“If you can get students to leisurely read in a comfortable setting , they’ll learn something.”
Dr. Earnest Andrew Smith, the ninth president of Rust College, was a wholehearted believer in the value of education. He led the college for ten years and much was accomplished under his tenure including the building of Wiff, Gross, and McDonald Science halls. Smith would undoubtedly be remembered as a leader who put student learning first. His legacy is, in fact, demonstrated by an endowed alumni and artist lecture series launched in 1997, named after him and his wife of seventy years, Melverta G. Smith. In 2009, the E.A. Smith Honor society was also endowed by the couple and named in President Smith’s Honor.
Smith, born August 13, 1913, in Macon, Georgia, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, graduated from Rust in 1937. He went on to earn additional degrees from Oberlin College in Ohio and Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. He also took courses at Drew University and Gammon Seminary. An advocate of both sacred and secular education, Smith pastored three churches and served as a high school principal. Coretta Scott King, the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a student of Smith at Lincoln School, in Marion, Alabama while he was Director/Principal there. He returned to Rust as president in 1957, an era of struggle for civil rights in the state and throughout the South. He made a case for the college’s continuation as The Methodist Church considered its closure.
Smith left the presidency of Rust in 1967 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he was installed as Director of Human Relations for the National Methodist Church’s Board of Health and Society. He served the church in this capacity for thirteen years, retiring from the position in 1978.
In his later years, Smith returned south first to Memphis and eventually to his wife’s hometown of Benton, Mississippi near Yazoo City. The two lived together in Mrs. Smith’s ancestral home, which they renovated. Smith was, in his last years, a regular visitor to the Rust campus. Acquaintances on the campus include former president, David Beckley, who came to Rust as a student at the close of Smith’s tenure, Dr. Ishmell Edwards, Vice President for College Relations and religion professor Dr. Warren Booker. These men and others including librarian Anita Moore, remembered Smith’s love of students, his awe-inspiring oratorical skills, his deep appreciation of learning, and his sense of humor. According to Moore, Smith was someone from whom you could learn, as his communication was always sprinkled with information and with literary reference.
Before his death, Smith donated his collection of books to Rust College’s Leontyne Price Library. With a strong focus on English Literature and art, Dr. Smith’s collection is housed in The President’s Room on the bottom level of the library. The tranquil space, furnished by Smith, fulfills a dream that young, would-be scholars might have a comfortable place for reading. He was a believer that much learning takes place outside the classroom. Smith died in November of 2009, leaving the college with many great memories of his leadership and physical reminders of his far-ranging intellectual interests.