Eric Ledell Smith
Photograph of Eric Ledell Smith by Don Giles

Eric Ledell Smith (1949–2008), coauthor of the forthcoming book Trailblazers: Innovative African Americans in Pennsylvania History, was a historian for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) from 1993 to 2008. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, and studied at universities in Michigan and New York, where he developed his passion for researching and writing history. He was inspired to write by his grandmother Florence Brown, who was a poet, and by Bert King, a poet and family friend. He devoted his career to writing about the history of African Americans and the performing arts as part of everyone’s history. As Eric stated, “There is no ‘Black history,’ ‘women’s history,’ or ‘Native American history.’ There is only human history.”

As a PHMC historian, Eric sought to enable all people to learn more about the history of Pennsylvania, his adopted home state. He wrote many articles and books on Pennsylvania’s African American history. At the time of his death, he had written biographies of nearly half of the individuals who will be featured in Trailblazers: Innovative African Americans in Pennsylvania History, including the biography of Marian Anderson in this edition of Pennsylvania Heritage. He also wrote a history of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, available on the museum’s Web site, In addition, he authored labels appearing in State Museum exhibits, including the labels in “Trailblazers: Notable African Americans in Pennsylvania History,” which is currently displayed on the ground floor of The State Museum. This exhibit will be expanded and moved to the first floor in April 2010.

Eric created a legacy of research and writing that greatly enriches our understanding of Pennsylvania’s past. He was dedicated to including all people in our study of history—our human history.

William A. Sisson
Chief, Curatorial Division
The State Museum of Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission