Dick J. Reavis

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Dick J. Reavis

Dick J. Reavis was born in 1945, in Elk City, Oklahoma, the eldest child of Dick and Kathleen (Johnson) Reavis. The family lived in many small towns as Reavis grew up—mostly in Texas, but also Oklahoma and South Carolina. His father managed newspapers in these towns, so Reavis had an early exposure to the journalism profession, though he preferred the company of the printers to that of the reporters. From age 13 until he left for college he worked part-time in the “back shops,” learning a variety of printing skills.

Civil rights

Reavis was attending Panhandle A & M College in Oklahoma when he came across pamphlets in the student union cafeteria recruiting for civil rights workers. Reavis had had some experience with civil rights activism by this time: in high school he and a friend helped integrate a restaurant in Littlefield, Texas; in college at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, he joined the local chapter of the NAACP and refused to print racist fraternity songs at the student print shop where he worked, making the incident into a scandal.

Against his parents’ wishes, Reavis left for Alabama to join the Southern Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He spent that summer of 1965 mainly in Demopolis, Alabama, registering black voters, organizing boycotts, bailing fellow activists out of jail, and pursuing other activities for the cause. He was one of only two white Southerners in SCOPE, so he was a valuable resource for the organization as a spy, posing as a local white to get information out of the courthouse and jailhouse.[1]


Returning to school at the University of Texas at Austin, Reavis soon joined Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and recruited other members for a trip back to Demopolis and more civil rights work in the summer of 1966. He formed the Demopolis Project Committee, mostly with fellow SDS members. Even though he was ordered by the authorities not to return to Demopolis, he preferred this to being relocated by SCLC as part of their “Local Failure, National Success” tactics, which brought communities to a crisis point for media attention, then moved on.

Reavis earned a philosophy bachelor’s degree from UT-Austin in 1968 and attended the UT law school for one year following graduation. While at the university he helped the founders of the infamous, independent student newspaper, THE RAG, get started, and he contributed cartoon drawings and about 20 articles over a two year period. He was active in various leftist causes (i.e., “The Movement”) during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and by 1974 figured journalism was a profession with potential for adventure as well as relevance and honesty.[2]


Reavis was hired as a reporter at his father’s newspaper, Moore County News Press, in Dumas, Texas, in November 1974. He reported on police, courthouse and civic affairs, but small-town newspaper work and the atmosphere of Dumas did not suit him for long. He returned to the University of Texas at Austin in 1976 to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy.

Reavis took advantage of the journalistic outlets and opportunities in Austin, and on June 3, 1977 wrote a cover story about the Kickapoo Indians for the Texas Observer, which led to freelance work at Texas Monthly. He wrote for the “Reporter” section of the magazine a number of months before editor Bill Broyles unexpectedly gave him the opportunity to write a feature, which became “The Smoldering Fire,” about Mexican leftist guerillas, in the March 1978 issue.

By this time Reavis had quit school to focus on reporting and writing. He worked freelance for Texas Monthly until 1981, when he was put on staff. He also published his first book, Without Documents, in 1978, about the experiences of illegal immigrants from Latin America and the complex issues surrounding their plight.

On October 15, 1978, while riding his motorcycle, Reavis was hit by a drunk driver and nearly killed. Reavis had been assigned a Texas Monthly story on the Bandido bikers and had befriended them and become a biker himself, which he took up again after recovering from the accident. He tried his hand at fiction and photography for biker magazines during this period, and worked on an autobiography for Texas Monthly Press that was never published.

Reavis wrote 37 features for Texas Monthly in 12 years, often about Mexico or the underclass of Texas. On January 1, 1987 he set out on a year-long journey to drive every road on the official map of Texas, and report his experiences in a series for Texas Monthly. It was a chance for him to escape for a year and see his home state in its entirety. Not long afterwards he spent 12 months in Veracruz, Mexico to research his book, Conversations With Moctezuma, a study of and meditation on Mexican history and culture, published in 1990.

