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Smith, George Walker (1929-) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Smith, George Walker (1929-)
Variant Name: The Black Moses
Fuller Form: Reverend George Walker Smith

Historical Note:

Reverend George Walker Smith was born in Hayneville, Alabama in 1929.  He came from a family of sharecroppers on a large plantation.  As a child, Smith had always loved to read and learn, but his local school was only in session for a few months out of the year, and there was no public high school for African-American students.  The plantation owner, however, decided to send Smith to an African-American high school, run by a church, in another county.  Smith was the valedictorian of his graduating class.  He then received a scholarship for the Presbyterian College in Knoxville, TN.  While at college, Smith met his wife, Irene.  After graduating, he began teaching during the school year and taking classes for a master's in education at Alabama State University in the summer.  Eventually, Smith became the vice principal of his school.  During his teaching career, he witnessed several violent acts of racism and social injustice that persuaded him to leave Alabama.

He moved to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary School, and interned at a predominately affluent, white church for three years where he learned that "good people come in all colors."  After seminary school, Smith left Pittsburgh to lead the congregation at the Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church in San Diego.

In 1956, when Smith arrived in San Diego, Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church was in the process of building a new facility in Allied Gardens, a predominately white suburb.  While that church was under construction, Golden Hill United was, according to Smith, the only integrated church in San Diego.  Some members, however, began an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign requesting a white reverend.  Most of the white members left Smith's congregation after the completion of the Allied Gardens church, making Golden Hill a predominately black church.  Smith preached the social gospel to encourage community activism.  He became the first black member of the local Kiwanis Club.  Later in his career, Smith was pastor at the Christ United Presbyterian Church.

During the late 1950's city leaders noticed Smith, and were amenable to his ideas.  He began joining various municipal boards, and helped to form the Citizens Study Committee of the Board of Education in order to change the election policy of city-wide votes to county-wide votes, in an effort to diversify the San Diego Board of Education.  The committee was successful, and the policy amended.  In 1963, Smith ran for a Board of Education seat and won, making him the first elected African American on the School Board.  He began his tenure by changing the ethnic composition of teachers, and although he was initially supportive of school integration, he later became disenchanted because of the still-prevalent social segregation.  During Smith's sixteen years on the Board, he served as president four times.  In 1967, he was the first African American to join the National School Board.  He headed the United Negro College Fund for eighteen years, and in 1970, he participated in the White House Conference on Children and Youth.

In 1970, Smith established the Catfish Club, a public forum for politicians and the community to voice their opinions on political and social issues.  He was the first chairman of the Citizens Advisory Review Board, which was set up to regulate police procedures.  He formed the Coalition for Racial Equality.

After over forty-five years pastoring in San Diego, Smith retired in 2000.  He and his wife have three children.

Sources: Smith, George Walker and Francine Phillips.  Conscience of the Community.  San Diego: Write Now!, 2002.
Note Author: Amanda Lanthorne

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