Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Mrs. M.E.C. Smith

November 27th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Mrs. M.E.C. Smith (? – 1920)


This question is as grave as it is suggestive. There being a marked difference between character and reputation, its discussion naturally leads to a consideration of the Negro as he really is, and not as he is represented. The delineation of the Negro’s true character is one of the most effectual means of refuting the columnious epithets so constantly hurled at him—a veritable blasphemy against his higher and better nature.

–from “Is the Negro As Morally Depraved As He Is Reputed to Be?” in Twentieth Century Negro Literatue Or, A Cyclopedia of Thought on the Vital Topics Relating to the American Negro (1902)


Biographical Notes: Little is known about the life of Mrs. M.E.C. Smith, Principal of the Normal Department of Edward Waters College. The most detailed account of her life is found in Twentieth Century Negro Literature, a compendium of African American literature and political thought, edited by Dr. D.W. Culp:

Mrs. Mary E. C. Smith, daughter of Peter H. Day, was a native of New York city. Her education was provided for by her energetic widowed mother, to whom she ascribes the secret of her success. From early childhood she showed strong power of mind, and inherited from her mother that force and determination of purpose which prefigure success in whatever is undertaken. As a pupil, she was prompt and energetic, and never failed to win one of the Ridgeway prizes for good scholarship, which were given annually to successful contestants. She was an excellent Bible student, and when ten years old was elected a teacher in the Sunday-school. At this age she was impressed with the idea that it was her duty to go to the South to instruct her people, who were just emerging from bondage.

By a strange coincidence she was led to Florida, when she had finished her school course, the very place she had named when in an outburst of childish enthusiasm, while preparing a geography lesson, she had said: “O, mother, how I long to go there and teach my people!” The “land of flowers” has been the principal field of her labors as a teacher. Her ability as a teacher was soon discovered, and in 1890 she became principal of the Normal Department of the Edward Waters College, under the presidency of Prof. B. W. Arnett, Jr. Hundreds of students are better citizens because of her faithful teaching and Christian influence. As a church and Sunday-school worker she has few equals. The earnestness of purpose with which she performs the slightest duty is an example worthy of imitation.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Black Colleges, Black History, Higher Education, Mrs. M.E.C. Smith

4 Responses

  1. SjP

    And the quest continues to differientiate character from reputation…

    Left you a little something at SjP’s

  2. Ajuan Mance

    This is so very true; and a lot of us are hoping that the high visibility of the Obama family will change public perceptions of what Blackness can be. Public perceptions have been pretty hard to shift, though, at least when it comes to how African Americans are seen.

    …and I’ll drop by SjP’s…

  3. Mari-Djata

    I really love these articles about Black academics.This blog as a whole is very enlightening.

  4. Ajuan Mance

    Mair-Djata, thanks for the compliment. This blog is truly a labor of love, and it means a lot to hear that others enjoy it, as well.