Rudy Smith

(b. 1945)

Born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rudy Smith grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. After hearing Martin Luther King, Jr. speak at a convention in Denver when he was but 13, Smith became involved with the Youth Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), advancing to president of a seven-state area. His activism led him and his minster to meet with a manager of the Omaha World-Herald newspaper when he was still a teen about the lack of black employees at the paper. That meeting resulted in his first job there as a paper sorter, and ended 46 years later as an award-winning photographer. During that time, he graduated from Central High School in 1963, studied at the University of Nebraska at Omaha while working full time at the newspaper, and had the distinction as the first black graduate of the School of Communication. Smith went on to urge more hiring of black faculty at the University and the establishment of the Department of Black Studies.

By the time of his college graduation in 1969, Smith had become a photographer at the paper. He chronicled news events with his camera including Omaha’s race upheavals and the 1968 visit of Robert Kennedy who was campaigning in North Omaha two weeks before his assassination. Throughout his photography career, he worked as both the objective observer and the committed activist. During a time of Civil Rights turmoil and reform in America, Smith photographed historical subjects such as protests, marches, and riots. In 2009, he retired from the Omaha World-Herald. Smith was inducted into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 for his many photographs of black athletes and in 2008 he received the College of Communication Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He was the recipient of the NAACP’s Freedom Fighter Award in 2013 for his years of civil rights accomplishments.

Rudy Smith was included in the exhibition A Greater Spectrum: African American Artists of Nebraska 1912-2010 on view at the Museum of Nebraska Art from December 4, 2010 to April 3, 2011.

Rudy Smith is not represented in the Museum of Nebraska Art collection.