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Celebration of Life for John B. Smith, Sr.

John B. “J.B.” Smith, Sr. was born to the late John Watson Smith and the late Pressarene “Press” Whitfield Smith, the oldest of five children in LaGrange, Georgia. He was quite an ambitious young man and as the oldest, he was charged with caring for his siblings and family by chopping wood and shoveling coal to provide for this family. His strong work ethic was developed early while in grammar school when he won a bicycle as a newspaper deliverer for LaGrange’s Informer newspaper. In LaGrange, J.B. attended Kelly Grammar School and graduated from East Depot High School in 1954.

J.B. graduated form Morehouse College in 1958 with a B.S. degree in Mathematics and earned two Master Degrees from Atlanta University (now, Clark Atlanta University): an M.A. degree in Business Administration and a M.A. degree in Mathematics. John B. Smith, Sr. received an honorary dectorate form Carver Bible College of Atlanta, Georgia in 2009.

J.B. accepted Jesus in this life as a member of First Baptist Church of LaGrange, Georgia – the same church where he married his childhood sweetheart, the former Frances M. Evans. After moving to Atlanta, he and his wife Frances joined Union Baptist Church (Atlanta, GA) and he was ordained as Deacon. He Later became a charter member of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church (College Park, GA), Fellowship Group Baptist Church (East Point, GA) and Tri-Cities / New Life Community Church (Atlanta, GA). He was faithful to God and his family until his death.

J.B. served two years in United States Army and was honorably discharged in 1960. He began teaching mathematics with Atlanta Public Schools in 1960. This was during the turbulent period as racial integration and minority upward mobility began to unfold in the southern states. As a teacher and later department administrator, he mentored and was influential to the students at Luther Judson Price High School and Fulton High School in Atlanta, In the late seventies and early eighties, he procured, with his personal funds, devices for some of his students to learn to operate. these devices were the precursors to what we now refer to as modern-day personal computers. Many of those students later became very successful in the areas of computer science and computer programming.

He joined the staff of The Inquirer in February 1961 as a part-time advertising salesman, just months after Herman J. “H.J.” Russell, Jesse Hill Jr., Julian Bond and others realized the necessity and positive impact that The Inquirer could provide to fill a void for coverage that other news outlets were not covering — that of the fast-moving and crucial campaigns of the burgeoning Atlanta Student Movement which subsequently sparked the Civil Rights Movement. During this critical time, young people, led by students from Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark College and Morris Brown College, organized sit-ins, freedom rides and other acts of nonviolent protests. Many were arrested as they protested the Jim crow laws and customs that segregated the United States along racial lines. Those participating in the Student Movement were barely able to attract even minimal news coverage. The Atlanta Inquirer began to tell the city and the world did not want to hear, but it was news that the powerful leaders in the city and state could not ignore, thanks to John B. Smith, Sr. and The Atlanta Inquirer. The Inquirer shed light on the truth and helped lead Atlanta toward the integration of services, matriculation of minority students traditionally “white only” schools, universities and medical schools, all without the violence that erupted in other cities across the country.

Smith quickly became the Advertising Manager, then Vice President, and later Publisher and Chief Executive Officer. As Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of The Atlanta Inquirer newspaper he guided and inspired each employee to create more vividly, always “seeking the truth without fear or favor” while they were working to produce a valuable and meaningful newspaper.

John was appointed to many boards of directors in business and he provided good, sound leadership in every instance. He was named “Young Man of the Year” in Business and was selected as one of twenty-five “City Shapers” in Atlanta Magazine. He was recipient of the Morehouse College Alumni Award in areas of Business, Georgia Department of Labor Black History Achievers Awards in Journalism, and was appointed in 1997 by the Mayor of Atlanta to a task force of the city’s Renaissance Program dedicated to “Building an Even Better Atlanta.” He was noted as one of Atlanta’s Most Influential in the 2004 Collector’s Edition of Who’s Who in Black Atlanta.

John’s desire for perfection and his knowledge of salesmanship made his decidedly effective in the filed of marketing. A few of his business enterprising activities included representing The Atlanta Inquirer at the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the first Business Group of the Community Relation Commission. He was a life member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. (Psi Chapter 1958 and member of Eta Omega Chapter), a 32° member of Prince Hall Masons (Henry Rutherford Butler Lodge #23) and a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (Kappa Boulé). John also served as the Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), also known as The Black Press of America, which is a 77-year-old federation of more than 200 African-American newspapers from across the United States. He was active in the NNPA since the early sixties.

Mr. Smith was preceded in the death by his parents, his daughter and first born, Pamela D. Smith, two brothers, Albert Smith, Willie Smith, one sister, Jacqueline Patricia Smith Humphries, Those who he leaves to cherish his memory and carry forward his legacy are his wife of 56 years, Frances, his daughter, Lori Smith (Atlanta), son, John B. (Angela) Smith, Jr. (Atlanta), five grandchildren, Camryn Alyce Bragg, John Bradford Smith, Alexandra Brooke Smith, Chase A. Backwell and Kyndall Peyton Smith; his brother, Robert L. Smith (Atlanta), sister, Sarah Alexander (Atlanta), loving devoted cousin C. Louise Franklin (Dayton, Ohio) and many nieces, nephews, cousins and multitude of other relatives and friends.


Last updated on January 27, 2023

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