1922 – 1968
Journalist and civil rights advocate Lena Rivers Smith was one of the first African American women to work as a television news reporter in the Midwest. Born and raised in Kansas City, Smith graduated with a degree in English from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and went on to study journalism at Northwestern University. She returned to her hometown and in 1950 began a 15-year career at The Kansas City Call, working as a crime reporter, society editor, and city editor. Smith joined the news staff of WDAF-TV in 1965 and began appearing on-air as a reporter in 1967, focusing primarily on local education issues. A gifted speaker who was deeply invested in her community, Smith often publicly discussed her experience of growing up and living in a segregated city, once remarking that discrimination is “a thing I feel, like a hair or a cobweb across my face. It is distracting, degrading, and destructive.” She believed in channeling frustration into action and was a member of the NAACP, Council for United Action, and the Panel of American Women. Smith died of a heart attack at age 46 and is buried in Blue Ridge Lawn Cemetery.