​Former cop brings story of "Amazing Grace" to Broadway

NEW YORK -- Christopher Smith is the writer behind a new Broadway show that tells the story of the popular hymn, "Amazing Grace." In 1997, he was a police officer who loved to read about history.

"I was literally wandering through a library and pulled a book off a shelf at random," said Smith.

That book was about John Newtown, a British slave trader in the 1700s. After years of selling slaves to America, Newton was himself held captive in West Africa. After his escape he almost died at sea.

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Chrirstopher Smith, the writer of the Broadway musical "Amazing Grace."
CBS News

"He lived through a hurricane on a sailing vessel and it was during the dark night he finally cries out and says, 'God, have great mercy,'" said Smith. "That was the beginning of a great journey."

It was a journey that led to a conversion. Newtown became an abolitionist and wrote one of the most beloved hymns of all time: "Amazing Grace."

"To hear the President of the United States sing that song, it just really validated for me that this was our time, that this was meant to be," said Smith, referencing President Obama's singing of the hymn during the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Smith says it's one of the only songs that we can agree on as a culture.

"It crosses cultural boundaries, age boundaries, it crosses time itself and this man's story is the root of it," he said.