Monday, July 30, 2012

"But Then, We All Have Fathers:" The 1982 Lillian Smith Book Awards

From Southern Changes, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1983

The Southern Regional Council's annual Lillian Smith Awards Luncheon was held in Atlanta in November as a part of the SRC's annual meeting. The awards recognize the year's best fiction and non-fiction books about the South. The 1982 winners were John Ehle for The Winter People (New York: Harper and Row) and Harry Ashmore for Hearts and Minds: A History of Racism from Roosevelt to Reagan (New York: McGraw-Hill). Following are excerpts from remarks at the luncheon.

Mary Frances Derfner

Lillian Smith, Georgia thinker, activist, author and Southern Regional Council Life Member, died September 28, 1966, concluding a career of a Southerner who said that she never wanted to write about race, just about people. The Southern Regional Council created the Lillian Smith Awards shortly after Miss Smith's death to honor her life, her work, and her commitment, and to recognize in her name those who, like her, have contributed to our understanding of or given us new insights into the Southern region, its people, its strengths, its problems and its weaknesses.

The Lillian Smith Awards are given annually. Five judges receive from fifty to seventy-five entries and judge them seeking a certain quality which is something like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography--you can't define it, but you know it when you've seen it. The committee receives many good, even fine, works each year. This is a heartening sign to those of us interested in the Southern arts. But only a few of them every year have that undefinable quality which makes them Lillian Smith Award winners. Both of this year's winners struck us immediately as having that quality, that relevance and humanity in abundance. This is a quality which brings to mind and keeps alive the life and work of Lillian Smith.

Lillian Smith's fame came with her first novel, Strange Fruit, a small town story of a tragic black-white love affair. It sold three million copies and was translated into fifteen languages. It made her a spokesperson to the world on Southern sins of race. Her Killers of the Dream, a psychological analysis of the Southern system of separation became a classic of sectional understanding and a ringing demand for the liberation of Southerners, black and white, male and female, rich and poor from the bonds of segregation and sexism. Although Lillian Smith wrote many more books, I think that Killers of the Dream is her best, the one which spells out most specifically and clearly what I call Lillian Smith's "whole ball of wax" theory: the theory that the Southern system, dominated as it is, and was when she was writing, by wealthy white males, invariably discriminates against those who are black or female or poor or a combination of the above. And the system, said Miss Smith, would work only so long as those wealthy white males could keep women and blacks and poor folks from joining forces with one another.


Tony Dunbar

John Ehle couldn't be with us today. Last year's Lillian Smith book award winner for fiction was Pat Conroy, who was out of the country. John Ehle, his publisher tells us, is in the country and it's reassuring to know that there are still places in the South so far back that even someone as persistent as Mary Francis Derfner can't dig them out.

Those of you from North Carolina may know the man. He has been a writer of merit for twenty-five years and a champion of the arts in a state best known for tobacco and its residue: the politics of Jesse Helms.
The book we're honoring today is called The Winter People. It's unquestionably his finest work. In a better world ruled less by literary fashions and megabucks, this book would be a popular classic. Maybe today we can help it along in that direction.

The Winter People is set in the North Carolina mountains during the Depression. It is a story of love and violence, two human capacities frequently associated with mountain life. But the book is something more than that. It shows us an Appalachia before there was coal, before there were social programs, before the world outside meant very much. The forces at work in Ehle's mountains are Scottish and Irish clans who measure their power in the quantity of children and the number of timbered acres they possess. The pageantry of warlords in homespun clothes reminds us of tales from across the water like Lancelot, but these people in John Ehle's work appear real to us, not mythical. Their devotion to family is overriding and it takes no great leap of imagination to see the body and soul of today's mountain people in Ehle's wonderful prose. In giving us this first glimpse, I think, in fiction, of the people who pioneered our Southern highlands, Ehle has given us the year's most original work of Southern fiction.

Harry Ashmore

A few weeks ago I encountered one of your former executive directors, Leslie Dunbar, and was pleased to find that he had read Hearts and Minds--or at least had checked the index to see wherein he might be mentioned. Since no account of racism from Roosevelt to Reagan would be complete without numerous references to the Southern Regional Council and its battle-scarred principals, Les had come upon a passage in which I referred to him as a "certified idealist." He was somewhat taken aback, he said, since he thought "certified" was applied only to lunatics and recidivist criminals. I reminded him that it also designated public accountants, but this did nothing to placate him since, like all budget-ridden foundation executives, he regards those who draw up balance sheets as natural enemies.

