Orma Rinehart “Hack” Smith served as US district judge for the Northern District of Mississippi from 1968 to 1982, during the time when Mississippi’s federal courts were first intensively called on to enforce federal civil rights legislation, including the integration of public schools.
Born in Booneville on 25 September 1904, the third child of Jefferson Davis Smith and Mattie Augusta Eva Lena Rinehart Smith, Smith was educated in the public schools of Corinth, where he lived from the age of two until the end of his life. After graduating from Corinth High School in 1921, Smith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, where he earned a law degree in 1927. His nickname, Hack, derived from Kid Hackensmith, a play on the name of famous wrestler Georg Hackenschmidt. From college onward, Smith was always known by his nickname.
Smith practiced law in Corinth from 1928 to 1968. His skills and affable personality made him popular with his colleagues, and he served as president of the University of Mississippi Alumni Association in 1961–62, during much of the legal proceedings concerning the James Meredith’s admission as the first African American student at the university. Smith was also elected president of the Mississippi Bar in 1965–66.
Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Smith to the federal bench on 17 July 1968, and he was confirmed by the Senate and commissioned on 25 July. He had been recommended to Johnson by US senator James O. Eastland, a fraternity brother of Smith’s at the University of Mississippi. From 1968 to 1980 Smith and Chief Judge William C. Keady of Greenville (who ascended to the federal bench less than four months before Smith) were the only federal district judges serving the Northern District of Mississippi, and they heard and determined the cases that vindicated the civil rights of black Mississippians, making the Northern District of Mississippi a respected southern federal court. Acknowledging the difficult cases that sometimes put Smith at odds with the state’s white power structure and his friends, Keady in 1980 described his colleague as “a jurist of courage and dedication to the rule of law, and he has been a United States district judge during a most trying period for federal judges, at least in the southland’s history.”
Smith assumed federal judge senior status on 16 August 1978 but remained active on the bench until he was disabled by a stroke in May 1981. He died in Corinth on 5 July 1982.
- Federal Judicial Center, History of the Federal Judiciary website, www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf
- Melanie H. Henry, ed., The Mississippi Bar’s Centennial (2006)
- Margaret Sage Smith Hoare, interview by J. Stevenson Ray (16, 18 August 2009)
- Mississippi Bar website, www.msbar.org
- Presentation of Portrait of the Honorable Orma R. Smith, 507 F. Supp. LIX (N.D. Miss. 1980)
- H. M. Ray, interview by J. Stevenson Ray (16 August 2009)
- Orma R. Smith Jr., in The History of Alcorn County, Mississippi (1983)
- Orma R. Smith III, interview by J. Stevenson Ray (11–12 August 2009)