At its 123rd Anniversary Celebration, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. will honor Dr. Frank Smith, founder of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, with its fourth Visionary Historian Award. The Visionary Historian Award is presented to an individual whose lifetime body of work represents the highest achievement in the study of Washington, D.C. and related history.
About Dr. Frank Smith
Frank Smith, Jr., Ph.D., has been standing up for justice for close to six decades. Born in 1942 on a peach plantation in Newman, Georgia, Smith entered Morehouse College in Atlanta at age 16 and quickly found his calling as an activist. He left Morehouse to register voters and was an early member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He registered voters in Mississippi, ran a Head Start program, and organized sharecroppers. During Freedom Summer (1964), Smith raised funds for Fannie Lou Hamer and other members of the Mississippi Freedom Party to travel to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they ended up not being seated but did succeed in raising awareness of the lack of voting rights for African Americans in this country.
In 1968 Smith moved to Washington and became active in tenants’ rights, housing, and other issues in his Adams Morgan neighborhood. In 1980 he received a Ph.D. from Union Institute (Ohio). He was elected to the DC Board of Education in 1979 and to the first of four terms on the DC Council in 1982. Representing Ward 1, he chaired the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and the Baseball Commission.
In 1992 Smith formed the African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation to tell the largely forgotten story of the 209,145 African American soldiers and sailors who had fought for the Union. He began planning, fundraising, and building public and private support for an African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, and in July 1998 presided over the memorial’s dedication. The memorial, a low wall inscribed with the names of the black soldiers and sailors who served in the war, is located at 10th and U Streets NW. Its centerpiece is a 9-foot-high bronze sculpture, The Spirit of Freedom by Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky.
In January 1999, just after leaving the Council, Smith opened the African American Civil War Museum in a building adjacent to the memorial. The museum, which attracts more than 200,000 visitors per year, moved in 2011 to a larger space in the former Grimke School nearby on Vermont Avenue. As the museum’s founder and executive director, a noted authority on African Americans in the Civil War, a civil rights activist, and as an elected official in service to the District of Columbia, Smith has received numerous awards and recognitions.
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Parking: Parking is limited. The Carnegie Library is located within close walking distance from Mt. Vernon Square and Gallery Place metro stops, and across the street from D4, 70, 74, and DC Circulator bus stops.
Previous recipients of the Visionary Historian Award include Kathryn Schneider Smith, Dr. James M. Goode, and Lonnie Bunch.