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Emma Johnson Smith.jpg

EMMA JOHNSON SMITH was born in Dayton, Ohio, on February 14, 1928 to Charlest R. Higgins Johnson, author and poet who was listed in “Who’s Who of American Poets,” and Ernest E. Johnson, Dayton’s first Black Master Plumber. 

Mrs. Smith attended Central State University and was coached in elocution by the late Dr. Hallie Q. Brown, noted author and elocutionist. Mrs. Smith was also a trained singer with an extensive musical background. Coached by her uncle Prof. Charles D. Higgins of Princeton, New Jersey and German Dr. Theodore Hieman, Mrs. Smith sang and performed in various churches, colleges and civic organizations across Ohio. She was a member of the Wilberforce Singers and Dayton Philharmonic Chorus. She was also known for her unique operatic style, programming such classical pieces such as George Bizet’s “Agnus Dei,” the “Inflammatus” of Rossini, Bohm’s “Still Wie Die Nacht” and Frank Leoni’s setting of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Birth Of Morn.”

Mrs. Smith’s passionate involvement in numerous civic, religious and cultural organizations made her a mainstay in the Dayton community and beyond. She was a member of the Unique Study Club, Alder Street Community Chapel, Teen Director of Residence Park United Methodist Church, and the Democratic Party. In the field of politics, Mrs. Smith was a committee woman and a leader of the 14th Ward, one of the largest wards in Montgomery County. She also wrote campaign songs and slogans for governors and political candidates. 

A staunch advocate for learning, Mrs. Smith was employed by Dayton Public School Systems for over 20 years. Mrs. Smith’s experience as a lecturer included working with the Intercultural Scholarship Foundation of Cincinnati Ohio, touring colleges and universities throughout the state presenting on American history and music.  Areas of expertise included Black history and she was particularly proficient in presenting the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar through spoken word and song. Her expertise in the dialect of the enslaved is and was unsurpassed.

She was also the founder of The Old Castle on the Hill Multicultural foundation. It is because of the determination and tireless efforts of Emma Johnson Smith that artifacts within The Legacy of Charity's Children Collection exist today.

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