Otis Smith

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Served from 1961 through 1966

Oral History

Otis M. Smith was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 20, 1922. He attended Fisk University and Syracuse University. In 1950, Smith graduated from Catholic University Law School in Washington, D.C. In January of 1951 he was admitted to the Bar and immediately began to practice law in Flint, Michigan.

In addition to his practice of law, Smith took part in many civic organizations and functions. He was an active member in many civic groups including the Big Brothers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His community service brought him recognition from the Junior Chamber of Commerce in the city of Flint as the Outstanding Young Man in Flint in the year 1956.

The Prosecuting Attorney of Genesee County, a Republican who in 1954 appointed Smith as Assistant Prosecuting attorney, recognized his skills. He was designated as a part-time public administrator and continued private practice through 1956 when Governor G. Mennen Williams appointed him Chairman of the Public Service Commission of the State of Michigan. The vigor with which Smith carried out his duties as Public Service Commission Chairman resulted in Williams appointing him Auditor General of the State of Michigan in October 1959.

Governor John Swainson appointed Smith to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1961. The first African-American justice on the Court, Smith’s civility and courtesy in all of his personal relationships, even in the presence of abusive, provocative conduct, were particularly important to the Court during the very stressful years of his service.

Upon Smith’s exit from the Court in 1967, he was named General Counsel for General Motors. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Rochester, N.Y.: Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Co., 1952 – 1998, Vol. 417.)

Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
November 16, 1983

Portrait Artist:
Blovits, Larry

Oil on canvas

105.41cm X 87cm (41 1/2″ X 34 1/4″)

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice: 6th Floor, Rotunda

Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996