Maxine Smith: A life of commitment - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Maxine Smith: A life of commitment

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Georgia Maxine Smith is one of Memphis' most celebrated Civil Rights warriors and history makers.

The Civil Rights activist passed away Friday at the age of 83.

Smith left an indelible imprint on the people she met and worked with while helping to open the doors of equal opportunity for thousands she never met.

MORE: Civil rights activist Maxine Smith dies at age 83

As Memphis NAACP leader in the 1960s Smith kept a hand-written record of what happened at every Civil Rights sit-in, march, and rally. At the time it was the only detailed account of the atrocities being waged against African Americans in Memphis on a daily basis.

It was an example of the dedication and human sensibility Smith brought to the often insensitive struggle for equality.

She was the bright articulate child, who fate thrust into the role of warrior princess and in the end she gracefully and humbly ascended to her throne as the revered grandame of the Civil Rights struggle in Memphis.

"As far as desegregation, those laws have been broken," the Civil Rights icon said in 2012. "But, integration comes from within, when we really love each other and you can't mandate that."

Smith's rich and colorful 83 years on Earth is a glowing example of a woman who willfully chose to turn what could have been an ordinary life into an extraordinary one filled with resolve, purpose and achievement that served as inspiration to the generations who would follow in her groundbreaking footsteps.

"We can instill in our kids, who they are, where they're from, and where they should be going," she said in 2003.

At an early age, young Georgia Maxine Atkins knew the only way for her was up. As she related in one of the many interviews she did with FOX13 News over the years, her mother stressed to her children the power of education; an eye on a prize that Maxine soon learned would not come without a price.

"She probably didn't have a change of underclothes," Smith said in 2004. "Not too many other clothes. That's the kind of sacrifices she made for her children."

But, what is life without love? In meeting Vasco Smith while teaching in Texas, Maxine would find her true soulmate. She fondly remembered all he needed to cement the their relationship was a not too subtle nudge in the right direction.

"We courted through the mail," she said in a 2008 interview. "I kept telling him he was a little slow. It took you four years to finally pop the question. We just couldn't wait to get home. This was July '55. We started asking what are we so excited about? He didn't have an office. I didn't have a job. We didn't have a house and Memphis was completely, completely segregated."

But, over the next three decades, beginning with her denied attempted entry into segregated Memphis State, side-by-side with her doting husband, Smith would be in the forefront of reframing the racial climate and attitudes in Memphis. Whether it was publicly marching for equality with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or behind the scenes negotiations to allow African Americans to attend movie theatres with whites, Smith's persona was that of an agent of change.

"It's the thing we had to do," Smith said in 2008. "We had to resist unjust laws and that sacrifice you have to make."

In her later years, almost every interviewer would repeatedly ask her to define her own legacy - mostly because we had long since run out of words to praise her staggering list of  accomplishments. Out of genuine humility, she too, would often struggle for an answer.

"Of having done the best I could, of having given the struggle all I got. Hoping for the best," she said in 2002.

"She really wanted just the right things to be done. Justice. That's all and to miss her now would be to carry on her legacy," said Ruby Wharton, Smith's friend and attorney. "To say, we will make this right. We will do the right thing."

There will be a public memorial for Smith next Saturday, May 4 at Metropolitan Baptist on Walker Avenue. Funeral arrangements are still pending.

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