November 2020

Ruth Anderson Smith

Ruth Anderson Smith

Anyone who thinks librarians are shy and retiring has never met Ruth Anderson Smith.


From voter registration drives to ensuring the availability of accurate information about the heritage and history of African-Americans, Smith has been a strong advocate for the African-American community.


Born in Elrod, NC, Smith attended what was then called the North Carolina College for Negroes, now North Carolina Central University, earning an undergraduate degree in library science in 1942 and a master’s degree in 1950.


Although she had long wanted to be a librarian, she remembered the advice of a former teacher who had counseled her to “go out there and get some experience.” So she accepted a position as a fifth grade teacher in Wayne County. She quickly decided two years in the classroom was enough experience.


“I decided I was going to be a librarian later in life because it was always my dream,” Smith said.


She joined the Edgecombe County School system in 1944 as a school librarian for Rocky Mount Elementary School, later moving to Phillips High School and then, in 1960, to J.W. Parker Junior High School in Rocky Mount, where she remained until retiring in 1987.


Smith said the most rewarding part of being a librarian, especially in a small town, was the responsibility for ordering books and materials about African-American history, geography, and the study of Africa. Although she was not able to fulfill her aspiration of traveling and studying in Africa, she was able to ensure that students in her schools had access to accurate information.


Outside school hours, Smith was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement, joining her sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha in conducting voter-registration drives for African-Americans during the 1960s.


“As young members of AKA, one of our greatest moments was getting people registered to vote,” she said. “We would go around the Rocky Mount area to help people practice reading the Preamble to the Constitution so they’d be able to register and vote.”


A high point of those years came in November 1962 when she had the opportunity to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who had come to Rocky Mount to deliver a speech. She and her son were part of the crowd who heard an early draft of the “I Have A Dream” speech nine months before it became a national rallying cry of the Civil Rights movement.


Although officially retired, Smith still volunteers in the library of St. Mark AME Church, where she founded and donated the library in honor of her mother, Dovie Anderson.


“Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ is probably my favorite book,” she said. “But, as everybody knows, the best book of all is the Bible,” she said.


By Ashani Smith