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Smith, Gerald L. K.

SMITH, GERALD L. K.

Gerald L. K. Smith (February 27, 1888–April 15, 1976), a minister, publisher, orator, anti-Semite, and anticommunist, a hater of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, was one of the most inflammatory speakers of the New Deal era.

Born in a Wisconsin village to a lower-middle-class family, Smith graduated from Viroqua High School in 1916, then completed a four-year B. A. program in biblical studies at Valparaiso University in two years, graduating in 1918. Nephritis, a kidney disease, kept him out of World War I. Smith started his career as a Disciples of Christ preacher in small villages in Wisconsin, where he converted hundreds and was an effective money raiser. He married Elna Sorenson, of Janesville.

Smith's career flourished and he moved to larger, richer churches in Illinois and Indiana. He accepted a call from the Kings Highway Christian Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1929 because the warm climate offered the opportunity for Elna, who had contracted tuberculosis, to heal.

In Shreveport, Smith repeated his earlier successes and became an associate of U.S. Senator Huey P. Long. Smith quit his church, whose most influential and wealthy members opposed Long, then traveled the nation for Long promoting wealth-sharing. He might have been Long's campaign manager in his planned 1936 presidential Campaign, but Long was killed by an assassin in 1935 and Smith, after preaching Huey's eulogy, lost a power struggle among Long's successors, and left Louisiana. For the rest of his life his career would mix religion and politics.

In 1936 Smith teamed with Father Charles E. Coughlin and Dr. Francis E. Townsend to sponsor the candidacy of North Dakota U.S. Representative William Lemke for president on the Union Party ticket. The party failed badly and its leaders split.

Smith increasingly demonized Jews, blacks, and communists, and was a leading figure on the far right through the Depression and long after. He moved his headquarters to New York in 1936, Cleveland in 1938, Detroit in 1939, St. Louis in 1947, Tulsa in 1948, and Los Angeles in 1953. His crusading included delivering speeches, publishing, seeking political office, and undertaking direct mail fundraising. Smith founded The Cross and the Flag in 1942, and published thousands of pamphlets. He became a near-millionaire from money sent to him through the mail by followers or left to him in bequests.

Smith used plot theories to blame Jews for World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, and World War II. He claimed FDR was a Jew yet Adolf Hitler was a good Christian.

See Also:COUGHLIN, CHARLES; LONG, HUEY P.; TOWNSEND PLAN; UNION PARTY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bennett, David H. Demagogues in the Depression: American Radicals and the Union Party, 1932–1936. 1969.

Gerald L. K. Smith Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Jeansonne, Glen. Gerald L. K. Smith: Minister of Hate. 1988.

Jeansonne, Glen. "Preacher, Populist, Propagandist: The Early Career of Gerald L. K. Smith." Biography 2, no. 4 (Fall 1979): 303–327.

Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant FarRight from the Great Depression to the Cold War. 1983.

Glen Jeansonne

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