DR. CHARLES U. SMITH
Sociologist, Civil Rights Activist + Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Professor
Tuskegee University and Fisk University Alumnus
STORYTELLER OF THE YEAR AWARDEE, 2014
Noted sociologist, civil rights activist, and Tuskegee and Fisk University alumnus Charles U. Smith spent nearly 50 years as a legendary professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University before dying at age 91 on April 20, 2015. Graduating first in his class at Camden High School in his native Alabama, “C.U.” earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Tuskegee University and the Master of Arts in sociology at Fisk University.
In 1948, he became the first African American to earn the Ph.D. degree at Washington State University. Two years prior, at just 24 years old, Smith he began his long and renowned career as professor and scholar at Florida A&M University. Within three years after his return from completing his doctorate, Smith became chairman of the FAMU Sociology Department. In 1979, he was appointed FAMU Director of Graduate Studies, the role in which he served until retiring in 1997. A passionate believer in the connection between FAMU and the community, he was the originator of widely popular FAMU picnic, a founder of the FAMU Employees Club and most recently embarked on the mission of creating a FAMU Way road way. A life member of the NAACP, Dr. Smith used his imposing height of nearly 7-feet and impeccable attire to engage captive audiences on many subjects including matters of civil rights. During the 1960s, Smith ignored the directive of then-FAMU president George W. Gore to discontinue his support the FAMU student-led boycotts of Tallahassee lunch counters and movie theaters. Smith, however, continued to attend boycott meetings and support the student-activists. An activist in his own right, in the 1970s, Smith became the first black chair of the Leon County Democratic Party, and he notably 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. Simultaneously honored as “Alumnus of the Century” of Washington State University and “Faculty Member of the Century” of Florida A&M University in 2000, he inspired courage and social commitment in scores of students who would become tenacious civic and social leaders throughout the nation and in other countries.