Tamu Thomas-Smith: Speaker for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

She was raised by her grandmother, Susie Mae Young Thomas, who was a civil rights leader. She grew up knowing Susie’s history–of being denied classes other than those in domestic service, and knowing that a “sea of brown”–Hispanics, blacks, others who knew prejudice far too well–finally protested in favor of Susie and the others who were determined not to be held back.

She raised her five sisters as well as the children she and her husband had.

She portrayed Jane Manning James for a decade of I Am Jane performances.

She co-hosts a radio talk show called “Sistas in Zion” with her lifelong friend, Zandra Vranes, and the two of them will soon publish a book. They are featured in “Time Out for Women” with Deseret Book.

Yes, Tamu Thomas Smith is becoming famous. But she has deep roots in her noble ancestry and in the legacy of pain and discrimination, which have schooled her heart. She has known poverty, betrayal, the deaths of loved ones. She has also known a graceful dignity which doesn’t demand fame but simply due attention and validation, and she offers both to others generously. She can bring laughter from the most depressed, but is fully aware of the world around her, and deeply serious about her responsibilities and her gifts.

Her grandfather once gave her a quarter if she would memorize the entire “Black National Anthem.” I believe she still has it memorized. The power of the anthem describes Tamu’s drive, her groundedness, her love, her faith.

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
let our rejoicing rise,
high as the list’ning skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea
sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
bitter the chast’ning rod,
felt in the day that hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat,
have not our weary feet,
come to the place on witch our fathers sighed?
we have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
thou who has by thy might,
led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray
lest our feet stray firm the places, our God, where we met thee,
least our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee,
shadowed beneath the hand,
may we forever stand,
true to our God,
True to our native land.

I invite all who read this to get the word out that Tamu Thomas-Smith will be this year’s speaker at BYU’s “Walk of Life” tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Monday, January 20, meet at 5:30 at the Carillon Tower, BYU campus, to walk together singing and holding candles. Tamu will speak in the WSC ballroom after that walk.

I suspect her grandparents will be watching.

About Margaret Blair Young

Margaret Blair Young teaches literature and creative writing at Brigham Young University. For the past fifteen years, she has specialized in the history of blacks in the west, particularly black Mormons. She has written six novels and two short story collections, but has lately become interested in filmmaking. Her current endeavor is a film to be shot in Zambia called Heart of Africa (www.heartofafricafilm.com)


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