Ceremony marks renaming of street to honor leader

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church members, along with family and friends of Rev. Charles T. Smith gather Saturday at the church to celebrate the renaming of America Street to Charles T. Smith Drive.  Smith served as pastor of the church for 50 years before passing away in 2012.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church members, along with family and friends of Rev. Charles T. Smith gather Saturday at the church to celebrate the renaming of America Street to Charles T. Smith Drive. Smith served as pastor of the church for 50 years before passing away in 2012.

A four-block stretch of America Street from South 10th Street to Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive officially was renamed the Charles T. Smith Boulevard in honor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church’s longtime pastor and community leader Saturday.

A crowd of nearly 200 people gathered for the occasion to see Eula Smith unveil the new street sign in front of the church that had been led for 50 years by her late husband, the Rev. Charles T. Smith.

“Because I knew he had done so much for the community, this would be a fitting tribute for him,” Eula Smith said. “And we can say the church sits at the corner of Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive, who was one of his mentors, and Charles T. Smith Boulevard. I thought that was significant.”

The significance of the location was not lost on some of the churchgoers.

“Each day we come to the church or we leave the church, we can see the sign to keep us in remembrance in him as our great leader,” said Rosa Polk, who knew Charles T. Smith since they went to McKinley High School in the 1940s.

The late pastor succeeded his father, the Rev. Dudley T. Smith, at Shiloh in 1962, becoming only the fourth pastor in the church’s nearly 140-year history. After serving a half-century, he retired in May 2012.

The Rev. Charles T. Smith’s son, the Rev. Fred Jeff Smith, now serves as pastor of Shiloh.

Eula Smith said friends suggested renaming Eddie Robinson Sr. Drive in honor of her late husband, but she decided against doing so because it would be hurtful to Eddie Robinson’s family.

She said she settled on working to rename America Street for her late husband, so in January, she called on Mayor-President Kip Holden and Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, both of whom attended Saturday’s ceremony, to help change the name of the street in front of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

She said she decided not to include “the Rev.” on the sign because she said her late husband did not care for titles.

“He didn’t think you had to have a title for someone to know who you are,” Eula Smith said.

Fred Jeff Smith said words could not describe what an honor it was to have the street renamed in honor of his father.

But he was quick to point out that his father probably would have thought he was not worthy of the honor.

“I think he would feel like more fuss was being made over him than was due,” Fred Smith said, acknowledging that his father was a humble man.

Thelma K. Jones has been a member of Shiloh for 41 years and developed a close relationship with Charles T. Smith through her involvement in church groups and activities.

“You couldn’t say enough about him,” Jones said. “It’s a great honor for a great man because he was so kind and generous for everybody in the community, not just Shiloh.”

Praised for fighting for equality and fairness for those less fortunate, the Rev. Charles T. Smith served in the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, was active in Together Baton Rouge, 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention, the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., Congress of Christian Education and other religious, social and civic organizations.

But even the mistake on the new street sign unveiled Saturday reading, “Charles T. Smith Drive” instead of “Charles T. Smith Boulevard” as Eula Smith had requested, did not dampen the mood of the crowd.

As for the sign’s error, Eula Smith said, both Holden and Wicker told her they would work to correct it to read “Charles T. Smith Boulevard” and she’s confident they will get it done.

Wicker said the city ordinance authorizing the street name change referred to “Charles T. Smith Drive” instead of “Charles T. Smith Boulevard” — which is the reason for the wording error on the sign unveiled Saturday.