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Reverend George Walker Smith Papers

Identifier: MS-0399

Scope and Contents

The Reverend George Walker Smith Papers document Smith's ministerial career in San Diego at the Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church and Christ United Presbyterian Church, as well as his political, social, educational, and religious achievements. The collection includes sermons, church announcements, correspondence, Board of Education scrapbooks, news clippings, accolades, plaques and certificates of achievement, Kiwanis Club Information, and newsletters. The collection is divided into three series:  Personal Files, Scrapbooks, and Awards/Plaques.

The Personal Files, dating from 1954 to 2000, heavily document Smith's career in the church. This series is arranged alphabetically and includes sermons, correspondence, Kiwanis Club information, Catfish Club information, newsletters, United Presbyterian General Assembly statements, and church announcements. Smith's sermons make up the majority of this series. These files also contain an interesting collection of letters from church members requesting a white reverend. There is little to no information regarding Smith's time on the Board of Education, and very little information documenting his Catfish Club activities.

The Scrapbooks series consists of four scrapbooks, arranged chronologically, three of which document Smith's Board of Education elections and appointments during the 1960's. The fourth scrapbook documents Smith's 1970 election campaign for the fourth district county supervisor seat, which he lost, along with other miscellaneous achievements.  These scrapbooks contain mostly newspaper clippings and accolades, but very few pictures.

The Awards/Plaques (1950-2000) series document Smith's religious, social, educational, and political achievements, and contains certificates of achievement and plaques arranged chronologically. Organizations such as the YMCA, Kiwanis Club, the NAACP, and the San Diego City Council awarded Smith several of these plaques and certificates.


  • Creation: 1950-2000


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Biographical Note

Reverend George Walker Smith was born in Hayneville, Alabama in 1929. He came from a family who worked as sharecroppers on a large plantation. As a child, Smith loved to read and learn, but his local school was only in session for a few months out of the year, and there was no public high school for Black students. The plantation owner decided to send Smith to a Black high school, run by a church, in another county. Smith was the valedictorian of his graduating class. He then received a scholarship for the Presbyterian College in Knoxville, TN. While at college, Smith met his wife, Irene. After graduating, he began teaching during the school year and taking classes for a master's in education at Alabama State University in the summer. Eventually, Smith became the vice principal of his school. During his teaching career, he witnessed several violent acts of racism and social injustice that persuaded him to leave Alabama.

He moved to Pittsburgh, PA to attend the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary School, and interned at a predominately affluent, white church for three years where he learned that "good people come in all colors." After seminary school, Smith left Pittsburgh to lead the congregation at the Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church in San Diego.

In 1956, when Smith arrived in San Diego, Golden Hill United Presbyterian Church was in the process of building a new facility in Allied Gardens, a predominately white suburb. While that church was under construction, Golden Hill United was, according to Smith, the only integrated church in San Diego. Some members, however, began an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign requesting a white reverend. Most of the white members left Smith's congregation after the completion of the Allied Gardens church, making Golden Hill a predominately Black church. Smith preached the social gospel to encourage community activism. He became the first Black member of the local Kiwanis Club. Later in his career, he served as pastor at the Christ United Presbyterian Church.

During the late 1950's city leaders noticed Smith, and were amenable to his ideas. He joined various municipal boards, and helped to form the Citizens Study Committee of the Board of Education in order to change the election policy of city-wide votes to county-wide votes, in an effort to diversify the San Diego Board of Education. The committee was successful, and the policy amended. In 1963, Smith ran for a Board of Education seat and won, making him the first elected Black member of the School Board. He began his tenure by changing the ethnic composition of teachers, and although he was initially supportive of school integration, he later became disenchanted because of the still-prevalent social segregation. During Smith's sixteen years on the Board, he served as president four times. In 1967, he became the first Black member of the National School Board. He headed the United Negro College Fund for eighteen years, and in 1970, he participated in the White House Conference on Children and Youth.

In 1970, Smith established the Catfish Club, a public forum for politicians and the community to voice their opinions on political and social issues. He was the first chairperson of the Citizens Advisory Review Board, which was set up to regulate police procedures. He also formed the Coalition for Racial Equality.

After over forty-five years pastoring in San Diego, Smith retired in 2000. He and his wife have three children.


23.30 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

I. Personal Files, 1954-2000
II. Scrapbooks, 1963-1970
III. Awards and Plaques, 1950-2000

Source of Acquisition

Reverend George Walker Smith



Related Materials

Leon Williams Papers (MS-0398)
Carlin Integration Case Records (MS-0029)
School Integration Task Force Records (MS-0234)
Alpha Pi Boulé Records (MS-0397)
Harold K. Brown Papers, 1956-2000 (MS-0442)

Related Publications

Smith, George Walker and Francine Phillips.  Conscience of the Community.  San Diego: Write Now!, 2002.

Other Descriptive Information

This collection was processed as part of the San Diego African American Archives Project, made possible by a grant from the President's Leadership Fund.

Reverend George Walker Smith Papers
Amanda Lanthorne
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US