Tennessee Civil Rights Icon Dr. Maxine Smith Dies

(BALTIMORE)—In response to the passing of Dr. Maxine Smith, Tennessee civil rights leader and former NAACP Memphis Branch Executive Secretary, the NAACP released the following statement:

Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors:
“A true fighting force of the civil rights and education reform movement has passed on,” stated Roslyn M. Brock. “Dr. Maxine Smith’s leadership and unyielding faith in equality for all were essential to the NAACP efforts to ensure quality public education for America's children. Her spirit lives on in our national movement and in the educational institutions and businesses she helped to integrate in Tennessee.”

Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP:
“Today, we mourn the passing of a great civil rights and education leader,” stated Benjamin Todd Jealous. “Dr. Smith defined the civil rights movement in Tennessee, a hotbed of segregation. Her mentorship of the Memphis Eight brought Memphis State University into the age of integrated schools. Dr. Smith ensured her legacy by remaining an active leader in the Memphis school system for decades after the first battle was won. She was a hero and will be truly missed.”

Dr. Maxine Smith was Executive Secretary of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP from 1962 to 1995. In 1971, she became the first African American to be elected to the Memphis Board of Education. She served as President of the Memphis Board of Education for two terms. In 2003, Dr. Smith and Bill Clinton were awarded the prestigious Freedom Award by the National Civil Rights Museum, and in 2004 she was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters from her alma mater Spelman College.


Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities.  You can read more about the NAACP’s work and our five “Game Changer” issue areas here.

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