J. Clay Smith Jr. papers now available in the Law Library Archives

In words and photos, Smith documents the history of HUSL, the lives of some legal giants, and an era of legal change. Smith (right) is pictured with James M. Nabrit Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.


Welcoming Professor Smith Back to the Archives

By Seth Kronemer
Archivist, Howard University School of Law

Fourteen years ago, when I became the Archivist for Howard University School of Law, on my first day I found a smiling mustachioed man waiting for me outside of the Archives.  His name was J. Clay Smith Jr.  Professor Smith, then one of the senior law faculty at Howard, wanted to welcome me to the Law School and make sure that I was settling in okay.  

Over the last few years I’ve gotten to know Professor Smith quite well through his papers.  The School of Law Archives, in cooperation with the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, has just completed a 2½ year project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, to process Professor Smiths’ voluminous collection of papers.     

In addition to being one of Howard’s most popular law professors, and helping to modernize the law school when he served as dean in the 1980s, J. Clay Smith, Jr., has had a remarkably diverse legal career.  He has been a leader, serving as president of both the Washington Bar Association the Federal Bar Association.  He has been a jurist, serving as a military judge in the Army Judge Advocate General Corps. He has been a legal activist, filing more than a dozen amicus briefs in federal civil rights cases. He has been an administrator, serving as the deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Cable Television Bureau, and later as the Commission’s Associate General Counsel.  He was a Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and also served as an acting chairman of the EEOC.

However, Smith’s most enduring contributions are in the field of American legal historiography.  Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944, his groundbreaking 1993 book, is both a vivid and thorough history of the first century of African Americans in the field of law, was the result of more than two decades of research. Smith consulted literally thousands of primary sources many of which are a now a part of his papers.  Smith also authored more than one hundred articles, many of them legal history-related, in a variety of journals. Additionally, he edited/compiled a volume on the history of African American women in the law entitled, Rebels in the Law: Voices in History of Black Woman Lawyers, and a volume of Thurgood Marshall’s writings, entitled, Supreme Justice: Speeches and Writings.

Smith’s fascinating life and career are very well documented in his papers, which are jointly owned by the School of Law and the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.  While most of the papers are housed at Moorland-Spingarn, located in Howard University’s Founder’s Library, the 19 cubic feet of materials related to Smith’s work as a law professor are now housed in the School of Law Archives, on the 4th Floor of the Howard University Law Library.

It feels good to welcome Professor Smith (and many of his most fascinating papers and photographs) back to the Archives.

For more information about the J. Clay Smith, Jr. Collection, to make a research appointment, or to just browse through some of his photographs, please visit the collection’s Web site at: www.law.howard.edu/jclaysmith.