Benjamin E. Smith Papers, 1955-1967


Following his death at only age 48, Benjamin E. Smith was honored by the ACLU as one of the outstanding Southern libertarians, “a crusading civil rights lawyer in the Deep South when accepting civil rights cases was not a fashionable thing for a lawyer to undertake.”

Smith was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, and educated at Rice University and Tulane University Law School. After teaching for a time at Temple University, he moved to New Orleans where he earned a reputation for his work in civil rights, constitutional, and labor law. During the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 Smith's firm, Smith, Waltzer, Jones, and Peebles, joined with the firm of Kunstler, Kunstler, and Kinoy to form a legal support group for the Council of Federated Organizations, and during subsequent months Smith and his partners devoted over half their time to civil rights cases.

Smith's activities and offices in behalf of civil rights and civil liberties during the 1950's and 1960's were numerous: vice-president of the National Lawyers Guild; treasurer and member of the board of the South Conference Educational Fund; vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and member of the board of the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corp.

In 1967 the NLG honored him with the FDR award as the outstanding lawyer of the year. Smith's political activities included a term (1958-1960) as assistant district attorney of Orleans Parish and an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives in 1970.

He died February 6, 1976.