John B. Smith, Sr., Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlanta Inquirer, Atlanta, GA was entombed at The Abbey Mausoleum at Westview Cemetery on Saturday, May 6th. Smith’s impressive rites were held at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta. A virtual Who’s Who in Black America came to pay their respects to the publisher at the morning service.
Reverend Dr. Richard Wayne Wills, Senior Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta presided over the services; the renowned Harding Epps, Jr., Minister of Music at First Baptist Church of East Point, Georgia provided well chosen music for the solemn occasion.
Suitable remarks of three minutes were presented by Ed Perry, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company; Char- les Rousseau, Fayette County Commissioner, District 4; Lonnie King, Jr. and Charles A. Black from the Atlanta Student Movement Leaders; and Xernona Clayton, Founder of the Trumpet Awards and International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.
Dorothy R. Leavell, Editor and Publisher of the Crusader Newspapers, Chicago, Illinois, and Gary, Indiana and former President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) recounted of her longtime professional and personal friendship with Smith.
Leavell related the drama of the day, and what it took to get to her good friend’s funeral services.
Her original flight was canceled, delaying her arrival in Atlanta. With no time to get to the airport car rental location, she and husband John L. Smith flagged a cab and raced to the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel on the Morehouse College campus. They arrived just minutes before she was called to the podium.
Both Leavell and Reverend Ben Chavis, current President of the National Newspaper Publishers Association spoke. They were joined by members of the Association in attendance, including: Denise Rolark Barnes, Chairperson of NNPA; Rosetta Perry, The Tennessee Tribune, Jackie Hampton of the Mississippi Link; Walter Smith of the Philadelphia and New York Beacon; Al McFarlane of the Insight News of Minneapolis, MN and Janis Ware of the Atlanta Voice.
The positive theme of the speakers echoed with high praise of “J.B.” Leavell noted that Smith was known as a kind, honest and decent man. He was recognized as a man of many talents who made many notable contributions to the civil rights, newspaper publishing and civic communities.
Adding remarks of similar sentiment were John Eaves, Chair of the Fulton County Commissioners, and Atlanta City Councilmembers: C. T. Martin, Ceasar C. Mitchell and Michael Julian Bond.
In his “Words of Comfort” Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Senior Pastor Emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio recounted “J.B.’s” life from LaGrange, Georgia where they grew up as friends.
He talked about their boyhood adventures and their escapades as newspaper boys and schoolmates. Moss presented a vivid and interesting recollection as he told the story of their friendship, punctuated with highlights leading up to Smith’s life of good works.
Smith’s publishing career spanned more than four decades, when he started as an advertising salesman for the Atlanta Inquirer in 1961. The times were turbulent and Smith and others recognized the Inquirer needed to fill a void that other news outlets were not covering, the Atlanta Student Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. The Atlanta Inquirer told the story of sit-ins, freedom rides and other nonviolent protests, that thanks to Smith, Atlanta and the world could not ignore.
Over time Smith took positions at the Inquirer as Advertising Manager and Vice President. He capped his career in the newspaper business as Publisher and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlanta Inquirer, publishing a meaningful paper and guiding his employees to always seek the truth.
Many boards of directors sought Smith as a member, recognizing that he could provide sound leadership. During his years in business he was recognized by his alma mater, Morehouse College, the Georgia Department of Labor and Who’s Who in Black Atlanta.
Smith served at one time as Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). Also known as the Black Press of America, the 77- year- old organization is a federation of more than 200 African American newspapers across the United States. He was an active member from the early sixties.
Beyond his professional interests, Smith maintained a life membership in the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and was a member of the Prince Hall Masons.
Family and friends acknowledge that Smith was known for the warmth of his personality, which served him well in business. Most notably, however, Smith’s life was one of activism and leadership. Throughout his newspaper career he was in the vanguard of publishers fighting to present the news truthfully, “without fear, or favor.”
Smith is survived by his wife of 56 years, Frances; his daughter Lori, and son, John Jr.