Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas

Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas

Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas

Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas

Synopsis

This text examines a pivotal breakthrough in the struggle for black liberation through the US voting process. It details the steps and players in the 1944 Supreme Court decision in Smith vs Allwright, a precursor to the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

Excerpt

This story has a simple beginning. One day in 1923 a middle-aged, middle- class black man, Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon of El Paso, Texas, decided that he would vote! He collected his poll tax receipt, went to the local precinct and requested a ballot that he might vote in the Democratic primary election. The election official refused his request, informing him that he, Nixon, could not vote in the primary as maintained by state law because he was a Negro. For more than two decades thereafter, Nixon and a small cadre of black lawyers and leaders in Houston, Texas, with the strong financial and moral backing of a large number of local blacks and the NAACP, would continue to challenge the constitutionality of the exclusion of blacks from Democratic primary elections. These challenges resulted in four major U.S. Supreme Court cases: Nixon v. Herndon, 1927, Nixon v. Condon, 1932, Grovey v. Townsend, 1935, and Smith v. Allwright, 1944.

In the 1944 Smith v. Allwright case, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Texas Democratic white primary. The white primary was the most effective scheme used in southern states to strip blacks of the vote and render them politically impotent. The Smith decision represented a significant political victory for black Texans and the NAACP. But the Smith decision symbolized more than either blacks or whites could know then. Had blacks known what the decision portended for the future, their victory would have been, undoubtedly, even sweeter. For in their long, relentless, costly, and often frustrating pursuit of free access to the polls in the primary elections that counted most, they propelled the United States Supreme Court to embark upon a bold new course of judicial interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments that would ultimately revolutionize the American political process. Smith v. Allwright infused subsequent Supreme Court decisions dealing with residential segregation, educational discrimination, and reapportionment, issues that continue to affect our political lives.

Chapter 1 discusses major nineteenth-century Supreme Court decisions pertaining to the meaning and intent of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amend-

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