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Gerald Smith Named Newest Anderson Laureate

by: Gail Hairston

(Dec. 16, 2014) —At Kentucky’s recent 28th Annual Equal Employment Opportunity Conference, the Commonwealth’s Personnel Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer and Arthur Lucas, executive director of the state Office of Diversity and Equality, presented the annual Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award to Gerald L. Smith, associate professor of history in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences.

Anderson Laureates, the highest honor bestowed by the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, are given to individuals recognized for significant contributions to equal opportunity in their communities.

Smith received his doctorate in history at UK in 1988 and has been a faculty member at UK since 1993. As director of the interdisciplinary African American Studies and Research Program at UK for eight years, he sought to expand its presence through public programs as well as course offerings in the UK curriculum. Reorganized as a minor in the College of Arts and Sciences now, the African American and Africana Studies Program offers a cultural, historical and literary base that seeks to promote the interest and knowledge of the African diaspora experience through quality, multidisciplinary teaching and research.

“Dr. Smith works tirelessly to protect, promote, document and celebrate the history of African Americans in Kentucky,” said Lucas. “He has been an advocate at many levels ‒ as a scholar, educator, author, pastor and historian ‒ and his work exemplifies the theme of this year’s EEO Conference ‒ Leading the Way.”

Smith is the current scholar-in-residence to the university’s Martin Luther King Center, as well as author, editor and co-editor of three books. He co-edited “Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Volume Six: Advocate of the Social Gospel.” The author of more than 30 book reviews, essays, articles and book chapters for historical journals and reference books, Smith is currently researching and writing a general history of the African-American experience in Kentucky.

“Gerald Smith’s research illuminates the African-American experience in Kentucky and frames this experience within the broader currents and trends of Kentucky history, Southern history and African-American history,” said Karen Petrone, chair of the UK Department of History. “As an outstanding public historian and award-winning teacher, he brings this history to a wide audience. He stands out among the faculty of the University of Kentucky for his leadership in the Commonwealth and his extraordinary service to the community.”

Smith has consulted on various historical projects, lectured on college campuses around the state, and conducted workshops for primary and secondary school teachers. He has also appeared in historical documentaries that have aired on CBS, NBC, KET and TruTV.

He has served on a number of different boards and committees, including the University of Kentucky Athletic Board, and now serves as chair of the Kentucky African-American Heritage Commission.

The pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church in Lexington, Smith continues to work to preserve the history of Lexington through his book “Lexington Kentucky (KY): (Black America),” which accounts Lexington’s African-American community and how they survived and flourished despite obstacles that may have proven insurmountable to some. He is also the general co-editor of the Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia. Scheduled for publication in 2015, the volume is the first of its kind in the nation.

The Charles W. Anderson Laureate Award honors the first African-American legislator in Kentucky, indeed the entire South, post Reconstruction era. Anderson (1907-1960) began his political career as a young man of 28, representing Louisville, and eventually served five consecutive terms in the Kentucky General Assembly.

His legislative legacy included legislation requiring Kentucky’s governor to finance African-American graduate students’ out-of-state tuition since no in-state school would allow their enrollment; requiring rural high schools to enroll African-American children in all 120 counties; and prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring public building projects and later in the private business sector. He sponsored legislation prohibiting a requirement that all female teachers resign when they married. The state’s “hanging law” was repealed thanks to his efforts.   

Anderson resigned his seat in the House in 1946 to become the first African-American attorney in the entire South to become an assistant state attorney. Shortly before his death in 1960, he was named an alternate United States representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

Besides a connection to Kentucky, a nominee's contribution must benefit individuals in at least one of the following protected classes: race, color, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, age, disability, genetic information, political affiliation or veteran status. Nominations are judged based on their achievements over an extended period of time.

Past recipients of the Anderson Laureate Award include Kentucky Governors Edward T. Breathitt, Wallace Wilkinson, Martha Layne Collins, Brereton Jones and Paul Patton; Senator Georgia Powers, Lyman T. Johnson, Whitney M. Young Jr. and Sanford T. Roach, to name a few. For a complete list, visit here.