Family of prestigious alumnus donates historic property to Tuskegee University
The family of famed attorney Jock Smith, who passed away in 2012, has generously donated his historic office property to Tuskegee University. Mr. Smith was a Tuskegee graduate, professor, and trustee. He was a practicing litigator for over 35 years, as well as an author, motivational speaker, and sports agent. He was a founding partner of the internationally-famous Cochran Firm, along with Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.
Mr. Smith graduated with a BS in History from Tuskegee in 1970, and earned his law degree from Notre Dame in 1973, founding the first chapter of its Black Law Students Association. He also served as a professor of Political Science at Tuskegee during the mid-1970’s. He was serving as a trustee with special assignment for athletics at the time of his death.
Mr. Smith obtained numerous multi-million dollar verdicts in civil cases, including an $80 million verdict against Orkin for defrauding an elderly Black female in 2000. In 2004, he recorded the year's largest verdict in the nation, $1.62 billion against Southwestern Life Insurance Company. He also participated in the landmark $700 million settlement against Monsanto, Inc. for residents of Alabama. Lastly, he successfully served as chief counsel for the Rosa L. Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Martin Luther King, Jr. estates, respectively. For decades Mr. Smith was a larger-than-life figure in Tuskegee, and his reputation towered over the entire law community.
The property, located at 306 N. Main Street in Tuskegee, was originally purchased by W.P. Thompson circa 1883. In 1905, Dr. M.M. Smith purchased the property and used the existing church addition as the centerpiece to the home he constructed. Smith purchased the property in 1995, with the ardent hope that restoration of the historic home as his law offices would inspire and enhance the community.
Mr. Smith’s widow, Ms. Yvette Smiley-Smith, explained how the gift to Tuskegee University was a natural choice:
“My daughter Janay and I are thrilled to give this deeply symbolic and historic real estate to Tuskegee University. My husband adored Tuskegee, the University, and the city. Even as his star rose in America's legal community, he never considered moving his practice from Tuskegee. Ever the consummate presenter, he was determined to have an office environment that instilled power and pride in his clients. We are encouraged by the University's willingness to maintain the property in a manner that will highlight Jock's passion for law and service. Tuskegee University has given to so many; and, it is through giving that we honor those who came before us. I am sure this will be among the many gifts to be bestowed upon this prestigious institution during Dr. Johnson’s administration.”
Daughter Janay Marriel Smith echoed these thoughts:
“My dad often told me that Tuskegee saved his life. While many approached us to acquire his law building, the family only trusted this institution to carry on my father’s legacy. My father enrolled at Tuskegee Institute in 1966 as a lanky, lost kid from New York City with poor grades. He graduated with honors as an active advocate and vocal leader for the community. Membership on Tuskegee University's Board of Trustee's was one of my dad’s greatest sources of pride, even considering all the honors he received. President Johnson, and Mr. Blakely in the Advancement office, have been amazing throughout the course of this emotional donation. And it’s clear that Dr. Johnson's vision for utilizing distinguished alumni aligns with my father’s strong belief in doing good while doing well.”
Dr. Johnson spoke passionately about Smith’s impact on Tuskegee and on his own work: "When I arrived to Tuskegee and visited with his family at Mr. Smith's long time law office, they presented me with his book, Climbing Jacob's Ladder, and it has been one of the single most treasures of inspiration I have read since becoming president. Mr. Jock Smith was not only a staple in the Tuskegee community but his long association with both the university including his service as a board of trustee member brought the institution and the community alike national renown. We thank his family for this extraordinary gift of his beautiful offices that will serve the institution well into the future."
Mr. Blakely, Vice President for Advancement at Tuskegee, praised the deep generosity and spirit of the Smith family:
“No gift to the university could be more meaningful and appropriate. Jock Smith’s legacy is Tuskegee University’s spirit brought to life, and to its fullest fruition. He was a man who reached with awesome ambition to reach the greatest heights, starting from humble beginnings. That is the Tuskegee spirit and sacred mission personified. We are lucky to be associated with a man and a family whose impact will never be diminished, and can never be forgotten.”