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O. Donald Smith
*O Donald “Smitty” Smith was born on this date in 1921. He was a Black businessman, musician, and activist.
Odell Donald Smith, Jr. was from St. Paul, MN. His parents were Odell Donald, Sr. and Lelia Downey Smith who moved to Minnesota from Buxton, Iowa. After graduating from Mechanic Arts high school, Smith went to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. He moonlighted as a drummer while working at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA. In 1942, Smith enlisted in the Navy and served in the Philippines during World War II.
After the war, he was discharged at Fort Snelling returning to St. Paul. He moved on to New York City where he continued his music career for three years. After attending Northwestern University to earn a certification as a prosthetic technician, he settled in the Twin Cities. He married Helen Larson in 1953; they had one daughter, Stephanie.
Smith worked for the Great Northern railroad, as a credit union manager in St. Paul, and as an operator (along with two friends) of a Minneapolis barbecue joint. In 1970, he started working for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, from which he retired in 1985. Smith was an active member of the Minneapolis NAACP, Urban League, and Toastmasters, and he was politically active in Minneapolis’ Eighth Ward. He helped organize and finance the Minnesota delegation that attended the 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He also chronicled the civil rights history of Minnesota, collecting photos and other documents. Smith also was an active member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Minneapolis since 1953.
Odell Donald Smith, Jr. died on January 30, 2011. His daughter Stephanie, nieces Judy and Susan Thomas, and a host of cousins and friends survive him.