He said it so casually. I was amazed.
Here at Smitty’s kitchen table I sat next to history. “Does your granddaughter know this about you? That you met Martin Luther King, Jr.?”
Smitty leaned back, a wistful smile on his face. “You know I don’t think I’ve ever told her.”
“Well, please, tell me again.” As he spoke my pen danced over my paper and scribbled notes as I listened.
Smitty cleared his 84-year old throat. “I met Martin Luther King, Jr. in Baltimore during the early days of Civil Rights. Dr. King had been invited to speak at a gathering of The Inter-Denominational Ministers Alliance.” He pronounced the name carefully. “The public was invited so Bernice and I went to hear him speak.” He glanced over at his wife, sitting beside him. She’d been by his side for more than 60-years.
Her voice was almost reverent, her smile tender. “You remember how we went up to meet him afterwards?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he nodded. He laced his fingers together and rested his hands on top of the kitchen table. “We waited our turn in a receiving line to shake his hand, exchange a few words. That’s what I mean by meeting him.”
I leaned forward. “But you met him. You actually shook his hand?” I tried to contain my excitement.
Smitty bobbed his head up and down. “He had a way of looking you straight in the eye, made you feel like you’d known him for years. Very personable.”
Smitty paused. He sighed. “Little did we know we were shaking the hands of a prophet.”
We sat. Silent for a moment before continuing on in conversation.
These were the kind of moments I experienced as Rev. James “Smitty” Smith shared with me his life story. More than eighty years of Black history, most of it lived out in Baltimore.
It wasn’t as if I – a white woman –
didn’t know any Black history. But it was the way he taught me. Person to person. Lovingly. Trusting me.
Trusting me to pass on his story – history – lived out in Baltimore at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. It has been an honor unlike any other.
Have you ever been amazed when someone shared with you their story?