Grand Rapids remembers Reuben Smartt

Feb 1, 2017

Reuben Smartt and Henry Saverson
Credit Grand Rapids Public Museum

He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in the United States Marines and was an education leader in West Michigan. Reuben Smartt recently passed away at the age of 91. His life was celebrated this week.

“Reuben and I played baseball for the Grand Rapids Black Sox.”

Reuben played shortstop and Henry Saverson played second base.

“I learned a lot from him. He always impressed me because he had such a strong arm. He was a small guy in stature but he had a tremendous arm. If I could get the ball to him he’d go over second base flying clipping that ball over to first base.”

The double play duo went on to play in the Negro Leagues and Smartt eventually signed with the Cleveland Indians making it as far as triple A. He would later coach kids in Grand Rapids inner-city baseball league.

Smartt served his country in World War II as one of the first African-American Marines he received the Congressional Gold Medal.

After the war Smartt earned a Master’s Degree in Education and lived a life of community service. At Grand Rapids South Middle School he was a teacher and a principal known as the Traveling Disciple directing the Upward Bound and Running Start programs mentoring students as they prepared for their futures.

He was honored in 2011 with the Giant Among Giants award.

Henry Saverson remembers his friend as humble and giving.

“When he would give a gift give them a two dollar bill. I would think that I have probably three, four, five two dollar bills myself that I kept over the years and I will always treasure those two dollar bills as many others will. When you see a two dollar bill we think of Reuben.”

Patrick Center, WGVU News.