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Rotary People in Action
Dr. Otis Wesley Smith, Rotary Club of Atlanta West End: A Retrospective for MLK Week

The late Dr. Otis Smith, and friend of the club, Mary Rose Taylor, both key players in saving the Margaret Mitchell House many years ago

The late Dr. Otis Smith, and friend of the club, Mary Rose Taylor, both key players in saving the Margaret Mitchell House many years ago

When Dr. Otis Wesley Smith passed away in 2007, he was a prominent member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta West End. More than that, he was an important part of Civil Rights history here in Atlanta and across the country. His story is tied to Margaret Mitchell and the saving of the Margaret Mitchell House. Here's his story ... thanks to Eric John of the Rotary Club of Atlanta West End and an online story at the time of his death.

The online story describes one of the city's most striking examples of paying it forward. When Atlantans rallied to save the historic Margaret Mitchell house, Dr. Otis W. Smith led the charge.

"Our first donation to save the house came from him, unsolicited," said Mary Rose Taylor, founder of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. "He wrote a check for $10,000 and just showed up with it." He went to Germany to drum up Daimler-Benz funds for the museum, talked up the project constantly and stopped by often to greet visitors, Mrs. Taylor said.

In his mind, Dr. Smith was simply repaying a debt. In medical school, he was so poor that he almost dropped out until his mentor, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, then Morehouse College president, interceded. Suddenly, the funds were there. Only later did Dr. Smith discover he was one of at least 40 Morehouse graduates to receive anonymous scholarships from the "Gone With the Wind" author --- money that allowed them to attend medical school.

If not for Margaret Mitchell, "I wouldn't be a doctor and I wouldn't be what I am today," Dr. Smith said in a 1998 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. "She didn't want anybody to know that she was doing this, but she was concerned about blacks getting medical care."

Dr. Smith adopted that same cause as his personal mission, often in the same anonymous way. Recognized as Georgia's first certified black pediatrician, he funded Morehouse scholarships. With a group of civil rights activists and other medical professionals, he fought to desegregate hospitals in Atlanta and across the country. And he is recognized for his work in the International Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Posted by Jackie Cuthbert
January 9, 2018

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