The Atlanta Inquirer’s John Smith Sr. honored by the Atlanta City Council

By Maria Saporta

The Atlanta City Council honored one of Atlanta’s longest serving news professionals – John B. Smith Sr., publisher and CEO of The Atlanta Inquirer.

City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond was the ringleader who invited dozens of people to celebrate the role that the Smith and the Inquirer played in Atlanta – starting in August, 1960.

Michael Julian Bond John Smith

Atlanta City Councilman Michael Julian Bond stands next to John B. Smith Sr. at a reception before the Council meeting on Monday, March 7 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Bond said the Inquirer was started when the Atlanta Student Movement “could not get their message out with the mainstream press or even with the black press.”

A group of amazing leaders came together to form the Atlanta Inquirer.

On the Inquirer’s website  , a history identified the founding members:

During the height of the civil rights movement that was catapulted by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s exemplary leadership, local leaders (Dr. Clinton E. Warner, Paul Delaney, Herman J. Russell, Jesse Hill, Jr., Hilda Wilson, Clarence Coleman, Gladys Powell, M. Carl Holman, et al.) of the Atlanta community, as well as student activists of Atlanta University (Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Julian Bond, Marian Wright Edelman, Lonnie King, et al.) found the necessity to establish a news organ to outline distinctive views of the youth-young adult population who sought to put themselves in harm’s way for the cause of equal rights and justice in Atlanta, the nation and abroad.

City Council honoring John Smith

A packed City Council Chambers was filled with fans of the Atlanta Inquirer and John Smith

“The Atlanta Inquirer has 56 years of publishing here in Atlanta, of speaking truth to power,” Bond said, adding that at the same time as serving as an executive of the Inquirer, he was a teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools for almost 40 years.”

Smith was obviously touched by the honor. But instead of taking the spotlight, he invited several friends and colleagues to speak to the legacy of the newspaper and Smith’s role in running the newspaper.

Robert Franklin, the former president of Morehouse College, thanked Smith for supporting the journalistic voice of the Inquirer.

“Thank you for dipping your pen in acid,” Franklin told Smith.

John B. Smith Sr. and Jr.

John B. Smith Jr. puts his arm around his father – thanking him for being a great role model (Photo by Maria Saporta)

One of the most emotional moments was when Smith’s son, John B. Smith Jr., thanked his father for being such a great role model – both personally and professionally – and then he gave him a hug.

Several civil rights leaders also participated in the honor, including Xernona Clayton, a former television talk show host who founded the Trumpet Awards.

“If the civil rights movement is to ever be known in our community, we will have to look back to John Smith and the Atlanta Inquirer for telling the story,” Clayton said. “John, thank you for telling the story because if you hadn’t told us, we wouldn’t have known it.”

Finally, at the end of all the recognition, Smith was humble when he said: “Everyone of you helped me arrive at this stage in life. (I’m) much obliged.”

The Atlanta Press Club will induct Smith and the founders of The Atlanta Inquirer into its 2016 Hall of Fame on Nov. 29 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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