Horace Dicken “Dick” Cherry, Wabash ’49, is a former member of the Texas House of Representatives. He was born March 22,1928 in Dallas, the first child of Frank Hanley Cherry and Ruth Dicken Cherry. He was educated in Illinois and Indiana including six years in a one-room country school near Chrisman, Illinois. He earned a full scholarship to Wabash College after three years at Chrisman High School. He was the first political science major, Rhodes Scholar candidate and valedictorian of his class at Wabash. He earned a master’s in political science at the University of Chicago and completed the penultimate requirements there for the PhD.
In August of 1955, Cherry began a ten-year career as an assistant professor of political science at Baylor University in Waco. In addition to teaching graduate and undergraduate courses, he organized the Center for Foreign Service Studies, which offered an interdisciplinary major for students pursuing international careers in government, business, or religion. The Center also sponsored a public lecture series, which brought notable international speakers to Waco. In addition, the Center published the quarterly journal Background on World Politics, of which Cherry served as editor and chairman of the board of contributing editors composed of 17 scholar/specialists from universities throughout the US.
Cherry was first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1962. He co-authored legislation to repeal the poll tax and replace it with permanent voter registration. In Committee hearings, a leading witness supporting this legislation was Barbara Jordan of Houston, who later served in the Texas Senate and as a distinguished member of Congress. He and Charlie Wilson and four other House members shared housing expense by renting of a house near Town Lake. Following the 58th Session, Cherry was one of two House members given a 95 percent rating by the Texas Observer. (Texas Observer. February 21,1964). He was re-elected in 1964 and, again, he and Charlie Wilson shared housing with two other House members. Dick continued to press the House (unsuccessfully) to pass voting rights and school desegregation legislation.
In the summer of 1965, Sen. Yarborough named Dick as chief of staff in his Washington office. 1965 was the first year of the historically productive 89th Congress, which enacted the laws that constituted LBJ’s Great Society. Cherry considered it an honor to be on the staff of the only Southern Senator consistently voting for the components of the Great Society. He and Ralph Yarborough had advocated such laws for years.
In February 1966, Dick took a two-week leave of absence from his Washington duties to return to Austin for a Called Session. Federal Judge Homer Thornberry had ruled the Texas Poll Tax unconstitutional, which left Texas with no valid roll of eligible voters in an election year. All efforts by Cherry and several colleagues to pass open and longer-term voter registration fell 15 to 20 votes short of House passage. The Governor urged and a majority passed a law abolishing the poll tax but continuing the previous annual January registration system.
In early 1967, efforts began within the new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to recruit Dick to head the Congressional Services Office for the Model Cities Program (the high-profile HUD component of the Great Society). After three months of deliberation Cherry decided to make the move and called Marvin Watson at the White House, who informed HUD officials that the White House approved this appointment. At HUD Cherry became the newest member of a five-man team of senior Congressional Services Officers who were given the lead by the White House in getting Congress to adopt the Fair Housing Act, which the President signed in April 1968.
Following the Humphrey loss to Nixon, Cherry took a position with a joint program of the US Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities called Man in Washington, which contracted with individual cities to provide them their own Man in Washington. One of his earliest clients was the City of New Orleans, which, in 1970, elected a new mayor named Moon Landrieu. Landrieu became chair of a committee of Mayors that persuaded Congress to rescue New York City from its fiscal crisis. He was elected president of the US Conference of Mayors and led the campaign to get Congress to institute General Revenue Sharing with state and local governments.
President Carter appointed Landrieu to be secretary of HUD and, upon his recommendation, appointed Cherry as assistant secretary of Legislation and Inter-governmental Relations. Thus, Dick returned to HUD to head a much larger Congressional Relations operation than he had left in 1969. His new responsibilities included a daily morning briefing of Secretary Landrieu, and a weekly trip to the Roosevelt Room of the White House to join his counterpart assistant secretaries from each Cabinet Department to brief assistants to President Carter.
When the Carter Administration ended Cherry returned to the National Center for Municipal Development, the non-profit corporation he had formed in 1974 as the successor to Man in Washington. From 1981 until his retirement in 1993, he continued as a federal relations advisor to cities and prominent mayors. In the early 1980s he advised Kansas City and Mayor Dick Berkley, who became a president of the US Conference of Mayors. Later, another client, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy of New Orleans, was elected president of the National League of Cities.
Source: based on an interview with Dicken Cherry, an oral history, recorded and published by the Heinz History Center in Association with the Smithsonian Institution, May 2002, 132pp.