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Sid Smith, African American pioneer, dies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Southern Baptist African American pioneer Sid Smith died during his sleep April 8 at his home in Jacksonville, Fla. He suffered from ongoing heart problems and congestive heart failure.

The 65-year-old Smith was the first director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s African American ministries division from May 1994 until his retirement Oct. 31, 2005. In this role, he served at the convention’s highest administrative and decision-making level in directing a unique cultural outreach among state Baptist conventions.

During his tenure, Smith gave leadership to an aggressive program of starting more than 400 predominantly African American congregations as well as instituting a program department of church development to assist pastoral and lay leadership in African American churches.

“Sid was a scholarly man with a great grasp of the local church,” said John Sullivan, executive director of the Florida Baptist Convention, who selected Smith to fill the newly created position in 1994.

“He was a pioneer in many ways in Baptist life,” Sullivan said.

Serving as that division’s director, Smith “gave us immediate recognition in the African American community because of his stature,” Sullivan continued. “He energized church planting in that community. His contribution among African American congregations cannot be overestimated. I’ll miss him as a friend.”

Smith served more than 40 years in Southern Baptist denominational roles, longer than any other African American leader. He worked in California, Tennessee and Florida but his influence permeates multicultural strategies now in place at the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

Smith began his work among Southern Baptists in 1968 as the South Central Los Angeles director of Christian social ministries for the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (now known as NAMB). In 1979, he began an 11-year tenure with the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (now known as LifeWay), first as a consultant and then as manager of the black church development section, as well as serving as part-time pastor of several African American congregations in the Nashville area.

He was president of his own consulting firm, Black Church Consultants of America from 1990-94 and concurrently served as a professor with the American Baptist College in Nashville.

Smith worked behind the scenes in the establishment of the National African American Fellowship in 1992. He was the founder of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network in 1997, an organization that provides mentoring and encouragement to African American staff members at Baptist entities.

A prolific author of numerous books and articles on the African American experience within Southern Baptist life, Smith lectured at every Southern Baptist seminary and numerous divinity schools.

Kenneth Ellis, president of the Black Denominational Servants Network, said Smith was “a powerful and strong mentor of many in African American life who are serving in denominational ministries for the Southern Baptist Convention and a courageous leader in helping keep our history alive in our contributions to make Southern Baptist life stronger.

“Dr. Smith taught us a strong sense of identity and to believe God called us to serve for such a time as this,” said Ellis, team leader for people group/interfaith evangelism at NAMB.

Citing the courage of Smith and other Southern Baptist African American leaders, including Harold Branch, Emmanuel McCall and Tom Kelly, who served in the 1950s and ’60s and “paved the way,” Ellis noted: “We are standing on their shoulders.”

Maxie Miller, who succeeded Smith in his role among Florida Baptists, said Smith was “a person who had deep convictions about his faith in God, but equally true was his reverberating convictions about his culture and the African American church. In my lifetime I have not personally known a man that personified historical knowledge of African American people and their contribution to the Southern Baptist Convention as did Dr. Sid Smith.

“I often considered him a modern-day activist who spoke privately about his dislikes in life but put his passion for culture and his heart for Christ to pen and paper to write about the plight of his race in hopes of educating the masses. He was a quiet, peaceful person not confrontational; he told me once that he had learned early in life that God, education and knowledge were the tools that would advance our people, not anger or hostility.”

A native of Texas, Smith graduated from the University of Corpus Christi with a B.A. and earned the master of religious education degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., in 1968 and the doctor of philosophy degree from California Graduate School of Theology in Glendale in 1973.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Arnette E. Smith of Jacksonville and a son Sid Smith III who lives in California.

In Florida, a memorial service for Smith is scheduled for April 14 at 11 a.m. at San Jose Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Arrangements are still pending for services and interment April 17 in San Francisco, Calif.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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