Eight months ago, C. Miles Smith was up to his elbows in dishwater at his cousin's restaurant in Georgia.
Today, he's in hot water of another sort as the controversial afternoon talk show host on WOLB-AM (1010) radio station.
Since taking to the airwaves here June 10, Smith, who espouses black nationalism with a conservative bent, has become a lightning rod for controversy, accusing prominent black ministers and politicians of selling out the black community. He considers it a coup that he was instrumental in arousing community opposition to the Canaan Food Outlet.
On Dec. 11, the city revoked the business license of the Park Heights grocery, which had come under fire for violating Health Department regulations by selling moldy deli meats, storing unrefrigerated eggs next to a toilet and pouring bleach over meat to thwart lab tests. It was the first store closed for such violations in four years.
While the effort was ostensibly led by a small band of community activists, many people credit Smith's almost constant diatribes against the store as sparking widespread community opposition, forcing the city to revoke the license.
"He certainly was a factor in our victory," said Bill Goodin, who picketed the market for five weeks.
Some community leaders who applaud Smith's help in closing the market are opposed to what they call an unprecedented constant black media attack on Baltimore's black leaders: He has skewered NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for settling with Texaco Inc., saying it was premature; slammed the Rev. Frank M. Reid III for his relationships with Koreans; joked about the Mitchell family; and berated Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for appointing a Korean community liaison.
Of the NAACP's settlement with Texaco, which had been accused of discriminating against its black employees, Smith, 46, said: "[Mfume] should have immediately announced an economic boycott and thrown up pickets at all Texaco stations. The world would have been proud of black people for standing up." Smith claims that such a move would have driven Texaco's stock down and hurt it, possibly irreparably.
Mfume, who said he had never heard of Smith, dismissed such comments, saying he acted in the best interest of his constituency: "We demanded a number of things in the areas of economic development, procurement, employment and promotions. We're not interested in corporate economic generosity but rather economic reciprocity."
Smith directs his most venomous wrath at Reid, pastor of 10,000-member Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore.
Smith has dubbed Reid "Reverend Neckbone" and accused him of selling out the black community by accepting a $10,000 donation from Koreans and holding a "Bridging the Gap" forum for blacks and Koreans at his church in October during the boycott of the Canaan store, which is owned by a Korean-American.
The relationship between blacks and Korean-Americans, who own many businesses in inner-city neighborhoods, has sometimes been tense.
"The issue isn't about a cultural gap," Smith said. "It's about those bloodsuckers taking our money, and we don't see it again until some of these buck-dancing, moon-walking preachers get it."
Reid says the $10,000 was given to him during his September visit to South Korea by a longtime friend, Methodist Bishop Sundo Kim of South Korea, to be used to provide scholarships for needy African-American college students. He said the money has been invested and the interest will provide scholarships.
The trip, Reid's second to South Korea since 1994, was "to pick up insights that might be helpful to our churches and community -- not to sell out," Reid said.
He said that he was accompanied by other black and Korean pastors and church leaders and that he personally paid for all trip-related expenses for himself and his wife.
As for the forum, it was planned months ago as a follow-up meeting for those who traveled to South Korea, he said.
While deploring any store that sells tainted food, Reid intimated that Smith and his ilk were using Koreans as scapegoats for inner city problems.
"We have to stop scapegoating other communities and use the economic power we have to empower the African-American community; pointing fingers and jumping up and down isn't empowering anybody," he said.
Reid fears that Smith's verbal assaults could lead to physical attacks by mentally unstable people: "We've received threatening calls because of the accusations of us selling out." Smith has cautioned his callers against violence.
Reid's stepbrother, Schmoke, gets a tongue-lashing from Smith for having a Korean community liaison. "Can you think of a white mayor who has a black liaison?" Smith said.