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African-American civil rights advocate achieves ballot

July
22
1944

On this day in 1944, Lawrence Aaron Nixon walked into the same El Paso polling place that had denied him his ballot twenty years before and voted in a Democratic primary. The black physician and voting rights advocate was born in Marshall, Texas, in 1884. He began medical practice in Cameron in Milam County. The lynching of a black man in Cameron in 1909 influenced Nixon to become a civil-rights advocate. In December of that year he moved to El Paso, where he established a successful medical practice, helped organize a Methodist congregation, voted in Democratic primary and general elections, and in 1910 helped to organize the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1923 the Texas legislature passed a law prohibiting blacks from voting in Democratic primaries. On July 26, 1924, with the sponsorship of the NAACP, Nixon took his poll-tax receipt to a Democratic primary polling place and was refused a ballot. Thus began a twenty-year struggle in which Nixon and his El Paso attorney, Fred C. Knollenberg, twice carried their case to the United States Supreme Court. It was not until the decision in Smith v. Allwright ended the white primary that the way was cleared, allowing Dr. Nixon to finally cast his primary ballot in El Paso.

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