Maxine A. Smith NAACP Collection

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Creator:Smith, Maxine Atkins
Title:Maxine A. Smith NAACP collection

The extensive collection provides highly-detailed documentation of the efforts of the NAACP to ensure equal rights for African Americans through a wide-range of actions such as meeting with elected officials, holding voter registration drives, requesting investigations of police brutality and coordinating protests, boycotts, circulating petitions, picketing and sit-ins to integrate public facilities. The material, which covers the years 1958 through 1995, includes correspondence, meeting agendas, annual reports, scrapbooks and a large collection of newspaper clippings. The collection documents the Memphis Branch's local efforts such as investigating individual's complaints of workplace discrimination at local businesses, and national efforts such as advocating for the conformation of Thurgood Marshall as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. There are gaps in the material, some of which was lost in the several moves of the local office or from water damage; nevertheless, there is enough continuity in the collection to provide a clear and detailed picture of the activities of the organization and the important role of the Executive Secretary in shaping and accomplishing the goals of the Memphis Branch.

Maxine Atkins was born in 1929, the youngest of the three children of Joseph and Georgia Rounds Atkins. Maxine graduated from Booker T. Washington High School at age 15 in 1945. She went on to earn a Bachelor's degree in biology from Spelman College in 1949 and a Master's degree in French from Middlebury College in Vermont. She was assistant professor of French at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas and at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. She also taught briefly at LeMoyne College following her marriage to Dr. Vasco A. Smith, Jr., in 1955 and before the birth of their son, Vasco A. Smith, III in 1956. In 1957, Maxine Smith, along with Laura Sugarmon, was denied admission to the Memphis State University graduate program. This injustice inspired Smith to begin her involvement in the work of the Memphis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which had been organized by Robert R. Church, Jr., and other leaders of the African American community in 1918. In 1962, Smith was named Executive Secretary of the Memphis Branch, and she served tirelessly in that position until her retirement in 1995. Throughout her involvement with the NAACP, particularly in her role as Executive Secretary, Smith was a major force in shaping and directing the work of this organization at the local and national level. In addition to her work with the NAACP, Smith received national recognition for her significant contributions to urban education. In 1971, Smith was the first African American to be elected to the Memphis Board of Education, and she served as Board of Education President for two terms. In 1994, Governor Ned McWherter appointed Smith to the Tennessee Board of Regents, which is the governing body for many public colleges and universities throughout the state. Throughout her career, Smith has received countless awards for her commitment to education, social justice and civil rights. Along with former president Bill Clinton, Smith was the recipient of the prestigious Freedom Award presented by the National Civil Rights Museum in 2003. Smith was also awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters from her alma mater, Spelman College in 2004.

Types:Reports | Text
Subjects:Smith, Maxine Atkins | Civil rights movements--Tennessee--Memphis | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Memphis Branch | African American women civil rights workers--Tennessee--Memphis | United States, Tennessee, Shelby County, Memphis, 35.1495343, -90.0489801
Institution:Memphis Public Library's Memphis and Shelby County Room
Contributors:Memphis Public Library. Memphis and Shelby County Room
Original Material:

Maxine A. Smith NAACP collection, Memphis Public Library, Memphis, Tennessee

Rights and Usage:

Permission to reproduce or publish this item is required and may be subject to copyright or other legal restrictions imposed by parties outside of the Library. Please contact the History Department of the Memphis Public Library & Information Center at 901.415.2742 or to request permission. Any image from the library's collection published in any form must cite as the source: Memphis and Shelby County Room, Memphis Public Library & Information Center.

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