A 90-year-old who was the child of an enslaved American died last week, according to the Washington Post.
Daniel Robert Smith died in a Washington, D.C. hospital on a Wednesday. According to his wife, Loretta Neumann, he had congestive heart failure and cancer.
Smith was born on March 11, 1932, in Winsted, Conn. His father was Abram “A.B.” Smith, who was 70 at the time and born into slavery amid the Civil War in Virginia. His mother, Clara (Wheeler) Smith, who Smith said was white with Scotch-Irish and Cherokee ancestry.
Smith could recall the stories His father would tell of those in bondage even though they weren’t for his ears since he was as young as 5 or 6.
“I remember hearing about two slaves who were chained together at the wrist and tried to run away,” Mr. Smith recalled. “They were found by some vicious dogs hiding under a tree and hanged from it. I also remember a story about an enslaved man who was accused of lying to his owner. He was made to step out into the snow with his family and put his tongue on an icy wagon wheel until it stuck. When he tried to remove it, half his tongue came off.”
At 6, Smith’s father passed away in a car accident. And it is because of his father Smith would continue on with his life, dedicating himself to his work with civil rights, education and Healthcare.
“A lot of Black children grew up in a world where they didn’t know who they were and where they came from, but we were A.B. Smith’s children, and that sustained us through anything,” Smith shared with the Washington Post in 2020.
Smith became an Army medic during the Korean War and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Washington, where marchers and civil rights activists linked arms in solitude on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. While in Alabama, he operated literacy and anti-poverty programs.
He got into advocating for Healthcare in poor communities by running a program in Washington called the Area Health Education in the 1970s. Smith’s resilience led him to travel to segregated (at the time) South Africa, where he was introduced to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A CIA officer attempted to recruit him to spy on the African National Congress liberation movement, but he declined.
In the late 1950s, Smith saved the life of a young white woman while working at a YMCA camp near Winsted. After the girl disappeared into the water and another swimmer retrieved her, Smith discovered she still had a pulse and began to perform CPR on her. Despite a police officer telling him to stop, most likely disgusted at the fact that a Black man was placing his mouth on a white woman’s mouth to save her life, Smith continued.
Smith retired in 1994 and decided to volunteer at the Washington National Cathedral, getting the opportunity to escort presidents like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as head ushers.
Smith witnessed the most significant moment in Black History before his death, Barak Obama being sworn in as the first Black president of the United States of America. The moment brought tears to the eyes of a man who not only came from an enslaved American man but also heard the gruesome stories of African Americans being chained and treated like animals. A man who heard stories of slaves who probably wouldn’t believe that a Black man would run the same country that allowed white people to hold slaves captive and deprive them of the bare necessities.
Before his death, Smith and Neumann were finishing his memoir in the hospital. She plans on self-publishing in the next couple of weeks. Sana Butler, author of “Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves,” will help Neumann edit the memoir.
Butler called Smith, and his story is “a reminder that slavery was not that long ago” and a “reminder that it’s impossible to ‘get over it’ (slavery)…because it’s still [present] within these families’ lives.”
He is survived by his wife and children, April Smith (who lives in Maryland) and Daniel “Rob” Smith Jr.(who lives in New York), along with a granddaughter.