FORT WAYNE -- George A. Smith Jr., a long-time campaigner for civil rights who was in the thick of the sometimes savage civil rights battles of the 1960s, died Monday in Fort Wayne. He was 69.In an article that appeared in The Journal-Gazette, Smith said he was born in Meridian, Miss., in the basement of a segregated hospital, but vowed when he was young to get a job at that hospital one day.
Eventually he was hired as an orderly at the hospital, and was named employee of the month, but the next day he was fired after being arrested for picketing outside a local grocery store. He said his supervisor told him, "We didn't know that you were part of the movement."
He once recalled being pushed to the ground and spat on by a sandwich shop owner, he told the newspaper for another story, being clubbed by police for sitting in the front row of a public bus, and being arrested, as he put it, more times than he could count.
Smith, whose wife, Louise, was also active in the civil rights movement, said he was inspired to get involved by Rosa Parks, the woman who was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
Smith was active in what was called Freedom Summer in 1964, a summer in which three friends who were helping to register black voters were abducted and murdered on their way to investigate the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Miss.
Smith was in Meridian at the time and was actually supposed to make that trip, but was told not to go because too many black men in the group would increase the chance they would be harassed.
Every year for decades after those murders, Smith and his wife led groups back to Philadelphia for memorial services for the three slain men. Even after so long, though, Smith said, many local blacks were reluctant to attend for fear they would get fired, just like in the 1960s.
As recently as a couple of years ago, Smith lamented that as many as eight people involved in those killings were still alive and on the streets of Philadelphia.
Smith also served as the director of the Congress of Racial Equality during that period, and he said that even after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he and others remained in Mississippi to test the laws because in Mississippi the Civil Rights Act didn't mean anything.
Smith eventually came to Fort Wayne and was employed by General Motors in Defiance, Ohio, until his retirement.
Surviving are his wife of 51 years, Louise; a daughter, Ramona (Darrell) King; a son, Anthony Smith; a sister, Sylvia Bright; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a host of other relatives.
Services are tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. May 11 at Greater Progressive Baptist Church, 2215 John St., with calling from 6 to 8 p.m. May 10 at Ellis Funeral Home, 1021 E. Lewis St.