Activist Daniel Smith, one of last children born to enslaved parent in US, dead at 90

Daniel Smith, a civil rights activist and one of the last children born to a former slave, died Wednesday, his wife said. He was 90.

>> Read more trending news

Smith died at a hospice center in Washington, D.C., Loretta Neumann told CBS News. His son and daughter were at his side, she told the news outlet.

According to The Washington Post, Smith was born in Winstead, Connecticut in on March 11, 1932, when his father, Abram “A.B.” Smith, was 70 years old. The elder Smith died in a car accident when Daniel Smith was 6, the newspaper reported.

According to the 1930 census, A.B. Smith was a janitor at the William L. Gilbert Clock Company’s factory in Winsted, Connecticut. He was born in Virginia in 1863, census records show. A.B. Smith married his second wife, Clara Wheeler, on March 2, 1926, according to Connecticut online marriage records on Daniel Smith was the fifth of the couple’s six children, according to CBS News.

It is difficult to know how many children of former slaves are still alive, if any.

While researching her 2009 book, “Sugar of the Crop: My Journey to Find the Children of Slaves” author Sana Butler tracked down 40 descendants of slaves, the Post reported. All of them have since died, and while Daniel Smith was not featured in her book, Butler later met him and helped edit his upcoming memoir, “Son of a Slave: A Black Man’s Journey in White America.”

Daniel Smith said his activism was sparked by his father’s life.

“A lot of Black children grew up in a world where they didn’t know who they were and where they came from,” Smith told the Post in 2020. “But we were A.B. Smith’s children, and that sustained us through anything.”

Daniel Smith was a civil rights activist throughout his adult life. He participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and marched from Selma to Montgomery, according to the Post. He met Archbishop Desmond Tutu during South Africa’s era of apartheid. He also met with civil rights leaders like the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, CBS News reported.

Smith graduated in 1960 from Springfield College in Massachusetts and was a psychiatric social worker, according to the newspaper. He was later accepted into veterinary school at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

During the 1970s, Smith settled in the Washington area and ran a federally funded program called the Area Health Education Centers, the Post reported.

After retiring in 1994, Daniel Smith served as head usher at the Washington National Cathedral, People reported.

He escorted presidents including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and married Neumann, his second wife, in 2006 at the cathedral, according to the Post.

“A friend of mine calls me the Black Forrest Gump,” Smith told the Economist in 2021.

He said he never thought much about being one of the last surviving children of a slave.

“Quite frankly, I’ve just grown up and been busy,” Smith told the Post. “And I’ve never thought much about it.”