(Memphis) At Metropolitan Baptist Church on Walker Avenue, hundreds show up to remember a civil rights icon many simply called Maxine.
Mayor A C Wharton and Mrs. Smith were neighbors and friends. He said her work was a role model for the entire community.
“She modeled courage. She embraced challenge and she allowed us to sit at her feet to be tutored in the right thing to do,” Wharton said.
Mourners filled the pews of the sanctuary. Roslyn Brock with the National NAACP read a letter from President Obama addressed to Mrs Smith’s son, Vasco Junior.
“Maxine devoted her life to the struggle for fairness and quality in America. She broke through doors long closed to African-Americans,” Brock said.
From politicians to friends and neighbors, they are here to celebrate Mrs. Smith’s lifetime of Civil Rights activism with her late husband, Dr. Vasco Smith.
Autozone founder Pitt Hyde remembered the couple with a laugh.
“Together they have been allowed to go up to the mountain and enter the promised land where all of us are judged by the content of our character and not the color of our sin. I mean skin(laughter). That goes to me(laughter),” Hyde said.
The audience was filled with city, county, state and national leaders. Many such as Congressman Steve Cohen crediting their political careers to Mrs. Smith.
“It was difficult for Maxine to tell one of her political children, Willie Herenton, and a protegé who looked up to her, Tomeka Hart, that she was going to support Steve Cohen for Congress, but she was brave and courageous to do that as she did with other things,” Cohen said.
Mrs. Smith’s fight for civil rights began when she was denied admission to then Memphis State University and became a member of the NAACP and eventually became its Executive Secretary.
She fought to desegregate public schools and facilities, which had denied access to African-Americans and for better conditions for striking sanitation workers in 1968. Mrs. Smith was elected to the Memphis Board of Education in 1971. She helped pave the way to Dr. Willie Herenton becoming the city’s first black school superintendent and the first elected African-American mayor.
Beverly Robertson is executive director of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
“As Maxine fought courageously for change, she refused to lie down to intimidation or kowtow to humiliation,” Robertson said.
Mrs. Smith died Friday of last week after a lengthy illness brought on by heart problems, but many such as Rev. Rosalyn Nichols said her heart kept beating until the end to help others.
“Maxine took hell into her heart, went to jail, paid the price, took the stand gave her all so you and i could sit and stand, go and play and dream. She took which was impure and gave us back hope, faith and love,” Nichols said.
Maxine Smith, a one of a kind icon, many say forever changed the heart and soul of Memphis,.