Displeased by changes at Texas Monthly, he resigned as a senior editor in the summer of 1990. The following year he joined the San Antonio Light as a Mexico correspondent, stationed in Monterrey, Mexico. For about 18 months between 1992 and 1993 he reported for the independent newspaper, Dallas Observer. It was during this time that the standoff at Mount Carmel near Waco happened.[3]


Recognizing the raid, siege and burning of the Branch Davidian center as a major story that was being covered by the press only from the government’s perspective, Reavis spent the next two years reporting and investigating the incident, its players, causes, and immediate implications. Simon and Schuster published the resulting book, The Ashes of Waco, in 1995, making Reavis one of the few impartial experts on the subject. That same year he was called to testify before Congress in renewed hearings about what happened at Mount Carmel and why.[4]


Thinking he would go into teaching, Reavis enrolled in an English MA program at University of Texas at Arlington, and received his degree in 1998. First, however, he found himself returning to journalism, most notably as a senior investigative reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, from 2000-2003. He also served as a reporter and senior editor for Texas Parks and Wildlife. Since the fall of 2004 he has lived with his wife Miriam in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is an assistant professor of journalism in the department of English at North Carolina State University.

Dick J. Reavis earned many awards and recognitions for his in-depth reporting and writing over the years: he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award and received three Texas Headliner’s Awards and four Katie Awards. He was also a Neiman Fellow at Harvard University.

Reavis edited and translated two books: Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant (1991) and Diary of a Guerrilla (1999). He also wrote the guidebook Texas (1995) and the civil rights memoir If White Kids Die (2001). He continues to write freelance for the on-line publication Counterpunch.org, and occasionally returns to the pages of Texas Monthly, most recently for a feature on the 2006 election in Mexico. In February 2010 Simon and Schuster published his latest book, Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborers.[5]

Mexican revolutionary

Cantu with author Reavis (c.) and guerilla Güero Medrano, Oaxaxa, 1978

In the 1970s Mario Cantu then turned his sights to Mexico in his fight for civil rights justice. He became close friends with Florencio “Güero” Medrano Mederos, a guerrilla organizer and chief figure in the Partido Proletario Unido de America. The party’s function was to arm peasants so that they could seize land back from the Mexican government. Cantú made several trips to Mexico to meet with Medrano and the PPUA. In October 1978 he traveled to Oaxaca to assist with a peasant land take-over and acted as a liaison between journalist Dick J. Reavis, NBC News (who was to film the event), and the PPUA. Soon after, Cantú was summoned to appear before the court to explain this probation violation. Instead of appearing in court, he chose self-exile and spent the next year in Europe. Cantú traveled between France, Germany, and Spain, where he spoke out against injustices toward the people of Mexico. He returned to San Antonio in late 1979, faced a probation revocation hearing, and served the rest of his sentence in a correctional halfway house.[6]

Reavis became a long time friend.

By 1976 Mario Cantu was secretly aiding Florencio "Güero" Medrano, an unlettered peasant trained for revolution in China who was trying to start an uprising near Oaxaca. Among other things, the Alamo City restaurateur had procured a convertible and filled its trunk with M1 carbines. He dressed a waitress in a wedding gown, painted "Just Married" on the car, and drove to Mexico City, confident that border guards would not molest newlyweds on honeymoon.

In 1978, he appeared on television as part of a peasant uprising that Medrano led. Probation authorities scheduled a hearing and Cantu fled to Paris. During his self-exile, public sympathy built for his defense. Archbishop Patrick Flores had spoken for him in a letter to the presiding judge, and Mario engaged leftist lawyer William Kunstler of New York to prepare his defense. When he returned some fourteen months later, the judge sentenced him to a mere six months in a halfway house.[7]

The Rag Blog

In 2010 Dick J. Reavis was listed as a contributor to the Movement for a Democratic Society linked, Austin Texas based, The Rag Blog website.[8]