Richard D. Evans, noted African-American civil rights attorney and first president of the Texas State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), son of Col. Tom Evans and Belle (Durham) Evans, was born in Burleson County, Texas, in about 1873. He attended Prairie View Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M University) and taught in the rural schools of Burleson County until about 1909. While teaching he founded a library for Black students in Tunis, Texas, and was president of the local colored men’s conference (also known as the colored race council). He earned his law degree from the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., in 1912 and was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court in April 1916.
Evans practiced law briefly in Brenham, Texas, before relocating to Waco in 1913 to become that city’s only Black attorney. In 1919 he garnered considerable fame after he successfully argued the first legal challenge to the use of the White primary in the case Sublett v. Duke. The court’s decision temporarily prevented the Waco Democratic Executive Committee from instituting an all-White primary, but this was later overturned in 1922. Following Sublett v. Duke, Evans became the NAACP’s chief attorney and organizer in the state of Texas and led the effort to move White primary cases from the Texas courts to the United States Supreme Court. When the Houston Democratic Executive Committee barred Blacks from voting in local primaries in 1921, Evans was recruited to represent Charles N. Love in the case Love v. Griffith. In 1924 Love v. Griffith became the first case regarding the use of all-White primaries to be argued before the United States Supreme Court. The suit was unsuccessful, but successful cases were later brought to the Supreme Court by El Paso doctor Lawrence A. Nixon (Nixon v. Herndon, 1927 and Nixon v. Condon, 1932). Evans was also one of the first Black members of the National Bar Association (NBA), and he held a number of executive positions within that organization. He spoke at several of the NBA’s conventions and was instrumental in urging its members to use their services to fight civil rights cases for their African-American constituents.
In 1936 he was elected to the national board of directors of the NAACP. In this role he joined forces with NAACP leaders A. Maceo Smith, Juanita Craft, and Juanita Jackson to revive some of its older branches and to organize new branches in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. In 1937 he organized and was elected president of the first Texas state conference of NAACP branches in Dallas. In addition to the NAACP and NBA, Evans was also a leader in the Lincoln League, Elks, Knights of Tabor, Independent Colored Voter’s League, and was a member of Tau Delta Sigma Fraternity. He was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1920.
Evans married Adelia Smith of Burleson County, Texas, in 1890. The couple had one son. In 1914 he married Maggie Faust of Hempstead, Texas. Following Maggie Faust’s death in 1919, Evans married Myrtle Glenrose Gant, a teacher from Waco. The couple had two children—Gloria Bell Evans and Richard D. Evans, Jr.
Tragically, on June 26, 1938, Evans was killed in a train accident in Waco. He was buried in Waco’s Greenwood Cemetery.