Dekalb Public Library
September 5, 2010
From "Bill's Book Blog" by the Georgia Center for the Book
Lillian Smith was one of Georgia’s most distinguished — and certainly controversial — writers. She was white, liberal and outspoken about racial issues at a time, in the 1930s and 40s, when her native region remained in the tight grip of Jim Crow laws. She boldly and insistently called for an end to segregation. And her 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” focused on illicit interracial love.
In 1966, shortly after her death when the South struggled with the desegregation effort, the Southern Regional Council created a book award in her name: the Lillian Smith Award would recognize books of outstanding accomplishment, whether for literary merit or moral vision, that honestly examined the people, promises and problems of the South. Since then, more than 50 books have been honored with a Lillian Smith Award, and among the authors are Eudora Welty, John Egerton, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Grooms, Peter Taylor, Will Campbell and C. Vann Woodward.
The other book to be recognized on September 5 is “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940″ (University of North Carolina Press) written by Amy Louise Wood, who is assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. Utilizing an amazing number of resources, including early films and photographs, she writes insightfully about the culture of lynching and those who watched the brutal executions of more than 3,000 African Americans during that period. Her book is “an important contribution to our understanding of the American South and violence there” and demonstrates how beliefs in white superiority were reinforced by the spectacle of lynching.