Vanderbilt University is currently constructing s $115 million residence hall project that will include two buildings. The buildings will be named Moore College in honor of Stanford Moore (1913-1982), a 1935 Vanderbilt graduate who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1972; and Warren College in honor of Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), a 1925 Vanderbilt graduate who won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry and was named the first poet laureate of the United States in 1986. The new halls will be home to 660 students once completed in 2014.
Each college will be divided into two halls with beds for approximately 165 students. These halls also will receive honorary names. Smith Hall one part of the complex is named to honor Kelly Miller Smith (1920-1984), an author, minister, and civil rights activist. He was a creative and inspiring leader in religious thought, an academician, and an active citizen and conscience of the broader community. Smith was born October 28, 1920, in the all-black town of Mount Bayou, Mississippi. He received his early education in Mound Bayou and graduated from the Magnolia Avenue High School in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1938. He enrolled in Tennessee State University (then Tennessee A&I State College) in 1938 as a music major however, 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. In 1976 he received an honorary doctorate degree from Howard.
The Reverend Smith served as pastor for the Mount Heroden Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, from 1946 to 1951. Smith returned to Nashville in 1951 and became pastor of First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, a position he held until his death. During his tenure the church built a magnificent new church edifice in 1972, inaugurating new programs, and completed the Kelly Miller Smith Towers, a high-rise apartment complex for the elderly, in 1980.
When the U. S. Supreme Court handed down its Brown versus Topeka Board of Education in 1954, which outlawed school segregation, Smith was president of the Nashville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1955, he joined twelve other black parents in a federal suit to achieve desegregation in Nashville public schools.
He co-founded the Nashville Christian Leadership Council (NCLC) 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. Reverend Smith also served on the executive board of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1955 until 1969. In his efforts to promote educational and economic parity for black Americans, Smith also founded a local chapter of the Opportunities Industrial Center, Incorporated, in 1969.
Smith served as assistant dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1968 to 1984. He also taught Church and Ministry. Additionally Smith also served on the faculties of Natchez College, Alcorn College, and American Baptist Theological Seminary.
Other honors he received included being chosen one of Ebony magazine’s “Ten Most Outstanding Preachers in America”; one of Nashville magazine’s “Ten Most Influential Citizens” in 1977; the president of the National Conference of Black Christians; a member of the board of directors for Morehouse College’s School of Religion; a member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches; and a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1983, Dr. Smith delivered the prestigious Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale University. These lectures served as the basis for his final publication, Social Crisis Preaching(1984).
Following Kelly Miller Smith’s death he was interred in Nashville’s Greenwood Cemetery.
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. The Institute honors the legacy of the African American church which remains the primary institution in the African American community committed to the liberation of persons and groups who suffer from racial and social oppression. The Institute brings together the African American church community and African American educational institutions to study and research issues important to the practice of faith and ministry in the African American church.
Smith’s papers are housed on the Vanderbilt campus. They are comprised of his academic and organization files and writings which cover such subjects as the responsibility of the Black Church to both the community and academic life and his particular political vision as cleric and academician.