Credit Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
Maxine Smith (left) and Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis (right) on their way to a jail cell on Dec. 12, 1969. At this time Dr. DeCosta-Willis was known as Miriam Sugarmon. In 1957, both women applied to be graduate students at the University of Memphis, then called Memphis State University. They were rejected because of their race.
When Maxine Smith was born in Memphis in 1929, the city was segregated by race.
Smith graduated from Booker T. Washington High School at age 15. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she knew Martin Luther King, Jr., who had also graduated high school early and was attending the nearby Morehouse College.
“He was a nerd,” Smith recalled years later.
Smith earned a Master’s degree at Middlebury College in Vermont and taught college level French.