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Meet James

With a family legacy in rural Louisiana dating back five generations, Reverend James Smith’s roots in our community run deep. Born in 1953, James’s parents - Nancy and Sylvester Smith - were young when they had him and his sister. Consequently, they entrusted the care of their children to James's grandparents, Steve and Liddie Armstrong. Under their nurturing guidance, James quickly found a home filled with love, faith, and strong family values.

Steve and Liddie were pillars of their community, known for their unwavering faith and dedication to their local church. James's grandfather took him on fishing and hunting trips, while both grandparents instilled in him the significance of actively serving and engaging with the community. Owners of the popular soul food restaurant, “Liddie’s,” they were also trailblazers, taking their place in local history as being among the first African American business owners in Rayville.

Deeply dedicated to their faith, Steve and Liddie frequently welcomed the local community into their home. James’s childhood house was a place where local church meetings were held, and heartfelt bible studies were conducted in the warmth of their living room, accompanied by the aroma of freshly baked cakes and pies.

As James grew up, he attended Eula D Britton school until school integration led him to Rayville high school for his last two years. A talented athlete, he showcased his skills as a wide receiver and quarterback on the high school football team, and he also excelled in track events.

After high school, James earned a full scholarship to Tarkio College in Missouri. However, driven by a sense of duty and patriotism, he made the selfless decision to put his education on hold and serve his country in the military, just like his father, who had proudly served in the Navy. Joining the Army, James underwent basic training in Oklahoma before being deployed to Germany. Witnessing historic events that forever shaped the course of the world, he was stationed in Germany during the fall of the iron curtain and the Berlin Wall. 

After his military service, James returned to Rayville in the early 80’s. He decided to join the national guard engineering battalion in Monroe, Louisiana, which took him to Panama for a year, where he actively participated in building essential infrastructure, including roads. Around this time, he married his high school sweetheart, Beverly J Smith, in an intimate wedding close to home at James's pastor's house.


Despite his accomplishments, James faced a challenging period in his life after leaving the National Guard. Without a job, James struggled deeply with drugs and alcohol. Lived in a house without running water, electricity, or lights, he relied on food stamps to feed himself and Beverly and frequently shopped at the local Salvation Army.

It was during this darkest chapter of his life, however, that James found his brightest light: he experienced a profound calling from God to serve in the ministry. On one fateful evening, he received a message from God, who beckoned him towards a career in preaching. James quickly sought guidance from his pastor, who advised him to wait and ensure that the calling was authentic. Once again, he received a calling, and once again, his pastor sent him back home to ensure that the calling was real. Finally, a third message arrived from God, and James awoke in the middle of the night to record his first sermon. Delivering this sermon to the full community during a regular church service, it became evident that James had a remarkable gift for preaching.

Grounded in his struggle with alcoholism and drugs, his sermons were deeply moving and resonated with people from all walks of life. James quickly found himself hired as a preacher at his home church in Rayville, where he provided valuable support to the pastor. Eventually, he became the pastor at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Pioneer, Louisiana, a role he continues to hold with unwavering dedication.

Immersed in his faith, James's involvement in the community grew even more profound. He became a devoted volunteer, lending a helping hand to the elderly, children, the underprivileged, and anyone in need.


His passion for community welfare extended to local schools: taking notice of James’s diligence and commitment to community service, Harry Lewis - who served as Rayville High School’s principal - asked him to serve as the School District’s truancy officer. Under James's guidance, the truancy program he built became a resounding success, achieving a remarkable 97-98% attendance rate across 12 schools in the parish and dramatically reducing the dropout rate from 13% to an impressive 0.8%. 

When Harry Lewis ran for Mayor of Rayville, he quickly invited James to serve as the director of economic development for their struggling city. With a relentless commitment to revitalizing the town, he oversaw essential projects related to water, sewage, drainage, and attracting businesses. Working closely with mayor Lewis, his efforts transformed Rayville into a flourishing and vibrant community, bringing new life to the once-struggling town.

Through his dedication to community service and faith, James caught the attention of U.S. Senator David Vitter. The two connected on a spiritual level, sharing prayer sessions and discussions about James's life journey. His spiritual calling reached new heights when he was asked to deliver the opening prayer for the U.S. Senate in 2012—an awe-inspiring experience for the man who had risen from living without basic amenities to addressing the most powerful people in the world. As a result of his remarkable impact on communities and his growing prominence, James was invited to attend two state of the union addresses.


During the late 2010s, he expanded his work in economic development to various small towns across the state of Louisiana. Mirroring his success in Rayville, His dedication secured millions of dollars for towns like Ferriday, leading to the construction of new gymnasiums, city halls, and other vital facilities that improved countless lives.

Despite his commitment to building a better world for our entire community, though, James remains grounded and devoted to his family. He continues to live in Rayville with his lovely wife Beverly, celebrating over 50 years of marriage together. James's dedication to his family extends to his daughter, son, grandchildren, and great-grandchild, all of whom have chosen to remain in Rayville, except for two grandsons who live in Texas and South Carolina.

Throughout his journey, Reverend James Smith remains the steadfast head pastor at his church, leading his congregation with unwavering faith, love, and the same commitment to community service that has defined his life story. As he now runs for State Senate in Louisiana District 34, his deep connection to his community and his lifetime of service form the backbone of a compelling vision for a better future for all.

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