Cincinnati couple to enter Ohio’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame

Merri Gaither Smith, Schuyler Smith

Merri Gaither Smith, Schuyler Smith

Schuyler Smith and his wife, Merri Gaither Smith, East Walnut Hills, will be two of five Ohioans inducted Thursday, Oct. 15, into the state’s Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, married for 44 years, have a long association with the Greater Cincinnati Urban League, which placed them into nomination for recognition. The Hall of Fame acknowledges Ohioans who are pioneers in human and civil rights work and who have advanced the goals of equality and inclusion.

The ceremony will be at 10 a.m., Oct. 15, at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium in Columbus.

Mr. Smith is a retired business owner, who in 1955 founded Acme Wrecking Co. and ran it for more than 50 years, making it the largest minority-owned wrecking company in the Midwest. Through his business, Mr. Smith trained dozens of African-Americans to operate heavy machinery and provided employment to hundreds more over time. Mr. Smith grew his business at a time when he could not get financing from a bank because he was African-American. He operated his business at the highest ethical and production standards, earning the respect of customers in the white community who otherwise would not have worked with him.

Mrs. Gaither Smith, who started her 31-year Cincinnati Public Schools career as an elementary school teacher, co-founded two still-active community organizations that provide cultural enrichment and education opportunities to young women (Women’s Alliance, 1966) and college scholarships (Advocates for Youth Education, 1988). In its first 18 years, Advocates provided $350,000 in scholarship money for college-bound youths.

The other three inductees are: Nimrod B. Allen (1886-1977), founder of the Urban League of Columbus and creator of the Friendly Service Bureau in Columbus, a model that was adopted in more than 90 U.S. cities; Nirmal K. Sinha, Columbus, Commissioner of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission for 15 years and advocate of the Asian-Indian community; and Louis Stokes (1925-2015), Cleveland, a noted civil rights attorney who became the first African-American Congressman from Ohio in 1968 and who would serve 15 terms in Washington.

Together, the Smiths have raised money or contributed directly to many Greater Cincinnati organizations: the Girl Scouts, Cincinnati Speech and Hearing Center, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, Institute of Fine Arts, May Festival, and Dress for Success — the latter which provides free professional clothing for women entering or re-entering the workforce after incarceration or joblessness.

“The Smiths were trailblazers in a time when Jim Crow still thwarted the way for many,” said Donna Jones Baker, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. “They never made excuses or used those intended roadblocks as a reason to stop. They kept going, setting a high bar for personal excellence, which allowed them to achieve great things individually and as a couple. And for many years now, they have returned their financial blessings to the benefit of many people in Greater Cincinnati.”

Mr. Smith wrote about his business experience in an essay titled “Acme Wrecking’s history provides lessons in savvy, excellence,” in the local Urban League’s The State of Black Cincinnati 2015: Two Cities report, published in August. It begins on Page 24.

Here is the link to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s web page on its hall of fame:

Several Cincinnatians are Hall of Fame members: among them the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Emily Spicer, Marjorie B. Parham, the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., the Hon. Nathaniel Jones, William L. Mallory Sr., Karla Irvine, and Marian Spencer.

These Companies are Transformational Supporters of the Urban League’s Corporate Heritage Annual Giving Program.