Today in Texas History – April 3

From the Annals of Voting Rights  –  In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Smith v. Allwright.   The Court held that the Democratic Party’s “white primary” system was unconstitutional.  The case started when African-American dentist Lonnie E. Smith attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in his Harris County precinct.   Under the “white primary” system, Smith was denied a ballot.   In the 1940’s, winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election in all but rate cases.  If you could not vote in the primary, essentially you could not vote at all.   Smith fought back with the assistance of attorneys supplied by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall).  Smith filed suit in the U.S.  District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1942 arguing that he had been wrongfully denied his right to vote under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge, S. E. Allwright.  He lost at the district court, but appealed all the way to the Supreme Court which in an 8-1 decision ruled in his favor.  Discrimination continued in the form of “poll taxes” and other tactics employed to suppress minority voting, but tThe Smith decision did end the white primary in Texas. The number of African Americans registered to vote in Texas increased from 30,000 in 1940 to 100,000 in 1947.

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