Rev. Ernest Franklin Smith

Reverend Ernest Franklin Smith arrived in Erie sometime in 1934, establishing the Good Samaritan AME Zion Church in the 1100 block of Walnut Street.  From his church and the Negro Welfare Mission next door, Smith began actively recruiting black Americans, many of them from Laurel, Mississippi, to come to Erie.  By the late-twentieth century when the African American population reached ten percent of the city, nearly one-half of them could claim family roots in Laurel.  Reverend Smith’s recruitment work did not come without risk, as powerful Southern interests feared, resisted (sometimes violently in the shadows), and testified in congress against the migration of blacks to northern cities, notably including Erie. Besides helping migrants find employment and housing, Smith’s Negro Welfare Mission operated a nursery school, fed hungry children, taught adult education classes, and worked to improve sanitary conditions across the city.  Gary Horton recalled decades later that Rev. Smith had told stories in the neighborhood of his time at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, where he often “ran errands for Dr. Carver”—George Washington Carver, the renowned agricultural scientist whose pioneering experiments helped diversify the impoverished agricultural South in the first decades of the 20th century.  It was Rev. Smith who, with the backing of his friend H.O. Hirt of Erie Insurance, established the first African American nursing program in Erie. 

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