the national Democratic Party and was a serious presidential candidate. Along the way, he encountered such giants as Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Robert F. Kennedy. Enlivening his account with firsthand conversations, Harris contributes to our understanding of the motivations and personalities of these figures—including the infamous tensions between Johnson and Kennedy. Despite rubbing elbows with such power brokers, Harris maintained his own reputation as a down-to-earth man of the people whose advocacy included American Indian causes.

Harris accomplished much in his distinguished career, championing human rights at home and around the world. His masterfully written memoir attests to a philosophical consistency and humane liberalism that today are all too rare.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
The former Oklahoma senator turned novelist (Following the Harvest, 2004, etc.) recounts his populist rags-to-riches story from Depression-era hay baler to presidential contender. Harris learned early on how to persevere against daunting odds. He hailed from a family of sharecroppers who barely eked out a living in Walters, Okla., during the 1930s. His father was an errant cattle trader and alcoholic, his mother hardworking and self-taught. Young Harris applied himself at the local schools and working odd jobs. Easygoing and popular, he was elected to the student council, won the state Future Farmers of America oratorical contest and decided on a law career. As a senior in high school he met LaDonna Crawford, who'd just moved into town after being raised on a farm by her Comanche grandparents. They were married a year later and soon had a baby daughter. Harris moved quickly through Oklahoma University College of Law on various scholarships and became active in the school's league of young Democrats. When a seat opened unexpectedly in 1956, he ran for state senator and won at age 25. Six years later he ran unsuccessfully for governor, but when Senator Robert S. Kerr died unexpectedly, he moved into that seat with the endorsement of Kerr's family and President Johnson, whose support and friendship carried him far in Washington. In 1967, when riots rocked the country, Harris headed Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He grew increasingly critical of the Vietnam War, joined Walter Mondale to co-chair Hubert Humphrey's campaign for president, but also became close to Robert Kennedy. Harris describes himself as "radicalized" by the time he ran for president in 1972 andagain in '76, which may explain why his campaigns quickly ran out of money. Now living in New Mexico, remarried after his divorce from LaDonna in 1982, teaching at UNM and writing books, he remains involved in the various Democratic campaigns, ever trusting in life's serendipity. Harris's down-home, unaffected, gee-gosh style makes him a likable storyteller.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806139135
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Series: Stories and Storytellers Series
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,437,461
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Twice elected to the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma, Fred Harris is now Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including his most recent novel, Following the Harvest.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Does People Do It?     xi
Before the World Changed     3
Growing Up Okie     20
Education of a Democrat     32
Campaigning Statewide     54
The Making of a United States Senator     66
Most of the Way with LBJ     86
Hubert Humphrey, the Happy Warrior     122
Robert Kennedy-Moxie and Heart     146
Going National     172
A New Life     200
Epilogue: This At Least Was Good     209
Acknowledgments     217

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