Interview with Kelly Smith, February 13, 1964

Project: Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project

Interview Summary

Reverend Kelly Miller Smith (1920-1984) was a clergyman and civil rights leader in Nashville, Tennessee. Born in the all-black town of Mount Bayou, Mississippi, he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Morehouse College and a Master of Divinity degree from Howard University. Reverend Smith was the pastor of the Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi form 1946-1951 until he became pastor of Nashville's First Colored Baptist Church in 1951. In 1954, when the U. S. Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in Brown versus Topeka Board of Education, Reverend Smith was president of the Nashville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1955, he and twelve other African American parents filed a federal lawsuit against segregation in the Nashville public schools. In 1958, Reverend Smith founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council and served as its president until 1963, while also serving as a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1955 to 1969. Promoting non-violent tactics, Reverend Smith greatly influenced the Nashville sit-in movement in the early 1960s. Reverend Smith served as Assistant Dean of Vanderbilt University's Divinity School from 1969 until his death in 1984.

Reverend Smith begins with a brief personal history and follows with a detailed account of nonviolence training in Nashville and the sit-ins to which it led. He describes how students came to be a part of this movement, his own involvement as a student at Morehead University, and discusses the central role of a student from Vanderbilt Divinity School, James Lawson. Reverend Smith continues by describing the boycotts against downtown stores that came in the wake of the sit-ins and discussing at length the negotiations that finally brought change and their results, noting that Southern-bred store and theater owners were often easier to convince than Northerners. Reverend Smith addresses James Baldwin's claim that the ""Southern mob"" does not represent the Southern white majority. He talks about his own and other African Americans' feelings about whites and draws on his childhood in the all-black community of Mound Bayou, Miss. In response to a question about the dilemma of maintaining black identity on one hand and joining American culture on the other, Reverend Smith advocates being a part of America, not a nation within a nation. He continues by discussing issues of the participation of Northern whites in civil rights work in the South and briefly discusses Lincoln, whom Warren characterizes as a racist. Reverend Smith addresses the issues of how soon and how fully the goals of the civil rights movement can be achieved as well as the ideal of immediate change versus the facts of how society really does change, mentioning the ambivalence of many successful African American businessmen and politicians toward desegregation. He also talks about the future of black colleges in the face of integration. Reverend Smith and Warren discuss African Americans' relations with Jews. He discusses the low rate of African American philanthropy for the civil rights movement and other black causes, and the economic facts behind it, leading to a discussion of the general economic facts and effects of African American life. Reverend Smith provides his belief on the role of the church in the civil rights movement. Finally, he proposes reasons for the high number of civil rights leaders from the South, referring to a ""false concept"" Northerners have of progress in race relations in that section.

Interview Accession

2003oh030_rpwcr019

Interviewee Name

Kelly Smith

Interviewer Name

Robert Penn Warren

Interview Date

1964-02-13

Interview Rights

All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.

Interview Usage

Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.

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Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.

All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.

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Smith, Kelly Interview by Robert Penn Warren. 13 Feb. 1964. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Smith, K. (1964, February 13). Interview by R. P. Warren. Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.

Smith, Kelly, interview by Robert Penn Warren. February 13, 1964, Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.





Persistent Link for this Record: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org/ark:/16417/xt7jdf6k3h8c