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George Bundy Smith papers

Call Number: MS 2088

Scope and Contents

The George Bundy Smith papers include writings, speeches, correspondence, clippings, and other materials documenting Smith’s life and career as a judge, author, professor, and civil rights activist. Writings include articles for legal journals and publications on commercial law, voting rights and election law, and other legal topics. Speeches were prepared for delivery at a wide range of events and discuss Smith's legal career and judicial philosophy as well as his early life, education, and civil rights activism. Smith’s participation as a Freedom Rider is documented by correspondence and clippings and is also discussed in his many of his writings and speeches. Correspondence, clippings, course materials, biographical material, and ephemera further document Smith’s legal and teaching career. Collection materials primarily relate to his professional work and activism, but some personal photographs and correspondence are included as well. The bulk of the materials date from roughly 1979 through 2017, but some earlier materials are included.


  • 1937 - 2018


Language of Materials

The materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Original computer files may not be accessed due to their fragility. Researchers must consult access copies.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by Alene L. Smith for materials authored or otherwise produced by George Bundy Smith. Ten years after the lifetime of Alene L. Smith, copyright passes to Yale University. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Alene L. Smith, 2018.


The papers are arranged in five series: I. Legal Career, 1979-2013. II. Activism and Teaching, 1961-2018. III. Writings and Speeches, 1968-2017. IV. Honors and Awards, 1994-2015. V. Personal, 1937-2017.


1.69 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The George Bundy Smith papers document Smith’s life and career as a judge, author, and activist. Materials consist of writings and speeches by Smith; clippings, photographs, correspondence, and ephemera documenting Smith’s career as a judge and lawyer; his activism as a Freedom Rider in Alabama; his work as an author and professor; and his education and family life.

Biographical / Historical

George Bundy Smith was a judge, author, and civil rights activist who served on the New York State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Smith was born on April 7, 1937 in New Orleans, and grew up in Washington, D.C. He received a scholarship to Phillips Academy Andover, where he was the only Black student in his class, graduating in 1955. He earned a BA from Yale University in 1959; an LLB from Yale Law School in 1962; an MA in 1967 and PhD in 1974 from New York University; and a Master’s Degree in the Judicial Process in 2001 from the University of Virginia School of Law.

In 1961, while a student at Yale Law School, Smith participated in a Freedom Ride in Alabama to protest segregation. Smith and several others were arrested at the Montgomery bus station and convicted of breach of the peace. The conviction was later overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

After graduation Smith was a staff attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a law secretary to several judges. After serving as administrator of New York City’s Model Cities program, Smith was appointed as a New York City Criminal Court judge in 1975. He subsequently served as a judge at several levels of the New York courts, including the New York Supreme Court from 1980 to 1986, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division from 1987 to 1992, and finally on the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, from 1992 to 2006. Among his notable opinions was People v. LaValle, which ruled that New York’s death penalty statute was unconstitutional. After leaving the court, Smith was a partner in the Chadbourne & Parke law firm.

Smith wrote frequently in law reviews, legal magazines, and newspapers and co-authored a high-school textbook, You Decide! Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases, with his wife, Dr. Alene L. Smith. He also taught law courses at Baruch College and Fordham University School of Law.

Smith married Dr. Smith and had two children, George Jr. and Beth. His twin sister, Inez Smith Reid, also graduated from Yale Law School and served as a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Smith died on August 5, 2017.

Guide to the George Bundy Smith Papers
compiled by Eric Sonnenberg
August 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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