Community leaders remember Maxine Smith as a 'trailblazer' - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Community leaders remember Maxine Smith as a 'trailblazer'

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MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - Not many civil rights figures are around to walk the trails they blazed for future generations. But, Maxine Smith took this community by the hand and forged through one of the toughest times in American history leaving an indelible mark on future generations.

When the color of Smith's skin kept her enrolling in the then Memphis State University in the late 1950s, it lit a fire in her that never dimmed.

"She was not afraid, and that's one of the things I admired about her. She was not afraid to speak out and to speak up for what she believed was right," said the Rev. Dwight Montgomery.

Smith will always be remembered for her contribution to the cause, but she was equally admired for her caring spirit.

"I can remember going to their house and Maxine cooking salmon croquets for me," said Joseph Kyles who is among the many influenced by Smith. "She had a genuine care and concern and so when you think about people who gave their life, their life's work – there's nothing we can do to repay that all we can do is try to do our part."

As a group of young people prepared to tour the National Civil Rights museum Friday, insiders mourn the loss of an integral piece of that history.

The National Civil Rights Museum remembered Smith Friday as she was not only one of the forces behind the creation of this museum, but a personal friend and mentor to many of the people responsible for carrying out her legacy.

"It is a very deep sense of loss," said NCRM president Beverly Robertson.

Robertson said Smith was a champion for preserving the history of the civil rights movement. A turbulent time to which Smith dedicated her life.

"She lived a beautiful life, and she supported this museum from the beginning to the end and we have preserved her oral history now," said Robertson.

Smith was small in stature, but a giant among her peers.

"The last time I visited with her I just told her how much I loved her," said Tenn. State Representative Johnnie Turner.

Turner was Smith's successor as the Memphis NAACP's executive director. She said many leaders have Maxine Smith to thank for their success. Her fight for equality was not just in Memphis but worldwide.

"We've lost a giant. We've lost a legend, an icon. We've lost a lady that could walk with kings and never lose the common touch," said Turner

Smith led the local branch of the NAACP for decades.

The group's current leader remembers Smith's fighting spirit right up until the end.

From helping to integrate schools to serving on the school board and to marching alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. – Smith's contribution may be immeasurable.

A portrait of Maxine Smith hangs on a wall in the local NAACP offices. It is a small reminder of the indelible mark she made on the organization.

"This branch has been here for 96 years - Ms. Smith was executive director for 42 years," said NAACP executive director Madeleine Taylor.

Taylor believes Smith's tireless work will be her greatest legacy.

"I think Memphis owes her a debt of gratitude," said Taylor. 

While it is unclear exactly how she died, friends said she struggled with heart disease for quite some time.

Maxine Smith was a champion for many causes, but education held a special place in her heart. Longtime friends believe her mantra for future generations would be "Love the Children".

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