(Memphis) Memphis civil rights leader Maxine Smith is being remembered for her tenacity and passion. Friday she passed away. She was 83.
“When it comes to Maxine Smith I don’t think we I don’t think Webster has managed to compile words sufficient to express the gravity of her contributions,” Mayor A C Wharton said.
Her contributions may never be measured.
“She stands in the ranks of Nelson Mandela and other true pioneers,” he said.
Maxine Smith was a pioneer for civil rights.
“She was a warrior. So proud of her. She will be missed by me,” longtime friend State Representative Johnnie Turner said.
Turner summed up her mentor’s legacy with one word, passion.
“She was passionate about education, passionate about poor people, passionate about the political process and understanding that a vote-less people was a hopeless people,” Turner said.
Smith had deep commitment to education. Turner said she saw the consolidation of Memphis and Selby County schools as a big accomplishment.
“That was one of the greatest victories because she had fought so long,” Turner said.
Smith’s fight for equality began in Memphis in 1957, after she was turned away from what is now the University of Memphis because of the color of her skin.
“That was the best thing that ever happened. She came straight to the NAACP office,”Turner said.
She filed suit against the school, and two years later, the first black students were admitted.
She became an executive secretary with the NAACP, a position she held more than 30 years.
She lead protest to end segregation in Memphis Public Schools and Businesses. She also lead the rise of black political power in Memphis.
“She recognized that unless you have people in power to make those decisions that it was not going to happen,” Turner said.
Dr. Willie Herenton became the first African American superintendent and elected mayor in Memphis. He credits Smith for his success.
“It is suffice to say I probably wouldn’t have become superintendent of schools at the age of 39 had their not been the leadership of Maxine Smith,” he said.
Vivacious and fearless, Maxine Smith made lives richer and fuller for the people and the city she loved.
“Maxine had a lot of fire. She had a lot of vigor and I think deep down inside of her she had very little tolerance for racial inequalities and injustices. I think she had a burning desire to break those barriers down,” Herenton said.