Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith was born on February 27, 1898 in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, the son of Lyman Z. and Sarah Henthron Smith. Raised in poverty in small towns in Wisconsin, he graduated from Viroqua High School.
Smith also graduated from Valparaiso University (1918) and became a minister, like his father and grandfather, who were part-time ministers in the Christian (Disciples of Christ) Church. On June 22, 1922 he married Elna M. Sorenson. He was called to larger churches in Illinois and Ind. due to his success as a fund-raiser and oratorical talents.
In 1929 the Smiths moved to the South due to Mrs. Smith’s tuberculosis. Gerald accepted a position as minister of the Kings Highway Christian Church in Shreveport, Louisiana. After U.S. Senator Huey P. Long saved the homes of some of his congregation members from foreclosure, Smith became his friend and supporter. In 1933, Smith resigned from his church after a dispute involving his activities with Long and the threat of being fired. Shortly thereafter, Smith became a political organizer for Long. From early 1934 until Long died from assassination on September 10, 1935, Smith was the national organizer for Long’s Share Our Wealth Society, which advocated the confiscation and redistribution of millionaires’ incomes. Smith preached Long’s funeral oration.
Smith left Louisiana in early 1936 and joined the movement of Dr. Francis E. Townsend, a California physician who advocated generous retirement pensions as a means of helping the elderly and increasing purchasing power to end the Great Depression. Smith and Townsend then joined Fr. Charles E. Coughlin, the “radio priest,” to create the Union party, which ran North Dakota Congressman William Lemke unsuccessfully for president.
Smith then settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he befriended Henry Ford, delivered radio speeches heard throughout the Midwest, and founded the America First party and the Christian Nationalist Crusade. In 1942 he began publishing The Cross and the Flag and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. senator.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Smith traveled the nation, delivering anti-Semitic speeches and drawing large crowds. He also wrote voluminously, publishing pamphlets and short books, most of them attacking Jews, communists, and liberal ideas. Smith ran unsuccessfully for U.S. president as a candidate of the Christian Nationalist party in 1944, 1948 and 1956.
In the 1950s, Smith turned increasingly to writing. In addition to The Cross and the Flag, which he published until his death, he wrote a newsletter for selected followers who sent donations that enabled him to become a millionaire. Smith condemned integration of the races, water fluoridation, and the welfare state. The Cross and the Flag averaged 25,000 subscribers. He reached hundreds of thousands more supporters through speeches, tracts, and radio broadcasts. Smith combined devout Christian fundamentalism and reactionary politics, growing increasingly extreme as he aged.
In 1953 Smith moved his headquarters to Los Angeles. In 1964 he became a religious entrepreneur by constructing a seven-story statue of Jesus, the Christ of the Ozarks, in Eurkea Springs, Arkansas. He added a Bible museum and Christian art gallery. In 1968 he began staging a Passion play in an amphitheater, which became the largest outdoor pageant in the U.S.
Smith died on April 15, 1976 and was buried at the foot of the Christ of the Ozarks. His assets went to a foundation to perpetuate his religious activities in Eureka Springs, with his wife heading the foundation. Besides his wife, Smith was survived by an adopted son, Gerald L. K. Smith, Jr.
Smith was one of the leading orators of his generation and he pioneered in the mass dissemination of propaganda that combined religion and politics. His message, however, was bigoted, and his legacy is as a preacher of hate. (This information is from American National Biography Online.)