The chapter in which I certified Les begins with an anecdote I hope bears repeating here today. I tell of returning to Atlanta to address the chief state school officers of the old Confederacy twenty-five years after Harold Fleming, John Griffin and I had arranged a gathering of their predecessors to consider the findings we were about to publish in a book with the incendiary title, The Negro and the Schools. The Brown decision was then pending, and the learned gentlemen responded to the invitation of our sponsor, the Ford Foundation, only on condition that we hide out in the suburbs and not only keep the meeting secret but make it, as they say in diplomatic circles, deniable--that is, that in the event of a leak to the press we would claim that no such assemblage had ever taken place, and even if it had the dread possibility of school desegregation had never been mentioned. There were, as I recall, several apparent cardiac arrests when a rumor spread that young William Emerson of Newsweek had been seen skulking in the shrubbery.

Now, a quarter century later, I again faced the chief state school officers, but this time each was accompanied by a black deputy and the pepper-and-salt audience was assembled at the Atlanta Biltmore under the glare of television lights. It was, I noted, a far cry from the days when we were working with black colleagues on the school project and the closest we could get to the Biltmore at mealtime was the Southern Education Foundation a block away, where we pulled down the shades and shared catered barbecue sandwiches--which, I must say, did represent an improvement over the cuisine available in a hotel ballroom, then or now.

My citation of the transformation that had, in that brief span, made Atlanta perhaps the most thoroughly desegregated major city in the nation prompted a question from one of the black participants. He agreed that on the surface there were a great many changes--but, deep down, did I think anything was really different? Indeed I did. Twenty-five years ago, I pointed out, the great majority of Southerners, white and black, acted on the assumption that there was a real difference between the two races: "Now we know this is not so. And that's the root of the problem--blacks have turned out to be just like us, and we're no damned good."

This back-handed assertion of common humanity did, in its ironic way, recognize the widespread disillusionment among those of both races who had been sustained by soaring hopes in the glory days of the civil rights movement. The idealists had believed--perhaps had had to believe--that the inspired gallantry of liberated blacks and their white supporters would usher in the beloved community of Martin Luther King's dream. It was in this company that I placed Les Dunbar, quoting from his recent appraisal of The South and the Near Future in Clark College publication:

We did not pass from a segregated to an integrated society. Only in a relative sense have we come from an unjust to a more just society; most certainly we have not passed from a wandering in the desert by blacks and from moral squalor of whites into a 'beloved community.' We attained none of these. What was accomplished, however, is a vast enlargement of choice.

And that, of course, is so. As the cliche has it, those who measure progress against the ideal of a fully integrated society see the bottle as half-empty; the pragmatists who measure against the point of departure see it as half full.

The indomitable woman in whose name we are gathered today surely qualified for the certification I bestowed upon Les Dunbar. By 1943, when SRC was created out of the remains of the more timorous Commission on Interracial Cooperation, Lillian Smith had already rejected the prevailing arguments for gradual change; for her, segregation posed a moral choice between good and evil, life and death of the spirit. She publicly declared that SRC's temporizing policy made t-he organization "potentially more harmful than beneficial." And she was unimpressed when Guy Johnson, the first executive director, replied that it was unrealistic to adopt a policy that would restrict SRC's membership to those who were willing to denounce segregation but were powerless to do anything about it.

If Miss Lillian did not prevail, neither did those she scorned as killers of the dream--the dream she shared with the dedicated young preacher who became her friend. Her adamant rejection of the demeaning social conventions of the day may have scared off some potential allies, but it also made one of our most pragmatic presidents the first to employ the full authority of his office in support of Southern blacks who had taken to the streets to protest denial of their civil rights.

One evening early in 1960 Miss Lillian had dinner with Coretta and Martin King, and afterward they drove her to Emory University hospital where she was undergoing treatment for cancer. As they passed through a corner of DeKalb County a patrolman noticed a white woman sitting beside a black man and automatically halted the car. When he discovered that the driver was the trouble-making preacher who had just moved in from Montgomery he concluded that his driver's license was bound to be invalid. Martin was fined twenty-five dollars, given a six-months suspended sentence, and released on parole. Some months later, when he refused bond and went to jail in Atlanta to dramatize a student sit-in at Rich's, the DeKalb court charged him with violating parole. On this second trip to the drumhead he was whisked off in the dead of night to Reidsville state prison.

In desperation Coretta King put in a call to the young Democratic candidate for president who was then heading into the home stretch. Jack Kennedy offered reassurance, Robert Kennedy got in touch with the DeKalb County judge, and Martin was returned to his father's Ebenezer Baptist Church in a blaze of televised glory. Daddy King, who had been publicly supporting Richard Nixon on the ground that his Baptist faith would not permit him to vote for a Catholic, recanted and offered a ringing endorsement of the Democratic ticket. The resulting sweep of the black precincts in all the major cities provided Kennedy's narrow margin of victory, and left him beholden to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement he led.

From the beginning, the civil rights movement depended upon political finagling as well as eloquent appeals to the conscience of the white majority. There was a splendid irony in the maneuvering that took place in the traditional gap between rhetoric and reality--which became even wider after the Citizens Councils unfurled the banner of massive resistance and accentuated the discrepancy between what leaders of both races said in public and what they were privately willing to do. When Jack Kennedy was told that Daddy King had to suspend his anti-Catholic bias in order to convert to the Democratic cause, he said, "Who would have thought that Martin Luther King's father could be a bigot?" Then, reflecting upon the life and times of old Joe Kennedy, he added, "But, then, we all have fathers."

So we do, and progress on the race front can be measured by the tempering of attitudes from one generation to the next. The fathers of my generation of white Southerners took their stand on what their preachers told them was biblically-sanctioned moral ground, reducing the region to poverty as they sacrificed self-interest on the altar of white supremacy. My contemporaries, with no more valid claim to probity; concluded that they had rather abandon Jim Crow than pay the price required to maintain segregation in the face of mounting black protest.

So it was that when Bull Connor unleashed police dogs and firehoses against black children in Birmingham, Jack Kennedy employed his cabinet's corporate heavyweights to convince the Big Mules of the Alabama establishment that racial violence was bad for business. After the White Only signs came down the President told Martin and his aides: "I don't think you should be totally harsh on Bull Connor. He's done as much for civil rights as anybody since Abraham Lincoln."

Those of you who labor in the vineyard of race relations are painfully aware of the circularity that has always characterized public discussion of the basic issue. In the old days the demonstrably inferior social condition of the black minority was cited to justify the caste discrimination that perpetuated the inferior condition--and so the dogma of white supremacy came to prevail everywhere in the nation when blacks began to migrate from the South in substantial numbers. That ghost, at least, has been laid by the enlargement of choice that is the not inconsiderable legacy of the civil rights movement. When the federal courts struck down the barriers of institutional segregation a third of the black population promptly moved into the mainstream, visibly giving the lie to the myth of inherent racial inferiority. In terms of educational attainment, income level, and type of employment these blacks are certifiably middle-class, and are more or less being accepted as such by their white counterparts. The larger society--burdened as it is by the third of the black population still confined to a poverty-stricken underclass--is a long way from being free of the residue from the racist past. But the tempering of restrictive majority attitudes has been sufficient to change the dimensions of the American dilemma.

This shows up most significantly in politics. Those of us who were on the front line in the early days of the movement may be appalled by the resurrection of George Wallace in Alabama, but there is surely encouragement in the fact that he could re-enter the lists only by proclaiming himself a born-again integrationist, repentant of his race-baiting past and wholly committed to advancing the welfare of the blacks whose votes he sought and won. Then there is Ronald Reagan, whose political strategy writes off the black vote but who hotly denies that his reactionary policies are tinged with racism. "I want everyone to understand that I am heart and soul in favor of the things that have been done in the name of civil rights and desegregation," he has proclaimed, and, if you accept his remarkably constricted view of contemporary society, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity.

