Wesley, Carter Walker

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Wesley, Carter Walker

Carter Walker Wesley was a prominent African American attorney and newspaper publisher who fought a long legal battle with the state of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party to end the racially discriminatory White Primary. Wesley, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), also sought to unite African American newspaper owners through the National Negro Publishers Association.

Wesley was born in 1892 in Houston, Texas. He received a bachelor's degree from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1917 and a law degree from Northwestern University in 1922. He practiced law in Muskogee, Oklahoma, with John Atkins, but the pair moved to Houston in 1927 to engage in additional business opportunities, including a real estate firm, an insurance company, and a newspaper, the Houston Informer. James M. Nabrit Jr., also a Northwestern Law School graduate, joined them to form the law firm of Nabrit, Atkins, and Wesley.

Wesley usually concentrated on his business ventures and let Nabrit handle most of the legal work. However, because Wesley was committed to ending racial discrimination, he personally handled important cases involving the Civil Rights of African Americans. He and Nabrit took the case of Dr. A. L. Nixon of El Paso, Texas, who had been prevented from voting in the Democratic primary election because he was black. Nixon had earlier challenged a state law that permitted the Democratic Party to exclude African Americans from the primary. In Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, 47 S. Ct. 446, 71 L. Ed. 759 (1927), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state could not formally endorse the white primary.

Texas responded, however, by basing the white primary solely on a resolution adopted by the state Democratic Party. Texas claimed that it had no role in the primary and therefore the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause did not apply. Wesley and Nabrit challenged this theory, but in Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S. Ct. 622, 792 L. Ed. 1292 (1932), the Court upheld the Texas white primary. Undaunted, Wesley continued to press for an end to the white primary. Finally, in Smith v. All-wright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S. Ct. 757, 88 L. Ed. 987 (1944), the Court overruled the Grovey decision and struck down the Texas white primary as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment's prohibition against voting discrimination based on race.

Wesley remained a staunch supporter of the NAACP and civil rights but shifted his emphasis to publishing. He formed the National Negro Publishers Association (now called the National Newspaper Publishers Association) in 1941, which became a means of communication for African American publishers throughout the United States. Wesley eventually became publisher and editor of a chain of affiliated newspapers in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and California.

Wesley died in Houston in 1969.

Further readings

Kluger, Richard. 1974. Simple Justice. New York: Knopf.

Low, W. Augustus, and Virgil A. Clift, eds. 1984. Encyclopedia of Black America. New York: Da Capo Press.