On this day in 1940, civil-rights activist Lonnie E. Smith attempted to vote in the Democratic primary in Harris County. Smith, an African-American dentist born in Yoakum in 1901, was denied a ballot under the white primary rules of the time. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (including the future United States Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall), Smith filed suit in federal district court seeking redress for the denial of his rights under the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Seventeenth amendments by the precinct election judge. Following an unfavorable ruling in the district court, Smith's attorneys lodged appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court. The court's 1944 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 and an NAACP chapter president. He died in 1971.
On this day in 1888, Randall County was organized. It had first been settled by Lincoln Guy Conner and his wife, who moved their cattle to the vast Palo Duro Canyon area in the Panhandle. The Conners bought their land for three dollars an acre, built a half dugout, and established a general store and post office. When the county was organized, the dugout was a polling place. The Conners’ daughter was the first white child born in the county. In the spring of 1889 Conner laid out the townsite of Canyon City. He donated town lots to anyone willing to build a home or a business. Over the next two decades he became one of the growing city’s most prosperous citizens.