Richard Randolph Grovey, Black civil-rights activist, was born in 1889 in Brazoria County, Texas. He graduated from Moore High School at Waco in 1910 and Tillotson College at Austin in 1914. He served as principal of a rural school shortly before moving in 1917 to Houston, where he owned a successful barbershop. He started the Third Ward Civic Club with the objective of organizing professional and working-class African Americans in an effort to assert their political rights. In 1928 he joined Carter Wesley and J. Alston Atkins, the owners of Houston's Black newspaper, the Informer (later the Houston Informer and Texas Freeman); James Nabrit, a lawyer; and others, to advance a court case against the white primary. In January 1932, the group organized the Harris County Negro Democratic Club. Charismatic, articulate, and skilled in writing, Grovey characterized the club's strategy as a "plan to use reason, the public press and the Courts to let the world see Texas Democracy as it really is." He promised to "broadcast these tactics of the Democratic Party managers to perpetuate civic injustice, unfairness in the Courts, police brutality-all behind the shibboleth: social equality." Despite some differences with the national office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, through speeches to Black groups and editorials in the Informer Grovey successfully galvanized Black people statewide in support of the case.
He and his lawyers used new procedures to bypass the Texas appeal laws. By suing the election judge, Albert Townsend, for less than $20 in damages they were able to avoid the higher state courts and go directly to the United States Supreme Court, which agreed to hear Grovey v. Townsend in January 1935. Although in April 1935 the Supreme Court ruled against Grovey, in Smith v. Allwright (1944) the court reversed the decision. Grovey, held in high regard by Blacks across the state, remained active in his pursuit of Black equality. His influence inspired Heman M. Sweatt, who successfully won a court battle for admittance to the University of Texas School of Law. Grovey later served as head of the Legal Redress Committee in the NAACP. He died in the late 1950s or early 1960s. His wife was listed as a widow in Houston city directories in 1963.
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Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of Negroes in Texas, 1528–1971 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). Alwyn Barr and Robert A. Calvert, eds., Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981). Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Millwood, New York: KTO Press, 1979).
Activism and Social Reform
Texas in the 1920s
World War II
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Grovey, Richard Randolph,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
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