But if the President has rejected the dogma of white supremacy he has fervently embraced the doctrine it produced--the old states rights federalism elaborated by our forefathers in defense of slavery and the second-class citizenship that succeeded it. The President's so-called "new" federalism ignores not only the lessons of the bloodshot past, but the reality of contemporary demography, which reflects the transfer of the enduring race problem from the rural South to the center of the nation's great cities, where it has produced what is rightly labeled an urban crisis. The black underclass is not trapped in northern slums by institutionalized race prejudice, but by a debilitating, self-perpetuating culture of poverty that cannot possibly yield to the kind of social Darwinism in which the President places his faith. We are long past the share-cropping days when blacks were kept in their place so they could be exploited as a source of cheap labor; along with the Hispanics and poor whites who share its misery, the black underclass has become surplus population, a non-productive burden increasingly seen as intolerable in a shrinking economy.

The secular theology called Reaganomics holds that this condition is of no concern to the federal government and can readily be disposed of by placing responsibility for its cure upon state and local authorities assisted by the benign working of the private sector. That delusion cannot endure, and when it is finally dispelled there will be much work to do--particularly for organizations like SRC which have always had to find their way in the void between rhetoric and reality.

I have never been blessed with a faith strong enough to take me to the mountaintop from which Martin Luther King caught sight of the promised land, and assured his people that, with or without him, they would get there one day. But I have never doubted that his vision of a beloved community represented the only goal that would, in the end, prove acceptable to Southerners. Miss Lillian believed that, too, and when, at the end of her life, she revised Killers of the Dream, she closed with these lines:

"So we stand: tied to the past and clutching at the stars! Only by the agonizing pull of our dream can we wrench ourselves from such fixating stuff and climb into the unknown. But we have always done it and we can do it again. We have the means, the techniques, we have the knowledge and insight and courage. All have synchronized for the first time in history. Do we have the desire? This is a question that each of us must answer for himself."

In 1982, Mary Frances Derfner was Vice-President of the Southern Regional Council and chairperson of the Smith Awards Committee. Other committee members for 1982 included Tony Dunbar, John Popham, Wilma Dykeman and Lottie Shackelford.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Summer 2012 Print Edition of Southern Changes is Now Available!


Voting Rights Developments
The Steady Disappearance of Atlanta's African American Judges
Supreme Court Upholds the Affordable Care Act
Red Tails Comes to the Silver Screen
On the Arrest of George Zimmerman

To order your copy, send your request to charles.johnson@hklaw.com.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lillian Smith Book Awards for 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. Sh e 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 Southern Regional Council now shares the administration of the Lillian Smith Award with the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Together, we honored this year’s winners at the AJC Decatur Book Festival over the Labor Day weekend.

Two books were chosen for the award this year. Charles W. Eagles, a long-time history professor at the University of Mississippi, was honored for his powerful, compelling book, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (University of North Carolina Press). This is a definitive moment-by-moment account that traces in all its complexity ”James Meredith’s courage against the intransigent white racism of a university that surely knew better.” It is a significant, deeply researched narrative of the 1962 desegregation of Ole Miss that remains one of the landmark events in the struggle for African American equality and justice.

The other book recognized this year was “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.

Both of these books give lie to those who find history dry. While written by scholars and buttressed with careful research, they explore with riveting perspective events and people from our past whose lives and decisions have helped create our region, our nation. They reflect vividly on conversations about race in America we confront today, whether those conversations focus on President Obama or Dr. Laura. They are also reminders of the deep truths of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Join us for this year's ceremony
September 1, 2013
DeKalb Public Library
Decatur, Georgia 
2:30 p.m.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Banned in Boston: A Letter from Lillian Smith

With an introduction by Rose Gladney

From Southern Changes, Vol. 12, No. 5, 1990

As contemporary debates concerning the National Endowment for the Arts remind us that censorship, like patriotism (to paraphrase Samuel Johnson), too often becomes the last refuge of scoundrels, the words Lillian Smith prepared for the 1944 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union again raise timely end probing questions. What fears are aroused in those who would censor art? What in our culture continues to produce a Jesse Helms?

