Born and raised in Selma, Smith was no stranger to the issues around civil rights. (The Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson after the first march in 1965.) Smith’s involvement began when his longtime friend, State Sen. Hank Sanders, invited him to a breakfast meeting to discuss an upcoming march celebration.
“Julian was with the Selma to Montgomery Foundation board from its inception,” Sanders said. “The official entity was set up in 2014, but Julian was doing sponsorship work decades before.”
“Fundraising for the Selma to Montgomery March was a big passion,” Smith said. “While I was in college, I became focused on human rights and justice for all. It was my aim to get as many sponsors as possible to fund this incredible project.”
Smith’s fundraising skills brought as much as $100,000 from corporate sponsors throughout the state during celebratory years, Sanders said.
“Great sponsorships have enabled Selma to be better perceived nationally and internationally,” Smith said. “The image of Selma has been transformed into a positive light. It is seen as a more unified community.”
“Julian had a fantastic understanding of human rights. He understood the people, the players and knew how to handle problems,” Sanders said. “Julian knew how to get things done. He knew how to touch people and he knew what situations took priority. He had a broad understanding of the critical issues in Alabama. He was concerned about everyone, not just one particular community.”
Smith’s largest fundraising campaign was in 2015 when President Barack Obama attended the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” the initial attempt to march that was cut short when marchers were beaten by lawmen at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Memories of that attack on March 7, 1965, magnified contributions to the foundation. More than 100,000 people attended 50 commemorative events in Selma. (Today marks the 53rd Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.)
Contributions from the foundation continue to aid the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, and associated entertainment, food, police protection and crowd control.
After the foundation was formed, Smith made it a stronger entity, Sanders said, “but his greatest accomplishment was fundraising.
“Julian is and will always be a gift to Alabama,” Sanders said.
Members of the board include Chairman James Mitchell of Wallace Community College Selma, Johnny Johns of Protective Life Corp., Stephanie Bryan of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Ed McCurdy of Regions Bank, Felecia Pettway of Wallace Community College Selma, Selma attorney Carolyn Gaines-Varner, Sharon Wheeler of W2 Strategies.
“There is a lot of teamwork that goes into fundraising,” Smith said. “None of this is possible without great board members. These folks are the glue that holds every plan in place.”
Selma holds the nation’s largest annual civil rights celebration. Thousands of people attended the 53rd annual National Voting Rights Act, Bloody Sunday Commemoration and the Bridge Crossing Jubilee March 2-5.
Smith recently retired from the foundation board. He remains a strong supporter of civil rights.
To learn more about the Selma To Montgomery March Foundation, visit selmatomontgomeryfoundation.com or call 334-327-8750.
This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Powergrams magazine.