SMITH, CLIFFORD FARRELL, JR.
SMITH, CLIFFORD FARRELL, JR. (1916–1989). Clifford Farrell Smith, Jr., one of the first African Americans to receive a master electrician license in Texas, was born on August 3, 1916, in Houston, Texas, to Clifford F. Smith, Sr., and Elsie (Blunt) Smith.
As a young boy growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, many of the homes in his community were not adequately electrically wired. After founding the C. F. Smith Electric Company in 1945 and during his nearly half a century in the business, Smith and his employees wired nearly every home, church, and business in the Fifth Ward community where he lived nearly all of his life. His business also extended throughout Houston as well as in other Texas cities.
He attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Commercial Industries in 1938. Smith’s talent was widely-known, and three years after graduating from Tuskegee, he was head of the electrical team that built the Tuskegee Army Air Field, where the first black U. S. Army Air Corps pilots were trained. Upon returning to Houston, Smith earned his private pilot license from the Sky Ranch Flying School, located on the Taylor Stevenson Ranch, in 1947. Smith had married Hortense Dugar, and they had two daughters.
Early in his business career Smith had to overcome some unique hurdles. He later wrote about his life in a book titled Whatcha’ Want, Boy? (1988); the title was inspired by a clerk’s question to him at city hall when Smith applied for his master license. He went on to become the first black to pass the city of Houston’s electrician’s exam and became a Master Electrician in 1943. Forty years later he became chairman of the City of Houston Electrical Board which issues all licenses. He also became the first of his race to be president of the Houston chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors, and he served on the national board. He served on the Houston and national board of the Independent Electrical Contractors, and he traveled to Washington, D. C., on several occasions to testify against picketing by building trades unions.
Smith’s civic activities were almost as important as his electrical business. He was one of the first Boy Scout leaders in his community and earned the highest award in Scouting, the Silver Beaver Award. His dedication to the Scouting program was such that he and some of his friends built a hut on his property where both Boy and Girl Scout troops met. His wife, Hortense was a Girl Scout leader, and he served as a board member of the Sam Houston Boy Scout Council.
He was president of both the Houston chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Tuskegee Alumni Association, and he was a board member of St. Joseph’s Hospital. For many years Smith directed the adult choir at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church. In 1979 he was appointed to the Texas Board of Corrections.
Smith’s major legacy was his innovation in the electrical business. The C. F. Smith Electric Company wired a majority of buildings in the historic Fifth Ward community, and his office building was designed by Houston architect John Chase, A.I.A. In 1949 when construction of Smith’s home was finished, a magazine named it the most modern electrically-wired home in Houston. The house was complete with outside lighting that could be turned on by a remote switch he installed in his vehicle. A newspaper ad listed eleven minority contractors who built Smith’s home, which was dubbed the “Home of Day After Tomorrow.”
Smith’s alma mater honored him with the Tuskegee Alumni Merit Award in 1958. Clifford F. Smith, Jr., died in Houston on November 28, 1989. His wife had preceded him in death. He was survived by his two daughters.
Houston Chronicle, December 1, 1989. Patricia Smith Prather, Interview by Vince Lee, October 5, 2010, Houston Public Library Digital Archives (http://digital.houstonlibrary.org/oral-history/patricia-prather_OHGS0017.php), accessed June 12, 2013. C. F. Smith Family Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
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