The Rise of the NAACP in Texas
MICHAEL L. GILLETTE*
IN THE LATE 1930S AN EXTRAORDINARY GROUP OF BLACK TEXANS BEGAN
to organize and direct the state's civil rights movement. As they re-
vived the five languid branches of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People,' they built a statewide organization,
the Texas State Conference of Branches of NAACP, which ultimately
included more than 170 local chapters. Through this structure they
mobilized local branches and coordinated their programs with the poli-
cies and strategies of the NAACP's national office in New York. They
also planned and initiated lawsuits against racial discrimination in the
areas of voting rights, jury service, employment, housing, education,
and public accommodations.
One man whose vision of a statewide NAACP organization was spe-
cially influential was Antonio Maceo Smith. Not only was he instrumen-
tal in its development, but he also spearheaded its activities for two
decades. A gifted practitioner of the political arts of compromise and
consensus, he combined the administrative talents of the bureaucrat
with the promotional skills of an insurance executive. Confident and
charismatic, he was above all an organizer.2 He was exactly what the
Born in Texarkana in 1903, Maceo Smith was educated at Fisk Uni-
versity and New York University, where he received degrees in business.
While in New York, he worked as a Red Cap in Grand Central Station
and organized an advertising agency in Harlem. Returning to Texas
in 1929 after the death of his father, Smith then moved to Oklahoma
*Michael L. Gillette is an historian at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, Austin,
1The NAACP branches in Texas were chartered during the second decade of the twen-
tieth century. After a period of activism, during the Ig1os, the organization had declined
by the early 1930s. Robert Bagnall to G. F. Porter, February 6, 1923, NAACP Papers
(Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), Box G-2oi; William Pickens to G. Duke Craw-
ford, July 5, 1935, ibid., Box G-2o3; C. F. Richardson to Juanita Jackson, February 27,
1937, ibid., Box G-2o4.
2Thurgood Marshall to M. L. G., October 31, 1974, interview. Numerous statements re-
garding Smith's role in the Texas State Conference are printed in its Twentieth Anni-
versary Souvenir Booklet (1956). Thurgood Marshall wrote that Smith's "best training is
in the field of business and everything he undertakes is done in a business like manner
based on thorough organization." Thurgood Marshall to Walter White, April 8, 1939,
NAACP Papers, Box G-2ol.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 81, July 1977 - April, 1978. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101205/. Accessed May 25, 2015.