Lone Star Crusader: Antonio Maceo Smith and the Texas Civil Rights Movement
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Antonio Maceo Smith was the most influential African-American civil rights activist in Texas in the twentieth century. The rise and fall of Smith’s career mirrored that of the civil rights movement at large within the state. A native of Texarkana, Texas, and educated in New York at the height of the Harlem Renaissance he absorbed elements of the New Negro philosophy. Upon his return to Texas, Smith worked within an interlocking network of African-American organizations such as the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce, the Progressive Voters League, the National Negro Business League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His influence within these organizations mitigated potentially devastating competition between the groups. Thanks to Smith’s work within these groups, the Texas civil rights movement took on a sophistication and militancy in the 1930s not seen in other parts of the country until years later. Some of the early successes of these groups included the election of more sympathetic politicians to the Dallas City Council in 1935 and the inclusion of the Negro Hall of Life at the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. By the 1940s Smith worked much more closely with the NAACP. He was instrumental to that group’s successes, which included the litigation of the Smith v. Allwright (1944) and Sweatt v. Painter (1950) cases. By 1950 Smith managed a large bureaucratic organization in Texas on behalf of the NAACP that was less effective than in previous decades. Furthermore, the coalition of civil rights leaders and organizations within the state had fragmented and were unable to deal successfully with the mounting challenges of the decade. When the state of Texas sued the NAACP in 1957 it effectively ended its influence within the state. Smith lost his position with the NAACP in the aftermath of the case and lost much of his influence within the movement. Despite its successes and its relative lack of violence in comparison to many other cities, from this point forward the Texas civil rights movement lagged events in other parts of the nations. Smith, from then until his death in 1977 worked within the Dallas community as an influential local activist. Neither he nor the NAACP ever regained their prominence within the state.