Until 1885, African Americans were excluded from practicing law in Maryland.
Beginning with the bar admission of Everett J. Waring, a continuous line of
courageous and effective black attorneys in Maryland have shaped national policy and effectuated improvements in the law regarding the civil rights for black citizens. Over a career spanning forty five years, Gerald A. Smith, who died on Sept. 9, was one of those important civil rights lawyers.
Gerald Allen Smith was born Sept. 17, 1934, to Rev. Hiram E. and Lula E. Smith, the third of seven children. ³During the Great Depression, my father sold locust posts to the state for forty cents a post. He also owned numerous properties which he leased and rented. A portion of my childhood was spent collecting rents.²
During the mid-1940s, the Smith family opened Beechwood Park as ³Maryland¹s
finest interracial beach and amusement park.² Located along the Magothy River, the park featured a merry-go- round, other amusement rides, games, slot machines, a roundhouse, a dance hall, a meeting hall, picnic areas, and food concessions.
Although Beechwood Park was an interracial park, the majority of park patrons were black and from Baltimore, which became a source of irritation for some Anne Arundel County whites. According to Smith, they accused his father of ³trying to mongrelize the county.²
Gerald was educated in Baltimore City Public Schools until the eleventh grade at Frederick Douglass High School. He completed high school at Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. According to Smith, it was more liberal and tolerant. Smith attended first Wilmington College, a private liberal arts Quaker school in Wilmington, Ohio.
After a year, he transferred to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., A year later, after a choir from Howard University performed at Bucknell, Smith transferred to Howard, pledged Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and graduated in 1956, cum laude with a B.S. in Business Administration.
In 1961, he married Gwendolyn Nowel and the following year he enrolled in Howard Law School. While Smith attributed his desire to attend law school to
an entrepreneurial spirit nurtured by his father, his childhood experiences also stimulated a desire to fight for justice. Witnessing his father¹s efforts to provide equality through the integration of Beechwood Park ignited a flame for justice that evolved into a torch.
He excelled academically at Howard University Law School and in 1965, Smith
graduated cum laude in a graduating class of fifteen students.
Following law school, Smith worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) in New York. During his employment with LDF, Smith frequently travelled to Southern states to investigate allegations.
While investigating a voting rights complaint in Tuskegee, Ala. he was notified by locals that the police were searching for him. For his protection, Smith was taken to the home of a black resident located near the Ku Klux Klan headquarters. Smith stated that the home was chosen specifically because it was close to the Klan. ³The locals figured that the Klan wouldn¹t look in a home so close to their headquarters.²
In 1966, Smith returned to Baltimore to begin a private law practice and became a special assistant city solicitor for Baltimore.
From 1967 to 1973, Smith worked in law offices with attorneys John Hargrove, Charles Howard, Archie Williams, Charles Williams, Benjamin Brown, James Bundy, and Kenneth Johnson. It was not a formal law firm, but the attorneys shared office space and overhead expenses.
One of Smith¹s most fascinating cases was Naimaster v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a suit that stemmed from an NAACP press release condemning inflammatory comments that had been made by Naimaster. His law suit complained that the NAACP had caused him to lose his job with the Baltimore Transit Company, by whom he had been employed for 12 years.
Gerald Smith tried the case before an all-white jury for four days in Anne Arundel County. The jury rejected Naimaster¹s claims. Smith described it as one of his most exhilarating cases, ³I felt like I was hitting a home run even though I had no reason to feel confident because the case was being tried in Anne Arundel County. But, by that time people wanted to distance themselves from the activities of the Klan.²
In his private life, Smith was a dedicated husband, father and grandfather. He had four daughters, Wendy Smith Barlow, Candice Conaway Lyte, Laurie Hunter, and Stephanie Smith, three of whom attended his alma mater, Howard University. Previously divorced from his first wife, Gerald Smith in 1999 married Susie J. Jones. He had six grandchildren and was survived by two brothers and two sisters.
Larry S. Gibson is a professor at the University of Maryland Law School.Law student Malikh Prout contributed to this report.