Claiborne Washington Smothers, I, known as Clay Smothers (April 1, 1935 – June 11, 2004), was an African-American member of the Texas House of Representatives from the former District 33-G in Dallas County who served from 1977 to 1981. Though elected as a conservative Democrat, Smothers switched to Republican affiliation on December 17, 1979, near the end of the first year of the first administration of Bill Clements, first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction.
"Clay" Smothers, I
|Texas State Representative for|
former District 33-G (Dallas County)
January 1977 – January 1981
|Preceded by||Richard S. Geiger|
|Succeeded by||Steven D. Wolens|
|Born||April 1, 1935|
Malakoff, Henderson County
|Died||June 11, 2004(aged 69)|
|Political party||Republican-turned-Democrat (1972) returned-Republican (1979)|
Clay Smothers, II (1958-2013)
|Alma mater||Prairie View A&M University|
However, Smothers was a Republican in 1970, when had had run unsuccessfully in District 12 for the Texas House; he was defeated by the Democrat Sam Coats. In that same election George Herbert Walker Bush lost the U.S. Senate race to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Paul Eggers failed to unseat Preston Smith in their second consecutive match.
Smothers was the fourth of five children born and reared in Malakoff in Henderson County in East Texas, where his parents, James William Smothers (1896-1975) and the former Alice Olenza Wingfield (1899-2000), ran the St. Paul Industrial Training School, the only African-American orphanage and school in Texas that operated without federal funds. The institution housed many homeless youth over the years. It remains operational.
Smothers graduated from the historically black Prairie View A&M University in Waller County, Texas. He and his wife, Barbara, lived for several years in Chicago, Illinois, where he was a teacher and special law-enforcement officer involved in the control of youth gangs. He served on Mayor Richard J. Daley's Commission on Youth Welfare. He and Barbara returned to Texas in 1964. He first worked in the St. Paul orphanage but in the late 1960s moved to Dallas, where he operated a grocery store in the South Oak Cliff neighborhood. He became news editor of the Dallas radio station KNOK-AM, from which he had to step down while running for office. He also wrote newspaper columns highlighting the theme of Americanism and opposition to what he called "extremist groups on the left and right."
In 1972, Smothers surfaced to national attention as an alternate delegate for then Governor George Wallace at the Democratic National Convention. Without any expectation of success, Smothers nominated himself for vice president to run with nominee George McGovern but polled support from only seventy-four delegates, a number still more than twice that received by Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia, the 1976 Democratic presidential nominee who was not an announced candidate for vice-president.
Smothers warned the national Democrats meeting in Miami Beach, Florida, that Wallace, who had been the victim of an assassination attempt in Maryland several weeks earlier, held the allegiance of 20 million voters and had to be recognized. Smothers did not endorse either McGovern or Republican Richard M. Nixon but instead supported the 1972 American Independent Party ticket of U.S. Representative John Schmitz of California and Thomas J. Anderson of Tennessee. AIP had been Wallace's party in the 1968 presidential election. Schmitz and Anderson polled more than 1 million popular votes but carried no state. The liberal author Hunter S. Thompson ridiculed Smothers as "some black Stepin Fetchit-style Wallace delegate from Texas."
Smothers was elected to the first of his two terms in the Texas legislature in 1976, when Jimmy Carter became the thus far last Democrat to win the electoral votes of Texas . After some four months in office, the Austin American-Statesman reported on May 20, 1977, that Smothers had been named "Freshman of the Year" of the 65th legislative session by his colleagues. However, that same year Texas Monthly magazine named him to its "Ten Worst List" of legislators.
In his first House term, Smothers spoke against ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution and the national convention held in Houston in 1977 to promote feminist causes. "I have had enough civil rights to choke a hungry goat. I ask for victory over the perverts in this country. I want the right to segregate my family from these misfits and perverts," Smothers told a social conservative rally held at the Astrodome in opposition to the feminist convention.
