Donald Howard Yarborough (December 15, 1925 - September 23, 2009), was a liberal Democratic politician who was the first Southern politician to endorse the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yarborough, an attorney in Houston, Texas, ran for governor of Texas in 1962, 1964, and 1968. In 1962, he came close to winning the primary runoff election against John B. Connally, Jr., having polled 49 percent of the ballots. Other intraparty rivals, considered conservatives, included the state attorney general, Will Wilson, highway commissioner Marshall Formby, and General Edwin A. Walker, who made anticommunism the centerpiece of his race. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, Jack Cox, an oil equipment executive from Houston, was also a strong conservative and a former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives.
Although Yarborough never became governor, his campaigns contributed strongly to the reform of the Texas Democratic Party, uniting, behind Yarborough's candidacy, traditional New Deal loyalists, organized labor, African Americans, Mexican Americans, and reform-seeking liberals, thereby enabling this coalition to capture local constituencies in the Texas House and Senate and build organizations later drawn upon by Mark White and Ann Richards.
Yarborough was born in New Orleans on December 15, 1925. His father was the president of a bank in New Orleans that went bust in the Great Depression, so Don was sent temporarily to spend part of his boyhood living with an aunt in Mississippi, where he helped out picking cotton in the fields of his family’s farm with the laborers. His father eventually got a job with the government and moved the family to Washington, D.C. His family also spent time during the years after the Depression living with relatives in Coral Gables, Florida. The family eventually moved together to Houston when he was 12. His mother, Inez Black Yarborough, served as head of the Women in Yellow volunteer corps at the Jefferson Davis Hospital in Houston.
Upon graduating from San Jacinto High School at 17, Yarborough enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, entered officer’s training school and became a Company Commander at the age of 19. He served one year in China at the close of World War II. After the war, Yarborough entered the University of Texas, where he belonged to Kappa Alpha fraternity, and worked part-time to supplement the money he received under the G.I. bill. He earned his law degree in 1950.
Yarborough re-entered the Marine Corps to serve during the Korean War as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corp (JAG Corps). He then returned to Texas to found his own law firm and take part in civic affairs. In 1956, as president of the Houston Junior Chamber of Commerce, Yarborough won the national debating championship for the organization due to his passionate speaking skills. In 1960, Yarborough married his first wife, Katherine Edwards.
In 1963, Yarborough was named by LIFE magazine as one of the 100 young Americans who were "distinguished by their dedication to something larger than private success, because they had the courage to act against old problems, the boldness to try out new ideas, and a hard-bitten, undaunted hopefulness about man.
In his first run for political office, Yarborough ran for Lieutenant Governor of Texas in 1960. In 1962, he ran for the first time for governor, and in a field of five Democratic candidates, he reached a run-off with John Connally and came within 28,000 votes of winning the nomination, a nationally-noted near-upset in a state long dominated by the conservative faction of the Democratic Party. He ran for governor again in 1964 and 1968. In political life he supported civil rights, economic justice, environmental protection, and women's equality, and he challenged the big business establishment that had long dominated Texas politics.
After leaving politics, Yarborough promoted science as a means to ease suffering and cure aging, which he considered to be a disease that affected everyone. He worked as a lobbyist for Paraplegia Cure Research in Washington, D.C., where lived for many years on Capitol Hill and in Mclean, Va. He also played a role in the Council for a Livable World and was a founding member of biotech research companies.
Yarborough died of Parkinson's disease on September 23, 2009. Yarborough was married three times, to Katherine Edwards Yarborough in 1960, to Gail Lind in 1978, and Houston realtor Charity O'Connell Yarborough in 1984.