Skip to main content

James Bryant Smith collection

Identifier: aarl009-010

Scope and Contents note

This collection contains personal papers and artifacts saved by James Bryant Smith throughout his life. The largest series consists of correspondence between Smith and his wife, Florence Evelyn Jordan Smith, throughout his service during and immediately following World War II. Also dating from his time in the military are three series of military papers, publications, and artifacts. As a Tuskegee Airman, most of the military correspondence and paperwork corresponds to weapons reports and checklists, along with lesson plans and homework from infantry school. Closely related are the military publications, many of which are aircraft, weapons, or radio operation manuals. Several oversized boxes of artifacts include Smith’s military-issued uniform and a variety of small items, such as a hairnet, a pocket knife, and insignia.

Although the majority of the collection relates to Smith's service as a Tuskegee Airman, three series of materials pertain to his and Florence’s personal lives. Florence was an active volunteer in several Columbus, Ohio organizations, but only her work for the Columbus Area International Program is included in the collection. All of the couple's surviving bank and insurance paperwork is filed under Smith's personal papers, separate from his military records. Most of the photographs included in the collection do not feature Smith or his wife, but rather what are presumed to be his grandchildren.


  • 1942-1980


Conditions Governing Use note

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical/Historical note

James Bryant Smith was born on July 8, 1917 in Columbus, Ohio. He attended both Ohio State University and Central Michigan University, and he was a member of the Alpha Rho Lambda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. In 1942, at the age of 25, Smith enlisted in the United States Army. Upon his successful completion of basic training, he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and trained as a Tuskegee Airman at Tuskegee Air Field.

In 1942, Smith married Florence Evelyn Jordan in Ohio. Florence was born on November 11, 1922 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia to James Monroe Jordan and Aurilla Harper. When Florence was a teenager, her mother remarried Robert C.E. Gutherie. Florence Smith received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work at Ohio State University. According to letters exchanged by the couple, they were engaged in January 1942 and married several months later in May. In January 1943, the couple left Ohio for Tuskegee, Alabama, and their first child, James, was born in April. In 1944, she contributed to the war effort through her employment at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation's airplane division in Columbus, Ohio. During the early part of James Smith’s military career, Florence continued to reside in Columbus with their growing family. Over the years, James and Florence had two additional sons: David D. Smith and Mark B. Smith.

As a Tuskegee Airman, Smith trained as a fighter pilot with the 1155th Single Engine Flying Training Squadron (S.E.F.T.S.) at the Tuskegee Air Field in Alabama. Smith remained a career serviceman after World War II ended and received orders to serve in various training capacities in Hawaii and Colorado. When the Korean War broke out, he once again served active duty and was a Prisoner of War for three months in 1950 (July 26 - October 20). From 1963-1966, James Smith was heavily involved with the Davy Crockett Nuclear Weapons System.

James Smith retired from the Army with the rank of Colonel, he taught art and psychology courses and was a boxing judge for the American Amateur Boxing Association. He and Florence Jordan Smith volunteered as docents at the Columbus Museum of Art. Florence Smith was particularly active in volunteering her time to local organizations. As President of the Columbus Chapter of the Top Ladies of Distinction, she helped guide local teens to make better life decisions. She was also involved with the Columbus Chapter of the International Program, which sponsored social workers from other countries to live with host families and work in the United States. In 2001, her volunteer efforts were recognized by the President of the United States when she was awarded the Jefferson Award for Volunteer Service.

On February 1, 1993, Smith died in his home in Columbus, Ohio. As a retired serviceman, Smith was eligible for interment at Arlington National Cemetery and is buried at Site 3242 in Section 64. Florence survived him by eight years and died on December 21, 2001 in Sacramento, California.


9.0 Linear feet

9 linear ft. (18 document boxes, 5 oversized boxes)




This collection contains papers and artifacts from the life of Tuskegee Airman James Bryant Smith. A variety of materials and formats are included, from documents and photographs to three-dimensional objects. The bulk of the materials relate to Smith's time in the U. S. Army during World War II and the Korean War, including correspondence with his wife, military publications, and standard military-issued items. Two smaller series of documents represent the personal lives of James and Florence Smith apart from the military, and they include a wide range of financial, volunteer, and religious materials.

Arrangement note

The collection is arranged by series.

Series 1: Correspondence Series 2: James Bryant Smith Papers Series 3: Florence Smith Papers Series 4: Photographs and Artwork Series 5: Military Papers Series 6: Military Printed Materials and Publications Series 7: Artifacts and Ephemera

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

AARL purchased this collection in 2010.

aarl009-010 aarl009-010
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History Repository

101 Auburn Avenue NE
Atlanta GA 30303