This Day in Texas History:
Civil Rights Activist Denied Vote in Harris County
July 27, 1940
On this day in 1940, civil-rights activist Lonnie E. Smith attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in Harris County.
Smith, an African-American dentist born in Yoakum in 1901, was denied a ballot under the white primary rules of the time. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including the future United States Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall), Smith filed suit in federal district court seeking redress for the denial of his rights under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge.
Following an unfavorable ruling in the district court, Smith’s attorneys lodged appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. The court’s 1944 decision in Smith v. Allwright reversed the prior decisions against Smith by a margin of eight to one.
Since that time, all eligible Texans have had the right to vote in the primary election of their choice. Smith later served as a Democratic precinct committeeman and an NAACP chapter president. He died in 1971.
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