Nieman News

Robert Collins “R.C.” Smith, a journalist, education advocate, and a 1961 Nieman Fellow, died December 30, 2020, in Jamestown, North Carolina. He was 93.

Smith, who worked for several newspapers in Virginia and North Carolina over the course of his career, served as the movie and jazz music critic for what is now the Durham Herald-Sun for over 25 years from the 1970s to 1990s. Focused on education initiatives, he also worked for many years at a nonprofit working to improve economic mobility.

Born in Queens, New York, Smith served in the U.S. Army in Japan before attending the University of North Carolina, graduating with a journalism degree in 1950. His journalism career included stints writing news and editorials at The Virginian-Pilot from 1954 to 1963 and The Charlotte News from 1964 to 1968 before joining The Herald-Sun.

Smith was a founding employee of MDC, Inc., a Durham-based organization promoting economic progress in the South, where he worked on projects related to education from 1968 to 1992. He worked as an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and wrote a newsletter on Tar Heel sports.

Also an author, Smith wrote two books. The first, “They Closed Their Schools” (UNC Press, 1965), chronicled the impact of the decision by Prince Edward County in Virginia to stop funding their public schools rather than integrate following Brown v. Board of Education. The second, “A Case About Amy” (Temple University Press, 1996), was about the first Supreme Court case under the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the family at the center of it, fighting for the right for a sign language interpreter for their deaf daughter in the public schools of Westchester County, New York.

Smith is survived by his wife, three sons, a stepson, and seven grandchildren.