May 1999

Judge Willie T. Smith, Jr.

Attorney/Judge

Judge Willie T. Smith, Jr.

For many years Judge Willie T. Smith was at the vanguard of legal issues that promoted human and civil rights in South Carolina. He was born in Sumter, S.C., on January 17, 1920, the son of Willie T. Smith, Sr., and Mary Moore Smith. He was reared in Columbia where he attended public schools. His college education, which began at Benedict College in Columbia, was “put on hold” when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served in North Africa, Italy, and Sicily during World War II. He was also sent to the Philippines and Japan prior to returning home. The army provided him with G.I. benefits with which he could pursue his education. He enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., and earned his baccalaureate degree in 1948. Interest in law and in influencing change in his native state, resulted in his attending the South Carolina State College School of Law from which he was awarded his J.D. degree in 1954. He re-entered the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Smith began the private practice of law in 1954 and served as cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He handled such civil rights cases as Whittenberg vs. School District of Greenville County, the case that desegregated Greenville’s Public Schools. He was also responsible for the outstanding sit-in case, Peterson vs. City of Greenville, which led to the repeal of all ordinances in the City of Greenville requiring the segregation of the races. An outstanding jurist, Smith participated in numerous other cases including Harvey Gantt vs. Clemson College, and the defense of numerous young people during the sit-in movement. He was co-chairman of the Greater Greenville Chamber of Commerce Bi-Racial and Community Relations Committee, which was responsible for the desegregation of all public accommodations in Greenville County. He later served as senior attorney for Legal Services for Greenville and as its Executive Director. A true public servant, The Honorable Judge Smith has served on numerous boards including PUSH, Phillis Wheatley Association, Greenville Urban League, Community Council of Greenville, a charter member and treasurer of the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority, and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. As District Marshal of the Sixth District, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., he conducted the historic 1964 meeting in Greenville, when public accommodations were made available to African Americans for the first time. This eminent jurist’s current affiliations are with the Boards of Greenville Technical College Foundation, American Red Cross, Roper Mountain Science Center, and the Board of Directors of the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. The Honorable Judge supports his profession by maintaining memberships with the American Bar Association, the S.C. Bar Association, the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, the Greenville County Bar Association, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. He is also active with the Rotary Club of Greenville, American Legion Post 231, Phi Alpha Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and Delta Beta Boule – Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc. He is a member of Mattoon Presbyterian Church where he serves as an Elder. Smith has received many awards for his jurisprudence and community service, among them Omega Psi Phi Man of the Year, Humanitarian Award – Greenville County Human Relation Commission, Johnson C. Smith Outstanding Alumnus Award, Order of the Palmetto, and the Alpha Phi Alpha Martin Luther King Freedom Award. He was elected to the S.C. Black Hall of Fame in 1994, and received the Columbia Lawyers Association Matthew J. Perry Medallion in 1996. Judge Smith’s outstanding career has been chronicled in Who’s Who Publications in the South and Southwest, in American Law (all editions), International, In the World, In America, and Among Black Americans. One can also read about his life in Personalities of the South and Black Leaders of America. Smith married Anna Marie Clark in 1955 (47 ½ years) and was the father of Willie T. Smith, III, a sports writer for the Greenville news. He passed away on December 17, 2002.