WELLS, AMMON SCOTT
WELLS, AMMON SCOTT (1876–1936). Ammon Scott Wells, African-American lawyer and civil rights leader, son of James and Julia Wells, was born in Collin County, Texas, on January 6, 1876. Wells moved to Dallas as a child and attended public schools there. After graduating high school, he moved to Kaufman County and taught school. While teaching, Wells studied law under attorney D. M. Mason and was admitted to the bar in 1897. By 1900 he had moved back to Dallas and begun to practice law with W. E. King. He married Mary E. Wells in 1902 and established his own practice the following year.
Despite segregation, Wells remained active politically and fought for black voting rights. In 1904 he was a delegate from Dallas to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. Wells, together with George F. Porter, founded a Dallas chapter of the NAACP in 1918 and served as the chapter’s first president. Although the chapter folded within a few years due to harassment by the Dallas Police Department, Wells remained active in encouraging blacks to register and vote. On March 19, 1919, he chaired a meeting of the Colored Voters Association in Dallas. This group encouraged the black electorate to oppose the Good Government Association, a white voters’ group whose slate of candidates included many who were objectionable to the NAACP.
In 1923 the Texas legislature passed a law barring blacks from participating in Democratic primaries. Although it faced subsequent challenges in ensuing years, the law effectively disenfranchised blacks in the primarily one-party state. In 1934 A. Maceo Smith and Rev. Maynard H. Jackson formed the Progressive Citizens League (see DEMOCRATIC PROGRESSIVE VOTERS LEAGUE). This purpose of this organization was to encourage blacks in Dallas to pay their poll taxes and register to vote in general elections. Wells was elected as president and joined Smith and Jackson in an unsuccessful attempt to have Dallas County’s white primary overturned.
In 1935 Governor James Allred appointed Dallas state legislator Sarah T. Hughes to be judge of Texas’s Fourteenth District Court. This created a vacancy, requiring a special election. Because blacks were not barred from running for office or voting in special elections, Wells decided to run for the vacant seat, with Smith and Jackson serving as his campaign managers. He was the only nonwhite candidate in a field of sixty. The Ku Klux Klan threatened violence if Wells won, and in the days leading up to the election on March 16, 1935, leaflets were distributed throughout Dallas with a message urging “Negro voters not to interfere with the present friendly relations between the races by attempting to elect A. S. Wells….” Wells lost the race but did better than most expected, finishing sixth and garnering 1,001 votes. Smith later asserted that many blacks did not vote because of the Klan’s intimidation. He surmised that had more of Dallas’s black population paid their poll tax, Wells may have won a surprising victory.
Ammon S. Wells died on February 16, 1936, at the age of sixty. He died at the wheel of his car, and though the official cause of death was coronary thrombosis, many in Dallas’s black community suspected foul play. Wells played a critical role in Dallas’s black community during in the early part of the twentieth century. He actively promoted and fought for black voting rights and provided visible leadership for Dallas blacks during the Jim Crow era.
Dallas Morning News, March 13, 17, 1935; February 17, 1936. W. Marvin Dulaney and Kathleen Underwood, eds., Essays on the American Civil Rights Movement (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1993). Official Proceedings of the Thirteenth Republican National Convention, held in the city of Chicago, June 21, 22, 23, 1904 (Minneapolis: Harrison and Smith Company, 1904). Michael Phillips, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). Robert Prince, M.D., A History of Dallas From a Different Perspective (Dallas: Nortex Press, 1993).
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