Daniel Robert Smith (1932-2022)

Daniel Robert Smith, the last surviving child of an enslaved Black American
Daniel Robert Smith, the last surviving child of an enslaved Black American

Daniel Robert Smith was the last surviving child of a formerly enslaved American. He was born on March 11, 1932, in Winsted, Connecticut, to Abram A. B. Smith and Clara Wheeler Smith, a domestic worker. Daniel was the fifth of six children.

Smith was skilled in Dog Obstacle Agility Training and competed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City. He attended the Gilbert School and was the only African American in his graduating class in 1952. That same year, Smith enlisted in the United States Army with an interest in its K-9 Corps.

Instead of K-9 Corps, Smith was assigned as an Army medic at a military hospital in Korea during the conflict between North Korea’ Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and South Korea’s Republic of Korea that ended in 1953. Smith was honorably discharged in 1955. Upon his discharge, he returned home and took a job at the YMCA on Main Street in Winsted, but the career was short-lived because of the 1955 floods brought by Hurricanes Connie and Diane that destroyed Winsted. He left for neighboring Springfield, Massachusetts, where he enrolled in Springfield College in 1956 on the “GI Bill Extended to Korean Veterans” and received a Bachelor of Science in Science and Psychology in 1960. Afterward, Smith attended Tuskegee Institute College of Veterinary Medicine (now University) in Alabama.

In 1963, he left his studies to head an adult literacy program and direct an antipoverty initiative in Lowndes County. Local whites warned Black residents in Lownes that the “makeshift” church would be burned down if used for meetings. And they burned it where Smith’s office was situated. White supremacists chased him down a gloomy, uncannily road until he pulled into a filling station. He continued his civil rights activities even more than before. Smith traveled to the nation’s capital in 1963, along with over 200,000 demonstrators in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in the nation’s capital that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, spearheaded.

1965 Smith and more than 600 voting rights protesters marched across Selma’s Edmunds Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, led by 25-year-old activist John Lewis and Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to the city to support SCLC. In 1968, Smith left the South to work for the US Department of Health & Human Services in DC. Smith thus retired in 1994 and began volunteering as head of usher at the National Cathedral in DC.

In 2022, Smith’s book Son of a Slave: A Black’s Man Journey in White America was published by Takoma Writers. Daniel Robert Smith died in Washington, DC, on October 19, 2022. He was 90.