History of the El Paso Branch of the NAACP

America’s history is an inspirational story of pioneers who gambled their lives and those of their families in search of liberty and freedom. But that remarkable history bears the taint of a history that challenged these lofty goals with years of denying freedom and liberties to many of its people. Spanning centuries, America has persecuted racial and ethnic groups, women, children and those of sexual orientation. Amidst these abuses, those heaped upon the African immigrant have been the most long lasting and cruelest. From its inception, slavery in America established and institutionalized the denial of civil and human rights to people brought forcibly onto American soil.

In 1909, a group of sixty citizens, Black & White banned together to establish an organization that remains the single organization linked to civil rights advocacy throughout the world; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Known internationally as the NAACP, this organization quickly established branches throughout the United States of America.

The first branch of the NAACP in Texas was established in El Paso in 1914. The founding of this unit cannot be told without the relating of the life of its most noted chartering member, Dr. L.A. Nixon Lawrence Aaron Nixon, black physician and voting-rights advocate, was born in Marshall, Texas, on February 7 or 9, 1884, the son of Charles and Jennie (Engledow) Nixon. He attended Wiley College in Marshall and received his M.D. degree in 1906 from Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee.

He began practice in Cameron, Milam County, Texas. In 1909 there were ten lynchings of black men in Texas, one of which occurred in Cameron on November 4 and influenced Nixon to become a civil-rights advocate. In December he moved to El Paso. There he established a successful medical practice, helped organize a Methodist congregation, voted in Democratic primary and general elections, and in 1910 helped to organize the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In 1924 NAACP Field Secretary William Pickens visited El Paso and announced that the NAACP intended to test the constitutionality of the Terrell Law. The Terrell Law was passed in 1923 by the Texas Legislature which stated “In no event shall a Negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic primary election…in…Texas.” On July 26, 1924, with the sponsorship of the NAACP, Nixon took his poll-tax receipt to a Democratic primary polling place and was refused a ballot. Thus began a twenty-year struggle in which Nixon and his El Paso attorney, Fred C. Knollenberg, twice carried their case to the United States Supreme Court.

In 1927, in Nixon v. Herndon, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision that Nixon had been unlawfully deprived of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1932 Justice Benjamin Cardozo ruled for Nixon again, in Nixon v. Condon, holding that political parties are “custodians of official power . . . the instruments by which government becomes a living thing.” The Nixon cases were major steps toward voting rights, but there were legal loopholes under which the state and the Democratic partyqv continued to deny primary votes to blacks. It was not until the decision in Smith v. Allwright ended the white primaryqv that the way was cleared, and on July 22, 1944, Dr. and Mrs. Nixon walked into the same El Paso voting place and voted in a Democratic primary. Nixon was married first to Esther Calvin, who died in 1918, then in 1935 to Drusilla Tandy Porter, who survived him. He had four children. Nixon died on March 6, 1966, as a result of an automobile accident.

Conrey Bryson, Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon and the White Primary (El Paso, Texas Western Press, l974); Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon Papers, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, University of Texas, Austin.

White Primary: Following Reconstruction, white political leaders in Texas and other southern states sought to take the vote from black voters. As a disenfranchisement device, the poll tax discouraged poor whites as well as blacks from voting, while enabling blacks who paid the tax to vote. Party rules or state laws that barred blacks from the Democratic primary, however, could virtually disenfranchise all blacks (and only blacks) by keeping them out of the election that generally determined who would hold office in a Democratic-dominated state.²

NAACP Field Secretary William Pickens visited El Paso (reference)

1925 – 1934
The Texas State Conference of Branches was formed in 1937.

Thurgood Marshall visits Texas

1965 – 1974

1975 – 1984
1985 – 1994
1995 – 2004
2005 – Present

BIBLIOGRAPHY: [1] Handbook of Texas Online: NAACP

[2] Handbook of Texas Online: White Primary

[3] Handbook of Texas Online: Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon (1884 – 1966)


Your assistance is needed in researching the History of the NAACP El Paso Branch for the past 91 or 94 years. We are seeking written or oral documentations of our history. El Paso Branch was founded in 1915 and Charter in April 1918, Mr. William Henderson was the first President. What we are looking for is Who, What, When, Where and time period – 1930 Civil Case is an example; names of Past Presidents of the branch and other contributors as far back as you can ascertain. Please send any photos as well. Please send to elpnaacp@yahoo.com or you may send a hard copy to the branch address. All photos will be returned.

Thank you

Harold Howell

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