Kelly Miller Smith

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Kelly Miller Smith, Sr. (October 28, 1920 – June 3, 1984) was a Baptist preacher, author, and prominent activist in the American Civil Rights Movement.

Smith was born and raised in the all-black community of Mound Bayou, Mississippi.[1] He attended Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College (later Tennessee State University) from 1938 to 1940, but graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1942 with a double major in music and religion. He later received a Bachelor of Divinity degree (now known as a Master of Divinity degree) from Howard University School of Religion in 1945.[2]

Smith moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1951 where he became pastor of First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, a post he would retain until his death in 1984. He became president of the Nashville NAACP in 1956 and founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) in 1958. Through the NCLC, Smith helped to organize and support the local student sit-in movement—a movement which would successfully end racial segregation at lunch counters in Nashville.[2] In a 1964 interview with Robert Penn Warren for the book Who Speaks for the Negro?, Smith comments that the end to segregation was achieved through much hardship and many negotiations by the NCLC.[3]

In 1969, Smith became assistant dean of the Vanderbilt University Divinity School[2] and after his death Vanderbilt named The Kelly Miller Smith Institute on the Black Church in memory of him. Smith was married to Alice Clark Smith and had four children, Joy Ardelia Smith Wright, Adena Modesta Smith Wright, Valerie Lin Smith Robinson, Kelly Miller Smith Jr., and a foster daughter Dorothy Jean Springfield.

The Kelly Miller Smith Memorial Bridge in Nashville is named after Smith.

Selected works[edit]

  • Microphone Messages (1947)
  • A Doorway to Bible Appreciation (1948)


  1. ^ Houck, Davis W.; David E. Dixon (2006). Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965. Baylor University Press. p. 821. 
  2. ^ a b c Carroll Van West, ed. (1998). "Kelly Miller Smith Sr.". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1-55853-599-3. 
  3. ^ Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. "Kelly Miller Smith". Robert Penn Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro? Archive. Retrieved 4 February 2015.