Creating Community Oral Histories



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Home >> Special Collections & University Archives >> Online Materials >> Oral Histories >> Creating Community Oral Histories >> Creating Community Oral Histories

Reverend George Walker SmithReverend George Walker Smith

Reverend George Walker Smith was born in Hayneville, Alabama in 1929. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Knoxville College, and a Master's in education from Alabama State University.

Due to heightened racial tension in Alabama, Smith moved to Pittsburgh, where he attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary School and interned at a predominately affluent, white church for three years. After seminary, Smith left Pittsburgh to lead the congregation at the Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church in San Diego.

In 1956, when Smith arrived in San Diego, Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church was, according to Smith, the only integrated church in San Diego at the time. At Golden Hill, he preached the social gospel and encouraged community activism.

In 1963, Smith ran for a Board of Education seat and won, making him the first elected African American on the School Board. He began his tenure by changing the ethnic composition of teachers, and although he was initially supportive of school integration, he later became disenchanted because of the still-prevalent social segregation. During Smith's sixteen years on the Board, he served as president four times. He also served as president of the Council of Great City Schools and of the National School Board Association.

In 1970, Smith established the Catfish Club, a public forum for politicians and the community to voice their opinions on political and social issues.

Later, Smith became pastor at the Christ United Presbyterian Church.  He retired in 2000.

Oral History

Download the PDF transcript.

Reverend George Walker Smith's oral history documents his early life in Alabama, and his religious and educational careers in San Diego. This history is divided into two parts. In Part 1, Smith reflects on his life in rural Alabama and the many injustices he faced as an African American, particularly in the area of education. He goes on to discuss his time at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and his internship at a predominately white church. In Part 2, Reverend Smith focuses on his life in San Diego and the local African American community, detailing the lack of African American representation in government, housing segregation, and other obstacles. He also mentions his tenure on the Board of Education and his campaign to recruit African American teachers.

Interview digitally recorded on December 22, 2008 by Gloria Rhodes.

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