Walter Smith, Ph.D., Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) seventh president, is the first African-American recipient of the National Education Association’s (NEA) 2009 Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award.
“The Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner is a product of the merger of the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Teachers Association (ATA),” said Sabrina Williams, manager for Business Affairs for NEA Human and Civil Rights Department. “More than 40 years ago, ATA, which was the teacher association for blacks, wanted NEA to keep the legacy of recognizing individuals, including minorities, women, and now gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT), for their human and civil rights contributions. Therefore, to recognize Dr. Smith as the first African-American recipient, I feel this award speaks directly to the vision of ATA in recognizing the social justice heroes.”
The NEA’s Applegate-Dorros Peace and International Understanding Award is presented to an NEA member whose activities in education contribute to international understanding and motivate youth to work for world peace.
“This is indeed a significant award that I have received,” said Smith.
While Smith was president of FAMU, the University grew from seven to 11 schools and colleges and a Division of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education. In 1984, the University was granted the authority to offer its first Doctor of Philosophy degree, the Ph.D. in pharmacology. The 80’s also saw the expansion of the Gaither Athletic Center, which included the construction of a new Women’s Athletic Complex equipped with a track, an Olympic pool, men’s and women’s weight training rooms, and softball and baseball fields. Bragg Memorial Stadium was renovated and expanded to provide seating for 25,000 spectators, and a modern field house was erected. New facilities were constructed to house the Schools of Allied Health Sciences, Architecture, Business and Industry and Nursing. Construction and renovation projects amounted to more than $34 million. As the University prepared to observe 100 years of its existence, the Smith administration launched the Centennial Celebration Fund to establish a University Endowment.
When Smith left the presidency of FAMU, in 1985, he was named a Senior Fulbright Scholar to the University of Malawi, in Central Africa. As he lectured and built graduate programs in educational management at Chancellor College, he also coached the male basketball team. His son, Andre, was the starting point guard on that team. They won the Malawi National Championship in 1986.
“I applaud Dr. Smith for being recognized by the NEA for his international endeavors,” said FAMU President James H. Ammons. “This prestigious award is a symbol of Dr. Smith’s commitment to youth, FAMU and to the people of this state and nation. He is a maverick whose pioneering spirit broadened the grasp and reach of this great university.”
Smith’s children also applauded their father’s accomplishments.
“I’m speechless,” said Andre Smith, son of Smith and a 1999 graduate of FAMU. “This is absolutely wonderful. He always taught people to never give up.”
Walter Smith, II, echoes his brother’s comments.
“This is outstanding,” said Smith, II, a 2006 FAMU graduate of the College of Engineering. “We feel that our father is very deserving of this award. He has always worked hard for civil rights and education.”
Smith’s daughter, who is a pharmacist, a 1991 graduate of FAMU, and an attorney, agreed with her brothers.
“Dad has given much of his life to the education of his children and to others around the world,” said Salesia Smith-Gordon. “It’s wonderful for him to honored for that which he had done for many. I honor him for the educational foundation he instilled in me. He has left his mark of excellence on the world!”
Smith has lived, traveled, studied and/or lectured throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean basin. He was an African American Institute Scholar and in 1971 studied at the University of Cape Coast in Cape Coast, Ghana, and the University of Lagos in Lagos, Nigeria, where he received a certificate in African Culture and History.
In 1994, Smith served as a “Monitor” for the 1994 election that brought Nelson Mandela to the presidency of the Republic of South Africa (RSA). In 1995, he returned to South Africa and founded the FUNDA Community College. It was the first American style community college built in the RSA and its founding was based on a feasibility study completed by Smith in 1992 when he first lived in the Republic of South Africa. During this time, Smith served as USA’s team leader in higher education.
In 1998, Smith was honored by the House of Commons in Great Britain along with the Minister of Education of the Republic of South Africa.
Notable among Smith’s numerous awards are the President’s Award by the National Conference of Black Mayors; IBM Corporation’s Red-X Award; 100 Black Men of Tallahassee’s 2008 Education Award; Urban League’s Scholarly Distinction Award; and Alumni of Distinction Awards by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, to name a few. Additionally, Smith has been inducted into the Florida Association of Community Colleges Hall of Fame, the FAMU Education Gallery of Distinction and the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame. He was also honored by Florida Memorial College with an honorary doctorate degree.
Smith earned his associate in arts degree from Gibbs Junior College, his bachelor’s of arts degree in biology and chemistry and a master’s degree in school administration from FAMU. In 1974, he earned a Ph.D. from Florida State University.
Smith retired in 2000 and now resides in Tampa, Fla. Since his retirement, he has established the Walter L. Smith Library in Tampa and the Commemorative Reclamation of Florida’s Black Junior Colleges.
Smith will receive the award on July 2, 2009, in San Diego, Calif. at the 2009 Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner.
Irvamae Applegate was NEA president from 1966 to 1967 and was an executive committee member of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession (now Education International). Sidney Dorros was a consultant to the NEA Bicentennial Committee who worked tirelessly to promote international understanding and to involve young people in world peace efforts.
Smith and his wife, Barbara, are the parents of five children, four of whom are FAMU graduates: John, Salesia V. Smith-Gordon, Andre, Walter II, and Tracie.