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The Last Day of Black History Month 2022

"The bondage of the Negro brought captive from Africa is one of the greatest dramas in history, and the writer who merely sees in that ordeal something to approve or condemn fails to understand the evolution of the human race."--Carter G. Woodson

Rev. Jeremiah R. B. Smith, Time Honored Afro-American Contributor.


The subject of our sketch, the Rev. Jeremiah R. B. Smith, was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., on the 19th day of April, 1846. His father, whose name was Francis Smith, was a native of Virginia, and, though born a slave, became a portrait painter and after attaining his freedom practiced his art with credit in New York City. His mother was a native of New Jersey, likewise born a slave: her maiden name was Sarah Jane Van Dorn.

J. R. B. Smith commenced his schooling in his native city, and was a pupil of Professor Wilson who taught what was known as the "Willoughby Street School." At the death of his father he removed to Buffalo, where he attended the Vine Street School. Among his teachers were Professor Pierce and Theodore Hawley, the latter now Bishop of Hayti. He afterward removed to Toronto, and while there studied at the Model Grammar School and the Upper Canada College. At the age of 13 he became noted as a writer on The Toronto Globe, then edited by the Hon. George Brown. Later on he became a contributor to The Anglo-African, a paper devoted to the interests of the negro race. While in Canada he was actively indentified with all matters pertaining to the amelioration of the condition of fugitives who sought refuge under the British flag.

Though young, he took part in the meetings of, and met with John Brown, the hero of Harper's Ferry.

At the age of 16 he returned to the United States, and settled at Rochester, N. Y. In the same year he entered the army and served for three months in the 54th Massachusetts regiment. Being discharged therefrom in consequence of his being under age, he afterward enlisted in the 27th regiment of the United States colored troops, which was organized at Delaware, Ohio. He became a non-commissioned officer of the same, and was wounded in an engagement in front of Petersburg on July 30, 1864; he was also engaged in the battles of Chain's Farm, Strawberry Plains, and Cold Harbor, and took part in the battle of Fort Fisher, and in the capture of Wilmington. He was then, with others, detailed by General Terry to organize the first Sunday School among the freedmen of that city.

At the conclusion of the war he was identified for a time with the freedmen's work, and in 1866 resumed his studiesat Lima, N. Y. Among his teachers there were the Rev. De Witt Huntley, and William Whiting. He concluded his studies under the directions of the Rev. J. Q. Galpin at Naples, N. Y. While at Naples he became attached to the staff of The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N. Y., and was noted as a brilliant writer under the nom de plume of "Neopolitan."

Mr. Smith subsequently spent some time in the South, and in 1872 became permanently connected with affairs political in the State of New York. He was delegate to the Colored Men's State convention at Troy, N. Y., and was chosen by that party delegate to the Republican State convention which was held at Elmira. He was largely instrumental in having the Rev. William F. Butler sent as a delegate-at-large to the Philadelphia convention which renominated President Grant. Under the direction of the National and State committee he took an active part in the political canvass of that year. In 1873, together with William H. Johnson, a prominent citizen of Albany, he was active in securing the passage of the Civil Rights Bill in New York State. In 1876 he served as first vice-president of the Colored Men's State committee, of which the Rev. Henry Highland Garnett, D. D., was chairman, and spoke largely in New York and other States.

In 1877 he became the editor of The Western Echo in Bath, N. Y., which paper was the organ of the colored men of the State. While at Bath he rendered efficient aid in the establishment of the Soldiers' Home in that place. The office of The Echo was afterward removed to Utica, N. Y., and in 1881 the paper was located in Brooklyn, with an office in New York City, and did good work in assisting the election of Hon. Seth Low as Mayor of Brooklyn.

In 1882 Mr. Smith joined the conference of the African M. E. Zion's church and is now a prominent member of the same. In 1887 he was elected, and in 1888 re-elected, chaplain-in-chief of the G. A. R. department of New York, being the first of his race to hold an elective position in that organization. He attained the distinguished honor of being the first of the colored race to offer prayer in the Senate of the State of New York. His re-election to the above chaplaincy in 1888 was by an almost unanimous vote in the face of many competitors.

In the same year at Columbus, O., he was elected president of the association composed of officers and men who served as colored troops, which position he still holds.

He continues to be a writer for the press, being a contributor to The National Tribune of Washington, D. C., The G. A. Journal of New York State, The Star of Zion—the organ of Zion's connection—and other papers and periodicals devoted to the advancement of the race.

Mr. Smith is yet a comparatively young man, enjoying the companionship of a charming family. He married in 1867, at Rochester, Miss Rachel Murphy, a sister to the wife of Charles R. Douglass, son of the race orator, Fred Douglass. He is a talented man, a fluent speaker, and believes in the future of his race with strong faith.

Reverend Smith died on August 17th, 1896 at the age of 50. He is buried at our church's Mt. Zion Cemetery in Kingston, NY.

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