John McNeil Smith Jr. ’41 LL.B. was a civil rights lawyer and state legislator in North Carolina who fought for desegregation and defended American communists targeted by the government for their political beliefs. He passed away on January 15, 2011, at the age of 92.
Smith practiced in Greensboro, N.C., where he took on clients that other lawyers refused to defend. Beginning in 1958, he served as co-counsel for Junius Scales, a Greensboro native convicted of advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government as a member of the Communist Party. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but President John F. Kennedy commuted Scales’ six-year sentence in 1962.
In the 1960s, Smith led negotiations between local businesses and students protesting against segregation in Greensboro. As a result of the negotiations, the owners of white-only businesses began opening their doors to African-American patrons.
Smith served in both the North Carolina House of Representatives and the state senate.
He is survived by four children: Louise “Chini” Nichols, Anne Cole, Eleanor Smith, and John McNeil Smith III.