Alfred Edgar Smith was active in the battle for equal rights for African Americans as an author, government worker, educator, journalist, and club leader.
Alfred Smith was born in Hot Springs (Garland County) on December 2, 1903. His parents were Jesse Rufus Smith, born a slave in Roanoke, Virginia, and Mamie Johnson Smith. Both worked at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. Later, the couple began to work at the Crystal Bathhouse, a spa for African Americans. Jesse became manager and Mamie the bookkeeper.
Smith worked his way through Langston High School as a night bellhop for the Eastman and Arlington Hotels and as an exercise boy at Oaklawn Park Racetrack. He was a member of a Langston High School choir that sang spirituals for famous visitors to Hot Springs.
When he had saved enough money to pay the fees, Smith entered Howard University in Washington DC in 1920. He was adept at English and social studies. He had problems in trigonometry, algebra, calculus, and astronomy and hired a West Indian student to tutor him in mathematics.
He became aware that West Indians were discriminated against on the campus at Howard. W. E. B. Du Bois, editor of the Crisis Magazine, encouraged him to write an essay about the treatment of West Indians on the campus. The article was published in the Urban League magazine Opportunity in 1933.
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