The Shelby County administration building is now the Vasco A. Smith Jr. Administration Building.
The building was formally rededicated Monday morning at a ceremony honoring the longtime Shelby County commissioner and civil rights activist who died last year.
The ceremony was a gathering of fellow veterans of the civil rights era in Memphis as well as figures from the past and present of Shelby County politics.
Former County Commissioner Cleo Kirk remembered Smith, his political mentor, as “a fearless man.”
“If you wanted a good fight, threaten him,” Kirk said. “He found the injustice in things and he attacked it.”
Retired Judge Russell Sugarmon, along with Smith and others, formed the foundation of the city’s civil rights establishment in the 1950s, said Smith’s fight to form The Regional Medical Center “made the potential for a greater medical center possible.”
Former County Commissioner Charles Perkins, who worked with Smith on the creation of The MED, said it “raised the level of medical care all over.”
Smith was remembered a week after the memorial service for another civil rights icon, the Rev. Benjamin Hooks. Sugarmon said the Memphis movement “produced more leadership … than any other city in the South.”
Smith’s widow, former school board member and long time local NAACP executive secretary Maxine Smith, remembered her husband as a tough advocate who was plain spoken and blunt in his dealings with opponents.
“Maybe we did a little good when we stepped out at Memphis State,” she said referring to her attempt, with others, to enroll in and integrate what was then Memphis State University in the 1950s. She was denied admission. Smith will be presented with an honorary doctorate from what is now the University of Memphis in graduation ceremonies this spring.
“I’ve had a good life,” she said. “I’ve had a real good life thanks to Vasco.”