SMITH, HARRY CLAY (28 Jan. 1863-10 Dec. 1941), a pioneer of the black press, was brought to Cleveland at 2 after his birth in Clarksburg, W.Va., to John and Sarah Smith. Shortly after graduating from CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, he and 3 associates founded the CLEVELAND GAZETTE in 1883. Beginning as managing editor, Smith soon became the sole proprietor of the weekly newspaper, which he published for 58 years.
A disciple of MARCUS A. HANNA, Smith was a deputy state oil inspector from 1885-89, and was elected as a Republican to 3 terms in the Ohio general assembly, where he sponsored the Ohio Civil Rights Law of 1894, establishing penalties against discrimination in public accommodations, and the Mob Violence Act of 1896, an antilynching law. Smith for years crusaded to block the showing in Ohio of the classic but racist film The Birth of a Nation; and when a miscegenation bill was proposed, personally led a delegation to Columbus to lobby for its defeat. Running for the Republican nomination for secretary of state in 1920, he defeated an attempt to remove his name from the ballot because of its similarity to that of another candidate, but lost the nomination nonetheless. Though he lost bids for the Republican nomination for governor in 1926 and 1928, he felt he broke ground as the first black candidate for that position.
Smith died suddenly in his office. He had no wife or children; his property was left for the benefit of the Negro blind.