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Fri, 02.09.1883

Lawrence Nixon, Physician, and Voting Advocate born

Lawrence A. Nixon

*Lawrence Nixon was born on this date in 1883. He was a Black physician and voting-rights advocate.

Lawrence Aaron Nixon was born in Marshall, Texas, 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. Young Nixon 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 NAACP.

He was married first to Esther Calvin, who died in 1918, and then in 1935 to Drusilla Tandy Porter, who survived him. He had four children. In 1923 the Texas legislature passed a law prohibiting Blacks from voting in Democratic primaries. 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 voter suppression 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 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 party continued to deny primary votes to Blacks. It was not until the decision in Smith v. Allwright ended the white primary 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. Lawrence Aaron Nixon died on March 6, 1966, due to an automobile accident.

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