Smith, Lonnie E. (1901–1971)

By: Neil Sapper

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: February 15, 2020

Lonnie E. Smith, black dentist and civil rights activist, son of Gus and Sara (Robinson) Smith, was born in Yoakum, Texas, in 1901. He graduated from Providence Hill High School in Providence in 1919 and attended Prairie View A&M College for two years. Smith was accepted for dental study and received a D.D.S. degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1924. In 1925 he opened a dental practice in Galveston in partnership with E. A. Etta. In 1929 Smith moved to Houston and practiced dentistry at a downtown office. On July 27, 1940, he attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in his Harris County precinct in Houston. As an African American, he was denied a ballot under the white primary rules of the time. Smith, with the assistance of attorneys supplied by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including the future United States Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall), filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 1942. Smith petitioned for redress for the denial of his rights under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge, S. E. Allwright. Following an unfavorable ruling in the district court, Smith's attorneys lodged appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. On April 3, 1944, the court's decision in Smith v. Allwright reversed the prior decisions against Smith by a margin of eight to one. Since that time, all eligible Texans have had the right to vote in the primary election of their choice. Smith later served as a Democratic precinct committeeman, as well as a member and officer of Good Hope Baptist Church of Houston; additionally, he was a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, the Charles A. George Dental Society, and the Houston Negro Chamber of Commerce. He served as president of the A. A. Lucas Chapter of the NAACP. He married Janie Mae Dunn in 1924; they had no children. Smith was living in Houston at the time of his death, on March 6, 1971.

Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Millwood, New York: KTO Press, 1979). Houston Metropolitan Research Center Files, Houston Public Library. Neil Gary Sapper, A Survey of the History of the Black People of Texas, 1930–1954 (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1972).

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • Dentists
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Neil Sapper, “Smith, Lonnie E.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

July 1, 1995
February 15, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: