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Posted on: February 5, 2021

Clarksville Faces of Black History

Wanda Smith

Ward 6 Councilwoman Wanda Smith, born and raised in Clarksville, continues the traditions of a family that blazed a trail of African-American activism and achievement in our community.

Smith credits her mother, Virginia Martin Hatcher, for teaching her the principles of justice, equality and community engagement. Her father, Otis L. Martin Sr. -- one of the Clarksville PoliceWanda Smith's Parents Department’s first Black officers -- taught her to be merciful and to treat everyone with kindness and respect.

“Mrs. Hatcher was regarded by many as the Harriett Tubman of Clarksville,” Councilwoman Smith said. “She wanted equality. She helped all races. She believed that God created us all equal and we all deserve freedom and peace as one people.”

Smith said her father, who served CPD from the late 1950s to the ‘70s, taught her about community service.

Wanda Smith Family“They called him Big Otis, and he was recognized for his long service,” Smith said. “He always taught us to treat people with kindness and respect, and that you never mistreat people just because you have power. He would give people a second chance and help them if they were in trouble.”

Smith, who grew up among five sisters and a brother,  graduated from Clarksville High School, where she starred on the girls basketball team. Her  parents owned and operated Virginia’s Cafe,  a soul food restaurant, where she developed her work ethic as she supervised, cooked, and waited on guests.

She also was the child who was drawn into her mother’s quest for racial equality.  

“I marched with her as a young girl. I was the one who worked with her in the NAACP and CORR (the Commission on Religion and Racism). I was her assistant, and her writer,” Smith recalls.

Mrs. Hatcher was always ready to jump into local struggles for justice. As president of the NAACP branch in the 1970s, she investigated why Black officers weren’tWanda Smith Mother given police cars. Citing provisions in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, she marched on, and soon, Black officers were driving police cruisers and patrolling the streets in the same manner as their white colleagues.

Later, she took up the cause of improving living conditions and treatment of inmates in the Montgomery County Jail. She fought for more equitable treatment of Black employees at Austin Peay State University, and she took on the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System over alleged mistreatment of a student from an activist family.

Mrs. Hatcher died in September 2017 and Otis Martin died in 1976, when Smith was 16.

Along the way, Smith accepted her call to become a minister -- first showing an early prophetic gift as she preached her first sermon at age 8 to her sisters at a homemade pulpit. She served on the ministerial staff at Cathedral of Praise in Nashville, and assistant to the president of Cathedral of Praise College. She also served as chaplain at the Montgomery County Jail, and has authored several religious books and papers, including The Kingdom Builder and The Baptist Leader, published by R.H. Boyd Publishing.

She’s gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree at American Baptist College in Nashville, a master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. She currently is working on a master’s in Criminal Justice. 

Throughout her work and ministry, Councilwoman Smith has remained committed to the local struggle for civil rights, racial equality and justice. For example, she was secretary of the Voter’s Council,  which registered hundreds of voters. She also led community efforts to name the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and to protect the Red River District. She was the keynote speaker at the 2008 Fort Campbell Black History Month program, and honored by the post’s command.

In 2014 Smith was elected to represent Ward 6 on the Clarksville City Council. She was re-elected in 2018 to a second four-year term. She has been a strong advocate for her ward and diversifying the City’s governance and workforce. She counts her advocacy to clean up and redevelop Ward 6, especially the old Frosty Morn plant, as one of her Council success stories.

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