Vanderbilt University Honors Its First African American Administrator

Kelly-Miller-SmithVanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has announced that it is naming its newest residence hall in honor of Kelly Miller Smith, who served as assistant dean at the Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1969 until his death in 1984. He was the first African American administrator at the university.

Smith was a native of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. He began college at Tennessee State University but completed his bachelor’s degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He then earned a divinity degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Smith then became pastor of a church in Vicksburg, Mississippi. During this period he served as chair of the department of religion at Natchez College. In 1951, he became head of the First Baptist Church in Nashville. He served as president of the local chapter of the NAACP and founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. Smith was a leader in the Nashville civil rights movement.

Smith was the author of Social Crisis Preaching (Mercer University Press, 1984) based on the Lyman Beecher Lecture Series held at Yale University.

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  1. Dr. Kelly Miller Smith was my professor, my mentor, and my friend while I was a student at the Vanderbilt Divinity School (1979-1982). He was a champion for social justice and urged his students to stand up for the plight of all oppressed people around the world. This is a great honor for his legacy and for his family at Vanderbilt University.

  2. A great honor long over due to a well deserving Africa American civil rights leader friend and neighbor. Our family, the family of the late Bishop Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., were neighbors of the Kelly Miller Smith family during the 1960s. Reverend provided outstanding leadership during the turbulent days of the Fisk University sit-in demonstration and the rejection of a friend and fellow United Methodist minister the Reverend James Lawson to the Vanderbilt Divinity School. Thank you Reverend Smith for moral courage and Christian Integrity.

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