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Dorothy Smith Celebration

Dorothy Smith

On Tuesday, March 8, 2022, San Diego Unified held a community celebration to honor the life and legacy of longtime education leader and teacher Dorothy L.W. Smith, who recently passed away at the age of 82.

Dorothy Smith became the first African-American woman elected to public office in San Diego County when she was elected to serve on the San Diego Unified School Board in 1981.


Smith was born in Capleville, Tennessee in 1939, where she attended a segregated school for Black students in a small town called Martin on the Tennessee side of the Tennessee-Kentucky border.


After moving to California, Smith taught at Grossmont Community College and San Diego City College, where she taught English and African-American literature.


Smith taught as a professor at San Diego City College for 24 years and also as a lecturer at San Diego State. She joined the San Diego Unified Board of Education in 1981 and represented Southeast San Diego until 1988.

Throughout her life, Smith was a champion for equity and helped make San Diego schools better for all children. She was inducted into San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame on March 3, 2019.


In the special virtual ceremony on March 8, San Diego Unified leaders were joined by members of the community and dignitaries, sharing their personal memories of Smith as well as the need to keep equity at the forefront of education in San Diego. Speakers included:

  • Superintendent Dr. Lamont Jackson
  • Board of Education President Dr. Sharon Whitehurst-Payne
  • California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber
  • Former U.S. Representative Susan Davis
  • Dr. Dennis Brown, former San Diego Unified administrator
  • Mary Castleberry, former San Diego Unified administrator
Dorothy Smith

The ceremony also featured a live rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," performed by San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts student Harmony Goggins. Fellow students Chanel Drexler & Liam McRory also performed "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin.


Following the ceremony, at the March 8 board meeting, the San Diego Unified Board of Education passed a special proclamation in memory of Smith, calling "on all San Diegans to honor the legacy of Dorothy L. W. Smith and recognize her extraordinary efforts to lead the way towards equal education for all students in San Diego County and beyond."



Learn more about Dorothy Smith in this presentation, featuring historical photos and information. 


Watch Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber's message from the ceremony.


See a longer clip of the ceremony and hear from speakers as they reflect on Dorothy Smith and her legacy which still carries forth today.


Dorothy Smith