Sandra “Sandi” Neely was born December 25, 1950, in Piedmont, South Carolina. She enrolled at Bennett College, in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1969. There she was student body president for two years and active in local community organizing. She was also a founding member of the Student Organization for Black Unity, Greensboro Association for Poor People, and became friends with local activists Nelson and Joyce Johnson. She graduated from Bennett with a nursing degree.
Neely began to be interested in communism and joined the all-black Revolutionary Workers League (RWL). Around this time she married Mark Smith, a fellow activist. When there was a disagreement over a proposed merger of the Durham based Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) and the RWL, the RWL disbanded. Smith and other former members joined the WVO. Smith found employment at the Cone Mills Revolution Plant. There she fought to unionize, serving as chairperson of the Revolution Organizing Committee. During this time she was also active in the African Liberation Support Committee, which fought competency testing and organized the North Carolina Coalition to Free the Wilmington Ten. She later moved to Kannapolis to work and organize at Cannon Mills.
On July 8, 1979, Smith participated in the Communist Workers Party (formerly the WVO) organized protest of the Ku Klux Klan’s presentation of Birth of a Nation at the China Grove, North Carolina, town hall. Feeling the protest was a success, the CWP organized an anti-Klan march and conference for November 3, 1979, in Greensboro. The CWP and protest participants convened that morning at Morningside Homes. At 11:18 a caravan of cars carrying Klansmen and Nazis arrived. After a shot was fired from the head of the caravan, caravan members removed guns from the trunk of one of the cars. In the following eighty-eight seconds, five members of the CWP were killed. Smith helped bring children to safety on a porch. When she looked around a corner she was fatally shot between the eyes.