Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lillian Smith on Segregated Health Care

While being treated for the cancer that eventually took her life, Lillian Smith wrote an intriguing letter to Charles S. Johnson, excerpted in Sidelines Activist: Charles S. Johnson and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Richard Robbins.

"At Emory Hospital, in the Winship Cancer Clinic where I seem to spend a large portion of my time, there is a corridor where we cancer patients sit. It is lined with all those people, some almost dead, all sick all worried even though trying to be tremulously helpful. There we sit: malignant human beings. And down the corridor, a few steps, there is drinking fountain with a sign over it. For Whites Only. There is not a Negro patient in Winship. Yet that sign is up. And we cancer patients, gnawed on by our disease, sit there looking at each other and every once in a while one of us gets up and walks over to the drinking fountain for a sip of water. I wonder how many of them take pleasure in seeing that sign. How many of them, facing their dread disease, care now about white supremacy. I want to ask them, Do you care? Does it make any difference to you now? We are levelled pretty low by this cancer business, do you still think you are superior because you have a white skin? But if I said it, I suspect the Emory authorities would think I had lost my mind and should not be there. ah . . . what a world we live in. What a world.

"My warm regards to you, to Marie, and to all the nice people I know at Fisk."



1 comment:

  1. As a recovering cancer patient receiving treatment at Emory Winship in this era - my back tenses and my heart aches when I read this letter, Yet, ironically - I feel grateful joy that a Lillian Smith walked the earth and had such courage and strong convictions. Thank you sooo much for posting this.

    Blessings and Peace,
    YS Cheatham