The RL Smith elementary school on Turner Street was once filled with smiling student faces. It was named for the late Robert Lloyd Smith, an African American man who served in the Texas Legislature between 1895 and 1899.
Smith was born free in Charleston, South Carolina in 1861. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Atlanta University before relocating to Texas in 1880. He was an educator, a businessman, and a politician. After serving as a school Principal and becoming an aide to Booker T. Washington, he was appointed to the board of trustees for the Anne T. Jeane’s fund, which provided financial aid to rural schools serving African Americans.
Smith went on to found the Farmer’s Home Improvement Society, which encouraged economic independence for black farmers. Smith’s organization promoted homeownership, farm ownership, cooperative buying, cash purchases (as opposed to buying on credit), and sustainably raising one’s own food. This society spread from Texas to Arkansas and Oklahoma under the guidance of Smith. He was elected to the Texas legislature in 1894 and again in 1896 on a platform concerned predominately with education and race relations.
Smith went on to do many more noteworthy things before his death in 1942. He is now buried in the East Waco-Greenwood Cemetery. An East Waco elementary school was named to honor his legacy, before eventually being shut down. The historic building sat vacant for years, falling into disrepair and decay. In 2013, the building was razed and the NeighborWorks Waco acquired the land.
In honor of the stirring legacy left by Smith and especially his work on homeownership—and in homage to the school that bore his name—NeighborWorks Waco decided to use the site to house a brand new, mixed-income neighborhood named Legacy Square. This neighborhood is notably diverse in terms of socioeconomics, race, familial status, and beyond. Each of the residents owns their home, which are sustainably and beautifully built.
After years of working to build this neighborhood, NeighborWorks Waco is proud to announce that we expect to finalize Legacy Square in June of 2022. Our final homeowner will be moving into her brand new, sustainably built, brick home with three bedrooms, two baths, and a two-car garage. We hope to let our newest homeowner get settled in before celebrating this accomplishment, and those of RL Smith, with a neighborhood party to take place at the Wilbert Austin Park (formerly East Waco Park).