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Dr. Frank Smith, Jr. interview, 2022-12-28

Identifier: rwhc_ohp_2022_008.wav

Content Description

From the Collection:

Oral history interviews recorded by students in the Real World History class at Center for Inspired Teaching.


  • Other: 2022-12-28


Biographical / Historical

Dr. Frank Smith, Jr. was born in Newnan, Georgia, a close knit and nurturing rural community, in 1942. His father, Frank Smith, Sr. was a truck driver, and his mother, Flora Smith, worked in the home taking care of their eight children. Smith attended school at St John's Baptist Church School and Central High School, and he excelled academically, graduating at the top of his class. He went on to study at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA (1959-1962), where he became involved in the Atlanta Student Movement. Smith ultimately left school in his senior year to commit himself full time to the Civil Rights Movement. During this time, Smith helped to found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and his work with SNCC brought him to Mississippi, where he participated in grassroots activism around issues of voter registration, workers’ rights, and school integration (1962-1968). In 1965, Smith married his wife, Jean Wheeler Smith, and the two moved to Washington, DC, in 1968. In Washington, she would finish medical school at Howard University, and he would take a research job at the Institute for Policy Studies. They also had two children soon after arriving in DC: Malaika (1971) and Tarik (1975). Continuing his activist work, Smith started a leadership training program called the Washington Workshop at the Institute for Policy Studies. The workshop connected Black people who had recently moved to DC to federal resources that would help them adjust. He also organized a group called the Adams Morgan Organization (AMO), a volunteer organization that addressed problems facing the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Through his community organizing work in the city, Smith became a reluctant entrant into city politics. He was elected to serve as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) in the late 1970s and went on to serve on the DC Board of Education. Smith also earned his PhD during this time from the Union Institute of Ohio (1980). In 1982, he was elected to the DC City Council representing Ward 1, and he would go on to serve four terms on the city council, leaving that post in 1998. In the 1990s, Smith began an effort to create a memorial and museum for African Americans who fought in the Civil War. The project had two central aims: 1) to correct a narrative of the Civil War that ignored the contributions of Black troops, and 2) to economically revitalize the U Street community. As founding director, Smith leveraged his business and political savvy to secure funding and make the vision a reality, and the Memorial was dedicated in 1998. Smith continues to work at the Museum to this day, and he loves his job. Dr. Smith loves the outdoors, and in his free time, he enjoys going on walks in Rock Creek Park as it reminds him of the time he spent outside as a child. He also likes to read a lot. In fact, he was known in SNCC (and by many others in his life) as an avid reader. Dr. Smith is also a family man, and he has dinner with his daughter and grandchildren every weekend. The most important message he has for the next generation is that if you see something that you want to change, you must take action to change it.


From the Collection: 27.1 Gigabytes (DIG_0029)

From the Collection: 228 Files (DIG_0029)

Language of Materials

English, Old (ca.450-1100)


In this oral history interview, Dr. Frank Smith, Jr. discusses his life and experiences moving from Newnan, Georgia, to Washington, DC, in 1968. Dr. Smith talks about his early life in Newnan, his time at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, first in Atlanta and later in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Dr. Smith also talks about how he met his wife and their move to Washington, DC, in 1968. Turning to life in Washington, Dr. Smith talks about his work at the Institute for Policy Studies, his organizing work in the city, and his career in city politics. He also discusses the creation of the African American Civil War Memorial/Museum. In conclusion, Dr. Smith reflects on the contemporary political moment and offers some advice to younger generations. This oral history interview was conducted by a DC high school student as part of a class assignment on the Great Migration in Real World History.

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001