Robert Lloyd Smith, politician and businessman, was born a free black in 1861 at Charleston, South Carolina. He attended Avery Institute in South Carolina and the University of South Carolina; he received his B.A. degree from Atlanta University. He left his native state and came to Texas sometime during the late 1870s or early 1880s. In Oakland, Colorado County, he was principal of Oakland Normal School, a leading teacher-training institution, in 1885. He became an aide to Booker T. Washington and an advocate of the philosophy of self-help and solidarity as a route to economic growth for black Americans espoused by the Tuskegee Conferences. Association with Washington led to Smith's appointment to the board of trustees of the Anne T. Jeanes Fund, which provided aid to rural black schools. In 1890 Smith founded the Farmers' Home Improvement Society in Colorado County, an outgrowth of the earlier Village Improvement Society. The organization encouraged black farmers toward economic independence through home and farm ownership, cooperative buying, cash purchases instead of credit buying, and raising much of their own food. The society, which sponsored agricultural fairs and paid sickness and death benefits, spread over Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and, with Smith as president, branched out in succeeding years to encompass a truck growers' union, an agricultural college at Wolfe City in 1906, the Farmers' Improvement Bank in Waco, and the Woman's Barnyard Auxiliaries, with membership in twenty counties, which specialized in better egg, poultry, and butter production and the raising of improved swine for the market.
Smith was elected as a Republican to the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth legislatures in 1894 and 1896 from predominantly white Colorado County, when the whites split into Democratic and People's party factions. His legislative proposals primarily concerned education, race relations, and the advancement of Prairie View Normal School. He was appointed deputy United States marshal for the Eastern District of Texas by President Theodore Roosevelt and served from 1902 to 1909, when he was removed in the early days of the Taft administration. During these years Smith began a factory for manufacturing overalls. He was elected the first president of the Texas branch of the National Negro Business League when it was organized in 1907. Smith was active in various black fraternal orders and in 1915 organized and took charge of the state's Negro Extension Division to foster improved agricultural methods among black farmers. Smith called himself a "practical sociologist." He was married to Ruby Cobb, and the couple adopted two children. He died on July 10, 1942, and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Waco. He had lived in that city for a number of years and had been a member of St. James United Methodist Church.