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Richard Smith

Family Faced Racism And Death Threats

For a while Smith lived in Williamston, North Carolina, when his grandfather became ill with cancer. With the beginning of desegregation, Smith felt the sting of racism in the second grade when he began attending what had traditionally been an all-white school. "En route to school there was name calling and rock throwing by some older white kids," Smith said. "It lasted a few weeks and then settled down, except for one kid who attacked me during a dodge ball game. I knocked him down and then I cried because I thought I'd get in trouble for fighting. But I had a teacher who was a very nice Christian lady. She defended me and punished the other student. Things got better and that teacher made the difference."

Once civil rights marches began in the South, Smith's father wanted to get involved, seeking out a church in Montgomery, Alabama. In the summer of 1966 his father was assigned to the largest Methodist church in the city: Mount Zion. Percy Smith joined other blacks in forming a local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and became a leading member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), working closely with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. "My father's church took on quite a reputation," Smith told CBB. "I remember 1966-67 when ministers met at our church. Dr. King came. As the ministers met we played with his kids in front of the church."

In 1969 Smith's father became the first African American to run for congress in Alabama. "Our family started to get threats from the Ku Klux Klan by phone and through the news media," Smith said. His father did not win the election but the loss did not deter him from running for mayor of Montgomery a few years later.

"Father had fought in World War II, so he knew how to use a firearm," Smith told CBB. "We are lucky that he did. During his campaign for mayor I remember people coming to our home and shaking my father's hand. One day a white guy came and as my father reached out to greet him the man tried to pull a gun from his pocket. As the man fumbled he dropped the gun and my father pulled a gun from his own pocket, chasing the man out of the house. He never caught him; the man jumped the fence and drove off. It was a traumatic incident for the family, but it affirmed our faith in my father. That may have been when I first considered police work, because of what my father had done to protect his family. I felt he was a strong person." Smith also felt that because of what the movement accomplished, things got better. The schools were integrated and race relations improved. His father had not won the mayoral race but his two opponents courted him for his support during the primary.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) BiographyRichard Smith Biography - Family Faced Racism And Death Threats, Pursued Police Work Instead Of Ministry, Earned Accolades From His Peers