Petric Smith

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Petric Smith in 1994

Petric Justice "Pete" Smith (born Elizabeth Ann Hollifield, April 8, 1940 in Birmingham; died February 3, 1998 in Birmingham) was a Methodist minister, social activist and writer whose testimony against Robert Chambliss helped convict him and two associates for the murders of four girls in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church.

Elizabeth, sometimes called "Libby Ann", was raised in Birmingham. Her mother's sister, Flora, was married to Chambliss, a Ku Klux Klan activist. She eloped with a boyfriend at age 15 and became pregnant. The marriage did not last, and she supported herself and her son, James Robin Hood, by working as a window dresser at a department store while living with a grandmother.

She recalled that a day before the September 15, 1963 bombing, she heard her uncle remark, "Just wait till after Sunday morning, and they will beg us to let them segregate." When she asked what he meant, he replied, "Just wait and see.". Then, while watching a news report on Sunday, she heard him say that, "It wasn't supposed to hurt anybody. It didn't go off when it was supposed to." At great personal risk, she gave that information to investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and cooperated by informing them of Chambliss' ongoing statements and activities in a series of interviews. Nevertheless, the Bureau closed the case in 1968 without prosecution.

Elizabeth remarried in 1970 and took the name Elizabeth H. Cobbs. She worked as an insurance underwriter and real estate agent before She enrolling at Birmingham-Southern College. She completed a bachelor of arts in history and religion, and in 1977 was ordained as one of Alabama's first female Methodist ministers, assigned to the pulpit of Denman Memorial United Methodist Church. In that same year she was contacted by investigators in the office of Attorney General Bill Baxley. Her testimony was used at trial to convict Chambliss for the bombing. When defense attorneys asked how she could remember events so clearly, she replied that in 14 years she had thought of little else. Chambliss was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In letters from prison to another niece, Chambliss asked for help reaching Cobbs, saying she "swore lies on her uncle," and needed to "repent" of her testimony.

In the aftermath of the trial, Cobbs was beset by death threats and harassing phone calls. She found employment as a security guard, and served as the founding pastor of Metropolitan Community Church. Her second marriage ended in 1978 and she moved to coastal Texas with a female lover. While in counseling at her church there, she began the process of gender reassignment. She sought further counsel from the Gender Dysphoria Clinic in San Antonion, and completed a surgical sex change in Galveston in 1981. He began living as a male with the name of Petric Justice Smith.

Smith (behind banner) leading the 1989 Birmingham gay pride parade

In the mid-1980s Smith returned to Birmingham as a human rights activist, championing women's rights and racial equality, as well as gay rights. He volunteered on the staff of the Alabama Forum and contributed book reviews and a monthly column entitled "Getting to the Point". Smith was one of the organizers of Birmingham's first Pride Parade in 1989, marking the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

As a gesture for his family, Smith made efforts to "revert" to a feminine identity, but was not successful. He adopted the term "WYSIWYG" (What You See is What You Get) as a gender identity, feeling comfortable being viewed as a man by strangers and acquaintances, and as a woman by certain close friends.

He wrote a memoir, Long Time Coming: An Insider's Story of the Birmingham Church Bombing that Rocked the World which was released by Crane Hill Publishers in 1994. The book named some alleged co-conspirators who had never been prosecuted. Smith credited himself and "Elizabeth Cobbs" as co-authors, and, in a brief note in the epilogue explained the circumstances of his gender change.

Smith died from lung cancer in 1998. His published account was cited in the eventual prosecutions of Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2001 and 2002.


External links

  • Long Time Coming, a full-text republication of Smith's 1994 memoir, authorized by his estate