By C. Ron Allen
Delray Beach Tribune
Longtime attorney, judge and civil rights leader I. C. Smith was remembered Saturday as man who dedicated his life to the betterment of the community he loved.
Mr. Smith died Feb. 29 at Pinecrest Rehabilitation Center in Delray Beach at the age of 89. Several hundred mourners, including 17 sitting judges, packed Trinity United Methodist Church in West Palm Beach to pay final tributes to a man who changed the face of Palm Beach County.
Friends, former colleagues, fraternity brothers, fellow parishioners and family all described Mr. Smith as a devoted civic leader, prominent attorney and jurist who sparked positive change in the county.
“One of the oak trees in Trinity has fallen,” the Rev Ann L Davis told the mourners. “All of the shade that was provided for many years will be remembered of this life. A mighty battle has been fought a victory has been won.”
Robert Miller credited Mr. Smith with him being a free man today. When a West Palm Beach police officer arrested Miller shortly after he returned from the Vietnam War, Miller was ready “to take him out.”
“When I told him what I was going to do that that police officer, he said, ‘Robert, your mother brought you up differently,’” Miller said. “This is a man that I could count on day to day especially during my time of crisis. This is not just a person lying there, that’s a man of God.”
Several said he did not let his achievement to get in the way of his dedication to God.
Church trustee Sherman Raing said Mr. Smith really loved his church and church family. He was chairman of the building committee and the administrative board, a trustee and he sang in the choir.
“He also served as the chief grass cutter,” he said, adding that Mr. Smith would load his riding lawnmower in his pickup truck and drove to the church. “This was when he was a judge. Although he was in that position, he took time out to come and cut the grass at the church.”
To many he was a mentor, someone who was always concerned about their wellbeing and welfare especially the youth on the streets.
Palm Beach County Judge Peter Evans said Mr. Smith was a great man not because he was wealthy or famous from coast to coast but by the greatness of his character and of the life he led.
Evans recalled how each morning Mr. Smith would sincerely ask him how he was doing. And after he found out how everyone in the family was doing that day, he would almost without exception share one of his many stories, which anyone who knew Mr. Smith knew were not brief.
“And it was through these stories that I learned about the history of our county and about the common people who did extraordinary things,” said Evans, who shared an office suite in the courthouse with Mr. Smith for 10 years.
“I learned about a man who went to law school in Brooklyn because law schools in Florida weren’t exactly welcoming to black students at the time,” he continued. “I learned what it was like to be a black lawyer in a courthouse [that] spoke of segregation and change that had to be fought for by ordinary people with great courage. I. C. was one of those heroes who through the strength of his character and the unwavering dedication to justice brought about great change in our society.”
As a much too young judge on the bench, Evans said Mr. Smith showed him the importance of every case. He was fair in his deliberations, he said.
“He never made an easy decision,” Evans said. No one ever accused him of making quick decision because he looked for justice in every case…. He is the model that I try to follow every day of my career.”
A native Floridian, Mr. Smith graduated with honors from Florida A&M University and Brooklyn Law School. He and his law partner, William Holland, for thirty years, served tirelessly in the struggle for civil rights including the desegregation of beaches in Delray Beach, the integration of the eating facilities on the Florida Turnpike and the integration of the public schools in Palm Beach County.
In 1984, Gov. Bob Graham appointed Mr. Smith as a county judge. He served in that position until retirement in 1992. The US flag at the courthouse was flown at half-staff in honor of Mr. Smith’s death, Evans said.
Survivors included his wife, Henrietta M. Smith; daughter, Rev. Cynthia Smith Jackson; son, retired Delray Beach Police Officer Robin Smith; sister, Dorothy Smith Bender; brothers, David Smith, Leroy Smith (Ruthye); and a host of other relatives.
The procession drove by the Palm Beach County Courthouse enroute to the Delray Beach Memorial Cemetery Gardens, where we was laid to rest.