The Pittsburgh Courier columnist finally received his due in 2013 when the movie “42” depicted Smith as the well-rounded public informant by Robinson’s side.
At this time, the Courier was an all-black newspaper based in the Hill District with readers from across the country. Pittsburgh, like most American cities, was in the midst of heavy housing discrimination which intentionally forced African-Americans to poorer areas through redlining and white flight.
Smith was a former ball player himself, but found his calling as a writer. He covered every baseball team in Pittsburgh including the Homestead Greys and Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues.
As an activist, Smith was driven to break the color barrier in the Major Leagues. Like many of his era, he saw baseball as a symbol for the country. If a sport that so many of us adore could integrate, why not the rest of the country?
Smith was known for showing up unannounced to MLB tryouts with standouts from the Negro Leagues, even though they would not be allowed to put their talents on display.
Finally, in 1947, the young writer found his calling in Robinson. He was everything Branch Rickey had wanted—not only a great ballplayer, but also a man that could handle the abuse that came with it.
When Robinson signed with the Dodgers, Smith and the Courier did a multi-part series on the man behind the signature, which is on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1993, Smith was honored by the Hall and the Baseball Writers Association, who had once famously declined him membership because he wrote for African American press, with the JG Taylor Spink Award.
If you’re ever in Cooperstown, check out his work, I doubt it’ll be too hard to find.
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