The 1890s: Robert Lloyd Smith
Free born in 1861, Robert Lloyd Smith later attended the Avery Institute, the University of South Carolina, and Atlanta University. Moving to Oakland, Texas, he became a role model for many African Americans in his position as principal of the city's teacher training school. He later worked for ex-slave Booker T. Washington who eventually founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Washington and Smith believed that African Americans should focus their efforts on peaceful economic self-improvement and cultural pride instead of political and social equality. In 1890, Smith founded the Farmers' Home Improvement Society to encourage African-American farmers to reach fiscal independence. Farmers were taught to be frugal, grow their own food, avoid credit by paying cash for goods and services, and own their farms either individually or cooperatively.
While in his mid-thirties, Robert Lloyd Smith served in the 24th (1895) and 25th (1897) legislatures. He worked to improve both the educational opportunities and the civil rights of African Americans. He was the last African American to serve as a state legislator until 1966 when three African-American legislators were elected: Barbara Jordan from Houston served in the Senate, while Curtis M. Graves from Houston and Joseph Lockridge from Dallas served in the House.