Civil Rights Champion to Speak at Graduation

By Maya Bell

Civil Rights Champion to Speak at Graduation

By Maya Bell
UM Trustee and Alumnus H.T. Smith Jr. is one of Miami's most distinguished lawyers and civic leaders.

H. T. Smith Jr.University of Miami trustee and alumnus H.T. Smith Jr., who withstood “the withering cold of Jim Crow” to become one of Miami’s most distinguished lawyers and civic leaders, will be the speaker at the University’s fall commencement ceremony on Thursday, December 17, when more than 1,000 students receive their degrees at the BankUnited Center. 

For more than 42 years, Smith has been “agitating” for justice, employing his oratorical skills in the fight for equality around the corner and around the world. In 2002, as co-chair of the “Say No to Discrimination” campaign in Miami-Dade County, Smith fought to protect the equal rights of all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

In 1997, as chair of the Declaration of Rights Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, he championed the amendment that explicitly gave women and people born outside the United States equal protection under the law.

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Fall Commencement: 10 a.m., Thursday, December 17, 2015. BankUnited Center, Coral Gables campus.

For complete commencement information, go here.

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And in the 1980s, as chair of the Coalition for a Free South Africa, he led the charge to convince local governments and universities not to do business with companies that did business in apartheid South Africa. He also led the successful tourism boycott against Miami after local officials snubbed Nelson Mandela during his historic 1990 visit.

A Miami native who grew up in the impoverished Overtown neighborhood, Smith found his calling as a U.S. Army lieutenant in Vietnam, where he headed after earning his B.S. in mathematics from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1968. There, in the jungles of Vietnam, black soldiers who didn’t trust white officers to represent them for infractions turned to Smith. At the time, he didn’t know much about the law, but he was hardworking, passionate, and tenacious–and won his first cases.

Returning to Miami, he hoped to attend UM’s School of Law but was told he was too late to take the admissions test. His reply: “While I was in Vietnam fighting for your freedoms, you were giving the admissions test to draft dodgers.” The first in his family to set foot on a college campus, he would become the fourth African-American to graduate from Miami Law.

After serving as Miami-Dade’s first African-American assistant public defender and first African-American assistant county attorney, Smith founded H.T. Smith, P.A. in 1981, specializing in personal injury, civil rights, and criminal law, and earning numerous accolades.

Recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the top trial lawyers in America, he is listed in Florida Super LawyersThe Best Lawyers in America, and Law and Leading American Attorneys.