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Kelly Miller Smith

Kelly Miller SmithKelly Miller Smith (1920–1984)

Smith was a Baptist preacher, author and leader in the American civil rights movement. Raised in Mound Bayou, Miss., he entered Tennessee State University in 1938 as a music major. Two years later, he decided to focus on religious studies and received a B.A. in religion and music from Morehouse College in 1942 and a master of divinity degree from Howard University Divinity School in 1945.

Smith moved to Nashville in 1951 and became pastor of First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, a position he would retain until his death. He became president of the Nashville NAACP in 1956 and co-founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council in 1958. Through the NCLC, he helped to organize and support the local student sit-in movement that would successfully end racial segregation at lunch counters in Nashville.

From 1968 to 1984, Smith served as assistant dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, where he taught Church and Ministry. His papers, which are housed at Special Collections at Vanderbilt University Library, illuminate his skill as a creative and inspiring leader in religious thought, as an academician, and as an active citizen and conscience of the broader community. Through the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies at Vanderbilt, his work endures in the education of leaders in ministry, the promotion of dialogue between African American theologians and church leaders, and the development of research materials.


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