In 1977, Smothers was one of eight House members named to the select committee Child Pornography: Its Related Causes and Control. Three non-legislators were also appointed, including later Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and Margaret Formby of Hereford, the founder of the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. In his second term, Smothers served on the House Elections Committee with Tom DeLay. of Sugar Land, later a high-ranking Republican member of the United States House of Representatives. He was vice chairman in that same session of the House Liquor Regulation Committee. In 1977, Smothers proposed without success a state constitutional amendment to double the length of House terms from two to four years.
In 1979, Smothers opposed the bill to create Juneteenth as a Texas state holiday observing the end of slavery in the state. Smothers belittled the observance as mere "ceremoniously grinning and bursting watermelons on the Capitol grounds" and "a fraudulent holiday".
In 1978, Smothers was awarded the American Patriots Medal by Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. He was selected from several thousand nominees by a panel of thirty persons, one-third of whom were justices of state supreme courts. The previous winner of the medal had been the western singer, actor, and businessman Gene Autry.
Smothers supported Jonas Savimbi of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola in the Angolan Civil War in the middle 1970s and accused the Communist Cuban forces, which fought on the side of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola government against Savimbi, of atrocities.[failed verification]
In 1980, Smothers ran as a Republican on the Reagan-Bush ticket for the United States House of Representatives in Texas' 24th congressional district, but he lost to the Democratic incumbent Martin Frost. Smothers ran as an opponent of abortion and polled nearly 39 percent of the vote in the district, since reconfigured through redistricting.
After his legislative service, Smothers resumed the management of the St. Paul Industrial Training School in Malakoff. In January 1982, he was briefly jailed for aggravated assault after an altercation at a bait stand in Caney City near Malakoff. He told law enforcement officers that he had just returned from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he had undergone surgery.
Little is known of his activities after January 1982. He died in 2004 at the age of sixty-nine. The place of death and interment is unknown. So are the names of his children except for Clay, II, who died at the age of fifty-five of lung cancer in September 2013; and Kinney Lee Fields, a 2016 Republican primary candidate for the District 3 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court .
- The district is now numbered 103 and is represented by the Democrat Rafael Anchia.
- Alwyn Barr, Black Texans: A History of African Americans in Texas, 1528-1995, 2nd ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996, p. 232; ISBN 080612878X
- "Clay Smothers". Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "Doris Eastman Harris, "Smothers ... New Voice of a Silent Majority", October 2, 1970". The Malakoff News. Retrieved October 11, 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "History of St. Paul Industrial Training School". stpaulscholarship.org. Archived from the original on March 2, 2013. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "66th Legislature, Resolutions - Congratulatory and Honorary". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- Jane Lee, "Black Delegate for Wallace to Speak Here", Lawrence, Kansas, Daily Journal, November 1, 1972, p. 1
- James W. McCulla, "It's Eagleton of Missouri in 2nd Spot", Milwaukee Journal, July 14, 1972, pp. 1-2
- Jann S. Wenner, ed., Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone: The Essential Writing of Hunter S. Thompson (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), p. 232; ISBN 9781439165959
- Dominic Sandbroook, Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), p. 261; ISBN 9781400042623
- "Child Pornography: Its Related Causes and Control". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "Elections - 66th R.S. (1979)". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "House Liquor Regulation Committee". October 11, 2013.
- "Legislation authored by Clay Smothers". lrl.state.tx.us. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "Anne Dingus, "Once a Texas-only holiday marking the end of slavery, Juneteenth is now celebrated nationwide with high spirits and hot barbecue," June 2001". Texas Monthly. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "Smothers, Claiborne W. "Clay"". ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "Smothers, Clay". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved October 11, 2013.
- "John H. Cox, "Clay Smothers jailed following altercation"". Malakoff News, January 21, 1982, p. 10A. Retrieved October 11, 2013. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
|Texas House of Representatives|
Richard S. Geiger
| Texas State Representative for
the former District 33-G (Dallas County)
Claiborne Washington "Clay" Smothers, I
Steven D. Wolens