Vanderbilt University Honors a Former Assistant Dean and Civil Rights Leader

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is currently constructing s $115 million residence hall project that will include two buildings, each with two separate halls of rooms. Each building will have space for about 330 students.

One of the halls is being named to honor Kelly Miller Smith (1920-1984), an author, minister, and civil rights activist. A native of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and music from Morehouse College and a master’s degree from the Howard University Divinity School.

Smith moved the Nashville in 1951 to become pastor of the First Baptist Church. He remained in that post until his death 33 years later. In 1956, Smith became president of the Nashville chapter of the NAACP and was active in the civil rights movement in the city.

From 1968 to 1984, Smith was assistant dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School. His papers are housed in the special collections unit of the Vanderbilt University Library. The university previously honored its former assistant dean by establishing the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies on the Vanderbilt campus.

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  1. Kelly was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend during my three years at the Vanderbilt Divinty School. He was a champion of social justice and taught us to be the voice of the poor and the oppressed when we begin our ministry.

    This is a welcomed honor for Vanderbilt University and for the late Reverend Dr. Kelly Miller Smith. Just think to have a dormitory to be named after the man who led the fight for civil rights at a college where Blacks once were not allowed to attend.

    The arc of history is long, but it ends toward justice…

    Graham P. Matthews

  2. I am so pleased to see that Vanderbilt is naming a residence hall after Kelly Miller Smith. The impact that Rev. Smith had on my entire family was enormous. We were proud members of First Baptist and I can still remember his first “trail” sermon that he preached at First in 1951. After that he was hired to become the full time minister. Even though I was 9 years old, his calming yet forceful words of wisdom still resonate with me.

    I count myself extraordinary fortunate to have been blessed by his presence!

  3. A wonderful honor for a great man. He baptized me and married me. Family lore has it that when I was very young I asked my parents if God sounded like “Rev. Kelly”. His family is deservedly proud of this honor, as am I. My family was so blessed to have known this great man.

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