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, who was based in Nashville, Tennessee.

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]

Marriage and family

Smith was married to Alice Clark Smith and had four children, daughters Joy Ardelia, Adena Modesta, and Valerie Lin, and son Kelly Miller Smith Jr. He and his wife also reared a foster daughter Dorothy Jean Springfield.

Legacy and honors

  • The Kelly Miller Smith Memorial Bridge and Kelly Smith Towers in Nashville are named for him.
  • After his death Vanderbilt University named The Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies at the Divinity School in his memory. The Institute perpetuates his legacy of theological and academic excellence and prophetic witness.
  • Kelly Miller Smith interviews housed in the website Who Speaks for the Negro? hosted by Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. The website is a digital archive of materials related to the book of the same name published by Robert Penn Warren in 1965. The original materials are held at the University of Kentucky and Yale University Libraries. The archive consists of digitized versions of the original reel-to-reel recordings that Warren compiled for each of his interviewees as well as print materials related to the project. Digital archive created and designed by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University.
  • The Kelly Miller Smith Papers housed at Vanderbilt Library in Special Collections, include his sermons, private correspondence, as well as Smith's musical compositions and other papers. A Finding Aid is available for this collection and the later Kelly Miller Smith Papers Addition.

Selected works

  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Carroll Van West, ed. (1998). "Kelly Miller Smith Sr.". Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1-55853-599-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>