Skip to content

Pete Smith

Pete (Petric) Smith was a historic figure in the black civil rights movement of the 1960’s, whose testimony secured the conviction of his (her) uncle Robert Chambliss in the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young black girls. At the 1977 trial, Smith was a woman, Elizabeth Cobbs, and a Methodist minister. He testified that he was with Chambliss as he watched TV reports that Sunday morning of the bombing and heard him say, “It wasn’t supposed to hurt anybody. It didn’t go off when it was supposed to.” Chambliss, found guilty of murder in the bombing, died in prison in 1985.
Petric J. Smith named himself as the co-writer of Elizabeth Cobbs’ 1994 memoir, Long Time Coming : An Insider’s Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing That Rocked the World; it is only in the book’s epilogue that it is revealed that Cobbs and Smith are one person, pre- and post- gender reassignment treatment. “I did not want any hint of sensationalism to detract from the message of the work itself,” Smith writes.
Smith underwent gender reassignment surgery in 1981. He published an autobiography in 1994, naming several people he suggested might also have been involved in the bombing, led federal investigators to reopen the case. Nearly forty years after the crime was committed, Thomas Blanton was convicted of the murders in 2001 and Bobby Frank Cherry was convicted in 2002.
As a young trans man in the early 1980s, I heard of an FTM who had been involved in providing evidence at an important civil rights trial in the deep south before he had transitioned. It took me years to find out who it was, and then to find out more information about him. I have never managed to get a copy of his book – but will do one day. Pete Smith is almost unknown but should be an inspiration to us all.
Pete Smith died of lung cancer at 57 on Feb. 6th 1998