Friday, January 23, 2015

Minister Neither Socialist Nor Sodomite

Very serious
On January 23, 1903, the Daily Ardmoreite, of Ardmore, Oklahoma, reported that Reverend J. K. Smith had been arrested on a charge of sodomy. Reverend Smith was a twenty-eight-year old unmarried Baptist preacher, whose family had moved from Georgia to the Indian Territory (now eastern Oklahoma) some years before. (His brother, Joseph, had been born in Georgia in about 1893, so clearly the family was still there at the time.)

This would seem to be something of a family business, since his father, John A. Smith, was also a minister (in the 1910 Census under “Industry,” the elder Smith’s entry reads “church,” while his son’s reads “Baptist church”). The Daily Ardmoreite described the matter as “a serious charge,” which is putting things mildly.

The full report ran:
A Serious Charge.
Yesterday afternoon Deputy Henson brought in Rev. J. K. Smith, a Baptist preacher of the Lone grove settlement, charged with sodomy. Mr. Smith gave bond for his appearance at his examining trial here tomorrow.
This was, as far as I’ve been able to determine, J. K. Smith’s first mention in a newspaper. Just two days later, he was in the Daily Ardmoreite again; the charges had been dropped.
J. K. Smith of Lone Grove, recently arrested upon a serious charge, had a hearing before Commissioner Robnett yesterday and was discharged. A positive alibi being established.
So, the good reverend didn’t commit sodomy. The accusation doesn’t seem to have hurt him any. He continued to work as a minister (since seven years later he’s listed as being a Baptist minister, a job where sodomy is probably still a disqualification). And, he can be found in the news about the town all the way through 1918 (oddly enough, he’s difficult to find in any official records, in part through his use of his initials, though the Census was happy to list him as “J. K.”)

In 1910, Rev. J. K. Smith began debating socialists. I guess we all need hobbies. Given the attention that Esperanto was getting from socialists at that time, I suspect that Rev. Smith would have treated it with some suspicion. On August 30, 1910 the Daily Ardmoreite reported on one of his debates.
Democratic-Socialist Debate.
Rev. J. K. Smith of Lone Grove has arranged to debate with the socialists at Tussy. The debate begins Friday morning, September 2, at ten o’clock and continues until Saturday afternoon at 5 o’clock. It is said that a large crowd of people will be there and Rev. Smith says he hopes that several Ardmore people will be present.
Just what could they be debating over a nineteen-hour span? He clearly continued these debates for years, since one was part of the events for July 5, 1915, when the organizers of a picnic had
secured Robert Allen, a prominent socialist of this county, and J. K. Smith, an equally well known democrat, to enter into a joint debate. This attraction in itself will draw a bit crowd from all over the county, as the socialist party is strong in the western part, and a debate always appeals to them when one of their leaders is matched against another of different political opinion.
Reverend Smith must have been in much demand, as in May of that year he had felt compelled to post a notice in the newspaper.
I have had several requests from various parts of the county to debate with socialists on conditions as exist. I have been compelled to cancel some of these dates for the fact that I received the notice too late. I have no telephone, so if you want me write several days before the date set, and I will be there.
Lone Grove, Okla.

Lots of talks with socialists, but after 1903, no talk of sodomy. There’s little biographical detail available. After the 1910 Census, he and his family seem hard to find (despite that he clearly was in Lone Grove at least up to 1918).
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