Don Woodard: Remember when Texas had a Good Neighbor Commission?

The Good Neighbor Policy was the foreign policy of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt toward Latin America. It also reinforced the idea that the United States would be a “good neighbor” and engage in reciprocal exchanges with Latin American countries.

In September 1949, Gov. Allan Shivers appointed Neville G. Penrose of Fort Worth to be chairman of the Texas Good Neighbor Commission. In Grass-Roots Diplomat, Marguerite Potter wrote that Penrose kept before him a quotation of President Roosevelt:

“Life must be based on positive and permanent values. The value of love will always be stronger than the value of hate. The value of a belief in humanity and justice is always stronger in any land than the value of belief in force. The value of truth and sincerity is always stronger than the value of lies and cynicism.”

Penrose spoke fluent Spanish and knew Mexican history. He knew personally the governors of all four Mexican states that bordered on Texas: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas. He invited all four of them to come to see him. On Dec. 5, 1949, they came with their entourages.

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After several days of camaraderie they left from Fort Worth’s Meacham Field. As their plane took off down the runway, they saw from their windows a dozen Fort Worthians holding a long banner that read:

BEINVENIDOS A FORT WORTH! REGRESA PRONTO! (WELCOME TO FORT WORTH! COME AGAIN SOON!)

Today you can go to Joe T. Garcia’s North Side restaurant and high on the reception wall see the photo of those Mexican governors who dined at that famous restaurant on their Good Neighbor visit to Fort Worth.

And today the National Guard, under the command of a new “good neighbor” president of the United States, is guarding that border against all. Rest in Peace, Franklin Roosevelt and Neville Penrose. As Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a-changin’.

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Don Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman and author of Black Diamonds! Black Gold! The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.