Dr. Donald H. Smith (287081)

Dr. Donald Hugh Smith passed peacefully in his sleep on August 10, 2019 at the age of 87.  A professor emeritus and past chairman of the Department of Education, Baruch College of the City University of New York, Dr. Smith was a celebrated and trail-blazing African American educator.  Working first in Chicago, his hometown, and then in New York City, Dr. Smith innovated educational programs that addressed the institutional disadvantages that afflicted African American and Latino students in inner city schools.  Dr. Smith advocated fiercely for their welfare, understanding that it was up to educators like himself to redress the persistent racism that diminished the self-esteem and life potential of students of color.  

A proud product of the Chicago public school system, Dr. Smith earned a B.A. from the University of Illinois, an M.A. from DePaul University, and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin.  He began his career in 1956 as a teacher at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago, the city’s first predominantly African American high school.  Writing ground-breaking research papers such as “The White Counselor in a Negro Slum School” (1967), “The Rhetoric of Riots” (1968), “Reading as a Liberating Act” (1977), and “The Social and Academic Environment of Black Students on White Campuses” (1981), Dr. Smith emerged as a pioneer of  the now widely recognized discipline of educational equity and race consciousness.  In 1967 he served as the chief educational consultant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Adult Literacy-Jobs Project in Chicago.  He was a founding director of the Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois State University, the first of its kind in the country.

Before his tenure as a Professor at Baruch College, Dr. Smith held faculty positions at Northeastern Illinois State University, Bethune-Cookman College, Atlanta University and the University of Pittsburgh.  At Baruch College he held several key positions, including chairman of the Department of Education, director of open admissions, chairman of the Committee for the Creation of the School of Public Affairs, chairman of the Black and Hispanic Faculty Association, and founding chairman of the CUNY African American Faculty and Staff Network.  The Annual Dr. Donald H. Smith Distinguished Lecture series was created in his honor, featuring scholars in the areas of African and African American history and culture.

Dr. Smith held numerous positions in addition to his Baruch professorship.  He was a past president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE), as well as the founding president of its New York chapter.  He commissioned NABSE’s seminal report “Saving the African American Child.” He chaired the New York city Board of Education’s Commission on Students of African Descent and wrote the report, “Dropping Out of School in New York State: the Invisible People of Color.” He was a founding member and first chair of the Board for the Education of People of African Ancestry, and served as U.S. representative of the University of South Africa. He was a consultant to the President’s National Advisory Council on Education, the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, among many others.  He advised numerous public school systems, colleges and universities across the country, including the New York City, Jersey City, Newark and several New Jersey public school systems.  

Donald Hugh Smith was born March 30, 1932 in Chicago to Madeleine Franklin Smith and William Henry Smith.  His father, a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University, was an accomplished pianist, organist and choral director.  He composed many classic arrangements of old spirituals such as “Plenty Good Room,” “Good News,” “Climbin’ up the Mountain Children,” and, his most famous “Ride the Chariot.”  He was dean of music at Wiley College, a historically Black college in Marshall, Texas.  In his autobiography, “Climbin’ Up the Mountain Children,” published in 2002, Dr. Smith described a difficult childhood growing up in post-Depression Chicago after his parents divorced, living with an erratic single mother, and experiencing his first encounter with racism while riding segregated trains on journeys to visit his father.  Despite being a brilliant student, he was subjected to repeated acts of discrimination by white teachers that nearly derailed his college career.  With the help of extended family and mentors, a beloved English teacher, his Kappa Alpha Psi brothers, and his own enormous courage and strength, Donald persevered in his goal to make a world in which children of color never again had to suffer what he had suffered.  Donald H Smith lived as he advocated, “to make your life mean something.”  

A memorial service in Dr. Smith’s honor will be held on Saturday, December 7, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church, 132 W. 138th Street.  At 11 a.m. sharp there will be a gathering and testimonials, at 12 noon there will be a memorial service featuring the Abyssinian Gospel Choir which will perform several of Dr. Smith’s father’s compositions, at 1 p.m. lunch will be served.  Seating for the lunch is strictly limited to colleagues, former students and friends, and is subject to prior approval.  Please call Frederique Magne 609-647-1020 or email Robin Wells wells.robin@gmail.com for details.