WE REMEMBER | Sociologist, Activist+ Legendary FAMU Professor Charles U. Smith | #HBCUstory | Smith, who spent nearly 50 years as a Florida A&M professor + administrator, died Monday at 91.
From: “FAMU’s fierce, celebrated C.U. Smith dies” – Gerald Ensley, Tallahassee Democrat
Smith came to FAMU in 1946 as a sociology professor after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Two years later, he left to earn his Ph.D., at Washington State University, where he was the second black to earn a Ph.D. He returned to FAMU in 1950 and became chair of the sociology department the following year. In 1979, he became director of graduate studies, the post he held until his retirement in 1997.
“C.U. Smith lived a wonderful life and made a great contribution to Florida A&M,” said former FAMU President Frederick Humphries. “His contributions were not only superb in academe, but he helped us frame a great perspective on how we should live together.”
A dedicated researcher, Smith wrote 14 books, most of them focusing on the civil rights movement. He won innumerable awards from professional and academic associations. He was one of the first black professors at predominantly white Florida State University, as he taught courses and supervised doctoral students from 1966 to 1992. In 1978, he became the first black chair of the Leon County Democratic Party.
He also waged a decades-long crusade against Tallahassee’s Capital City Country Club, after the once public course turned private in 1956 to avoid allowing blacks to play golf.
“Charles was one of the brightest scholars I have encountered in my professional career,” said Aubrey Perry, retired FAMU Dean of Arts and Sciences. “Not only was he an esteemed sociologist, civil rights activist and historian. But he was one who held Florida A&M with highest degree of pride and enthusiasm.”
Smith’s first books were inspired by FAMU students. In 1956, after two FAMU students were arrested for refusing to move to the back of a city bus, students help start the Tallahassee bus boycott. In the 1960s, FAMU students led boycotts of Tallahassee lunch counters and movie theaters.
Though Smith was one of 16 FAMU professors warned by FAMU president George Gore not to support the students’ protests, he continued to attend boycott meetings and support the students, then wrote a book about the contributions of students at FAMU and other historically black universities to the civil rights movement.
Rest in Peace Professor Charles U. Smith