Bobbie Smith, LBUSD’s first Black board member, dies at 90

It’s hard to overstate how important Bobbie Smith was to the Long Beach Unified School District. In 1988, she was the first African American elected to the board of education and served as president in four separate terms while implementing revolutionary changes to local education.

Smith died of natural causes late last month. She was 90.

Dr. Felton Williams, who succeeded Smith on the board representing Area 2, remembers her understated strength.

“I was the second African American to serve on the board and I had to cut through issues of race as well. Her being the first, you can only imagine what she had to go through and I came 16 years after her,” he said. ” … When we talk about Bobbie Smith, we talk about persistence, dignity, grace and quiet resolve.”

While serving on the board of education for 16 years, Smith championed school uniforms, standards-based instruction and other groundbreaking ideas that earned her national recognition.

Smith was born in Mississippi and started working in Long Beach education as a librarian at Long Beach City College. She was there for more than 20 years.

Bernice Alexander knew Smith for over 50 years because their children went to school together.

“She was a very caring mom all the way from her kids to her grandkids, she loved hard,” Alexander said of Smith. “She was always making sure they had something to do.”

Smith had two children, Kim and Herbert, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“My mom taught me to cook the first meal of the day and how to always be respectful, especially to women,” Herbert said.

Smith was a lifetime and Golden Heritage member of the Long Beach Branch NAACP. She was also a past president of the National Council of Negro Women in Long Beach.

“Her legacy is all about equality,” said former LBUSD Superintendent Chris Steinhauser in an official statement. “She wanted to make the world a better place, and did so by making sure that equity and excellence could be found in every corner of our system.”

In 2014, the LBUSD renamed Peter Burnett Elementary School to Bobbie Smith Elementary School.

“Bobbie Smith was a woman whose voice may have been soft, but it carried great impact,” said current Area 2 board member Erik Miller. “Her passing is a big loss, … but we intend to carry her tremendous legacy forward in every way possible.”

A celebration of life for Smith will be held at the Bixby Knolls Christian Church (1240 E. Carson St.) on Aug. 24. Viewing is from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. before the program, which starts at 1 p.m.

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