Looking beyond Race: The Life of Otis Milton Smith

Looking beyond Race: The Life of Otis Milton Smith


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Looking beyond Race: The Life of Otis Milton Smith by Mary M. Stolberg, Otis Milton Smith

In Looking Beyond Race, Otis Milton Smith (1922-94) recounts his life as an African American who overcame poverty and prejudice to become a successful politician, going on to become the first black vice president and general counsel of General Motors.

Born in the slums of Memphis, Tennessee, Smith was the illegitimate son of a black domestic worker and her prominent white employer. Although he identified with his mother's blackness, he inherited his father's white complexion. This left him open to racism from whites, who resented his African American heritage, and blacks, who resented his skin color.

Throughout his life, Smith worked with and met many prominent Americans. He knew boxer Joe Louis, future general Daniel "Chappie" James, future Detroit mayor Coleman Young, and the nation's first African American general, B. O. Davis Jr. Through politics he knew Michigan's prominent politicians and was appointed by Governor John Swainson to the Michigan Supreme Court, making him the first black man since Reconstruction to sit on any supreme court in the nation. Smith also knew nationally known figures such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Estes Kevfauver, and presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Through his civil rights work, he met A. P. Tureaud, Roy Wilkins, and Benjamin Hooks, and he worked closely with Vernon Jordan.

Looking Beyond Race provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of America's largest corporation. Smith was an early advocate of the increased cooperation between business and government that was so necessary for business negotiating the complexities of a global economy. In 1983 he retired as general counsel for the corporation,having been the company's first black officer.

This memoir, which Smith dictated during the three years before his death in 1994, is a compelling tale that ends with the inspirational story of Smith's reconciliation with his white relatives who still live in the South. In this highly readable memoir, Looking Beyond Race provides a moving tale that will appeal to readers interested in African American history, politics, labor relations, business, and Michigan history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814329399
Publisher: Wayne State University Press
Publication date: 08/28/2000
Series: Great Lakes Books Series
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Mary M. Stolberg, a historian and a former reporter for the Pittsburgh Press, devotes her time to writing. She is the author of Fighting Organized Crime (Northeastern University Press, 1995) and Bridging the River of Hatred: The Pioneering Efforts of Detroit Police Commissioner George Edwards (Wayne State University Press, 1998).

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations13
Part 1Formative Years
1.Growing Up in Memphis17
2.Propelled by Ambition33
3.Spreading Wings49
4.Moving North63
Part 2Upward and Onward
5.College and Law School81
6.Fascinations of the Law95
7.Monuments in Passing119
8.The Michigan Supreme Court145
9.My Years at General Motors167
Part 3Reflections
10.Business versus Government193
11.Race in Perspective205
12.Success and Failures, Likes and Dislikes, Family and Faith223

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