Charles J. "Chuck'' Smith III wants to make sure his past and that of his family is something that will be remembered.
Smith, who moved to Evans from Phoenix with his wife Wilma in December, completed a memoir two years ago chronicling his life in business and academia and his search for his family history.
The book, which he independently published, is titled I Remember: A Black Son of the South's 74-Year-Living History.
"Too few of us my age really took the time to ask family about our history," Smith said. "What we got was bits and pieces, but very seldom, in my opinion, did we really ask in-depth questions."
Smith said his father, C.J. Smith Jr., was the founder of the first black high school in Sylvania. But Smith never had the opportunity to ask his father about his life because Smith was only 3 years old when his dad died in 1929.
"I had two aunts ... and I never asked them anything about my father or their father who was my grandfather ... or about their mother," Smith said. "And I didn't know the first name of my maternal grandmother until 2000, when I found the death certificate for my father."
His book is part autobiography, part family history and part a manual on how to delve into public records that Smith said he hopes will inspire others to research their family histories.
"Hopefully, it will be a challenge to other folks to say, 'Well, if he can do it, I can do it better,'" he said.
But much could have been learned had he had the sensitivity to ask questions of his family when he was younger, Smith said.
Beginning in May 2000, Smith set out on a four-year quest to discover the truth about his roots. In his memoir, he chronicles his many hours painstakingly reviewing newspaper microfilm, along with property, birth, marriage and death records to find any information he could about his immediate and extended family.
Through decades-old public records and newspaper clippings, Smith followed his family from Waynesboro, Ga., to Girard, to Sylvania, into Bulloch County and Savannah.
He also discovered how his father established the first black high school in Sylvania.
Wilma Smith said the book's purpose also is to educate readers about the sacrifices black families made to make a better life for themselves.
The Smiths said their family history is the antithesis of the commonly held historical view of the uneducated southern black family before the Civil Rights Era.
Chuck Smith was born in Savannah, lived most of his childhood years in the Augusta area and graduated from Paine College High School in 1943. He earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Iowa in 1948.
Wilma Smith, who was born in New York, graduated with a master's degree from Indiana University.
"In our family, education is a mainstay," said Wilma Smith, who is a retired professional counselor to students.
Growing up in their respective families, college was always expected of them, the couple said.
"Many people don't understand that education is the precept that (successful black) families are based on," Wilma Smith said. "All of us (in our family) went to school, finished college and contributed to the community."
It was his family's commitment to education that propelled Chuck Smith to earn a master's degree in journalism and to succeed in the private sector, as an executive with Royal Crown Cola and Greyhound Corp. and a 16-year stint in administration with Texas Southern University, he said.
One of the proudest accomplishments, Chuck Smith said, was to cultivate change in Royal Crown to enhance the employment opportunities for blacks and to teach the company to value the black market and to court it as an economic force.
"I suspect and I strongly believe that there are countless stories about other black families in the South similar to my father's that have never been told," Chuck Smith said. "I don't think he was unique. He was unique to me because of what I discovered (personally), but I think that additional research will turn up many instances of comparable stories in the South and other geographic areas."
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