Community Honors C.U. Smith
By LaCrai Mitchell
Special to the Outlook
An abundant spirit seemed to overflow the sanctuary on April 25 as people celebrated the honorable life of Charles U. Smith.
The home-going services for Smith, held at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, was marked by sweet recollections and unforgettable stories of Smith’s life.
As a former emeritus distinguished professor of Sociology and former graduate dean at Florida A&M University, everyone—including the former mayor of the city of Tallahassee, John Marks—spoke of Smith’s love and dedication to the “college of love and charity.”
“C.U. Smith was FAMU,” Marks said.
In his detailed reflection of Smith’s active role in Tallahassee’s politics, Marks spoke of Smith’s unparalleled ability to hold leaders accountable and ensure that they simply, “did the right thing.”
“C.U. Smith will be remembered for his tenacity (and) his determination to ensure that everyone in Tallahassee was treated in an equal manner,” Marks said. “When he spoke, you listened.”
Smith helped pave the way literally and figuratively for Florida A&M University. As a key proponent for the design of the street that is now known as ‘FAMU Way,’ Smith was instrumental in the completion of the road.
Aubrey Perry, retired dean of FAMU’s College of Arts & Sciences, was a long-time colleague and friend of Smith.
Perry said, because of Smith’s role in naming the street, “When you drive through FAMU’s campus and you drive through what is now FAMU Way, you need to think about Charles Smith.”
Smith’s love for FAMU was evident in more ways than one.
In addition to implementing the university research committee, which awarded faculty members grant money to conduct research, Smith also created the FAMU Research Bulletin, a forum where tenuring faculty could publish their work.
Lisa Lang, a former co-worker of Smith’s and a close family friend, said that Smith knew the importance of supporting faculty in order for the university to continue to run smoothly.
“Dr. Smith was a great contributor to FAMU,” Lang said. “He genuinely cared about the university and its faculty.”
For those who worked closely with Smith, there was a resounding agreement that his tall stature was no small representation of his “larger than life” personality.
Rev. Ernest Ferrell, one of Smith’s former Sociology students, said that Smith had a unique ability to inspire young minds.
“[Dr. Smith] had a tremendous gift for teaching,” Ferrell said. “His gift would fascinate you and those who were in his class, to the point that you would want to learn more.”
A long-time civil rights activist and advocate for social justice, Smith actively fought for the integration of the Tallahassee Capital City Country Club, which was established in 1908. His intolerance for injustice also led him to support the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott.
Two years later, Smith played a vital role in sustaining the university during one of the most monumental crises of the century—the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1968, FAMU’s former president George W. Gore closed the university after the assassination of King. Gore immediately appointed Smith to a task force that was responsible for strategizing the return of the students.
Frederick Humphries, the eighth president of FAMU and a co-member of the aforementioned task force, said Smith’s role was invaluable to the successful return of the students.
“Florida A&M exploded,” Humphries said. “FAMU did not leave that episode in disarray and it was because of the brilliance of Dr. Smith.”
Smith’s family echoed the sentiments of his friends and spoke about his honest personality, his blunt resolve and his well-respected demeanor.
Among his long list of accomplishments and accolades: Smith was the first African-American to receive a doctorate degree from Washington State University and he was the first African-American to chair the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee.
His historical leaps and significant gains impacted the city of Tallahassee and FAMU in countless ways and many of his friends and family members, said he is greatly missed.
“I had a great admiration for him,” Humphries said. “We’re going to miss him.”
Smith is survived by his daughter, Shauna Y. Smith; one grandson, Robert D. Smith II; one granddaughter, Sejal B. Smith; two great grandchildren, Khyrian Walker and Sejal Y. Leonard.