This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
Christia Adair — say her name.
“Christia Adair fought for the right for both women and African Americans. As a member of the NAACP, she worked to desegregate buses, dressing rooms, libraries, and hospitals,” said Texas Democratic Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.
“100 years ago, Texas ratified the 19th Amendment, but African American women suffragists like Christia Adair were still turned away at the polls,” NPR’s Houston reporter Jen Rice wrote on Twitter.
Born in Victoria, Texas, on Oct. 22, 1893, Adair, who was born Christia Daniels, attended Samuel Huston College. She graduated in 1915 and went on to teach in the Edna Public Schools before marrying Elbert Adair in 1918.
The couple later moved to Kingsville, Texas, where Adair helped to spearhead a women’s movement that included fighting against illegal gambling and organizing a petition drive for women’s suffrage.
Despite Adair registering to vote, she was denied the opportunity to cast a ballot.
“The white women were going to vote,” Adair said in a 1977 oral history interview with the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College. “And we dressed up and went to vote, and when we got down there, well, we couldn’t vote. They gave us all different kinds of excuses why. So finally one woman, a Mrs. Simmons, said, ‘Are you saying that we can’t vote because we’re Negroes?’ And he said, ‘Yes, Negroes don’t vote in primary in Texas.’ So that just hurt our hearts real bad.”
In 1943, Elbert Adair died, leaving his wife a widow. The couple did not have children.
After her husband’s death, Adair continued her activism. She joined the Houston chapter of the NAACP and she went on to serve as secretary for the civil rights organization.
Adair enjoyed a reputation as a fighter who would protect NAACP and other civil rights workers at all cost. She went head-to-head with Houston police who were trying to disrupt the local NAACP by attempting to force Adair to provide names and records of members.
According to the organization Women in Texas History, Adair was the executive secretary of the NAACP when the organization brought a lawsuit to end the White Primary in Houston.
The basic idea of the White Primary was to explicitly prohibit non-whites —African Americans primarily, but also Mexican Americans in south Texas — from joining the Democratic Party or participating in its the primary elections, according to research posted online by the University of Texas.
Because the Democratic Party dominated the political systems of all the Southern states after Reconstruction, its state and local primary elections usually determined which candidate would ultimately win office in the general election. Thus, any voters excluded from the Democratic primary were effectively excluded from exercising any meaningful electoral choice.
When the Texas Legislature passed a law in 1923 explicitly barring African Americans from participating in the Democratic Party primary, it fired the opening salvo in a two-decade legal and political struggle whose outcome hinged on whether a party could or should be regarded as a private entity with the right to establish its own internal rules.
The 1923 law was overturned as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Nixon v. Herndon (1927) for violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The decision addressed only the facts of the case before it, which concerned state law not the policies of individual political parties. In response the Texas Legislature passed a new law allowing the executive committee of each state party to decide who could vote in its own primary, according to the University of Texas research.
Known as Smith v. Allwright, the 1944 case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall, who won.
While the victory failed to prevent other attempts to disenfranchise African Americans, it did end the White Primary in Texas which was a major step toward securing equal voting rights, historians said.
This and similar victories made Adair the subject of bomb threats and other violence, according to Women in Texas History.
Adair also helped desegregate the Houston Public Library, airport, veterans’ hospital, city buses and department store dressing rooms. Her work helped blacks to serve on juries and be hired for county jobs.
In 1966, she was one of the first two Blacks elected to the state Democratic committee, but the party refused to seat her delegation.
She was honored with a county park and community center named after her in Houston.
The center includes a mural about Adair, who in 1984 was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. Adair remained active in community affairs until her death at the age of 96 in 1989.