In the spring of 1944 Lillian Smith found her own work the subject of a censorship debate. Her novel Strange Fruit had been declared a "big best-seller" even before publication date, Feb. 29. Within a month, March 20, it was labeled obscene and banned by the Boston police. Two weeks later, with the advice of the Massachusetts Civil Liberties Union and the cooperation of the novel's publishers, Reynal and Hitchcock, Harper's Magazine columnist Bernard de Voto initiated a test case of the ban by purchasing a copy of the book from Abraham Isenstadt, owner of University Law Book Exchange in Cambridge. Joseph Welch, later made famous in U.S. Army v. McCarthy, defended Strange Fruit, but on April 26 District Court Judge Arthur P. Stone found the novel "obscene, tending to corrupt the morals of youth." A subsequent appeal did not overturn his decision, and the novel remains, technically at least, banned in Boston.

Efforts to ban the book in Detroit were successfully defeated by combined efforts of the United Auto Workers and the Detroit Public Library. The other successful banning of Strange Fruit occurred in mid-May when the U.S. Post Office ordered newspapers and magazines not to advertise the novel. The ban lasted only three days, however, because publisher Curtice Hitchcock sought and obtained the intervention of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Because Lillian Smith sent a copy of the following statement with a note to Curtice Hitchcock, it was preserved with her correspondence in the files of her subsequent publishers, Harcourt, Brace, & Jovonavich. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Lillian Smith estate.

From: Lillian Smith
Clayton, Ga.
(May 26, 1944)          
Statement to Civil Liberties Union of Mass.
For Annual Meeting

There are many people who can not bear to face a truth that hurts. There are some who have closed doors so firmly on their own emotional past that they go into a panic of fear when a book revives old memories. There are others who, because of early childhood training, have learned to look upon all frankness--however serious, however necessary to mature understanding of human experience--as something unclean and contaminating.

These are our immature, emotionally undeveloped people; frozen on a level of infantile experience, completely cut off from the possibility of growth and change.

Our culture, our values, our family experiences, the Puritanic strains in our religion--all tend to produce such people in numbers larger than we care to admit.

These people fear a book like Strange Fruit with a profound dread; and will seize on any pretext, however silly, to keep others and themselves, from having access to it.

But there are many others who fear the effect of Strange Fruit on the racial status quo; and, I think, within this group we shall find Boston's major reason for banning the book. These people believe it is to their political and economic advantage to keep the Negro and the Jew and labor where they are today. They fear all change. They know when racial segregation begins to weaken, that other forms of segregation and exploitation will crumble with it. They fear the book because it has the effect of stirring imagination and reawakening guilt feelings.

To these people, segregation in all its forms: racial, economic, religious, psychological, must be maintained at however great a cost to civil liberties and intellectual freedom.

It is only by realizing that the charge of obscenity is a clumsy attempt to destroy the book's power and prestige, that we, who believe in civil rights, can defend these rights in terms of this book. One can argue until doomsday about good taste without arriving at a just and true decision. Good taste is innate kindness and sensitiveness, tactfully genuflecting to contemporary taboos--a subtle and delicate blend of social good-will and hypocrisy that is too delightfully elusive to be caught and thumb-printed. For instance, what was good taste in men's bathing suits twenty years ago would not be worn today, for a fortune, by one of the Watch and Ward gentlemen. Although by their own inexorable logic they should be compelled to wear such a garment while they go about plucking strange fruit! Yet, however elusive it is, good taste plays a necessary role in the rituals of everyday life and social affairs and always will.

But a book is not a social situation. A book is a serious examination of life. Truth cannot be adjusted to this year's drawing-room manners, as can our behavior at a tea party. It is completely irrelevant, therefore, to attempt to use taste as a criterion for artistic truth--just as it would be to offer it as a valid reason for refusing to operate on a sick man. Truth, science and human need have never conformed to Watch and Ward manners or to postal regulations, and never will.

To suggest anything else is so contrary to common sense and sanity that one is compelled to brush such excuses aside and look for the hidden reasons. Why is a serious book with one plain word in it being fought across the country by post-office and watch and ward socieities [sic] and police?

The answer to this question will lead us to the roots of our culture--roots we must be willing to look at closely. For there is rising rapidly, now, to the surface of our American life, forces of hate and fear end ruthlessness that do not often show themselves so plainly. These evils in our culture have been here for a long time. They are old seeds that are now bearing a strange and heavy crop of trouble. We, in fighting for the right of this book to be read, are not fighting a little battle over one small word but a war against a way of life that threatens to destroy all that we value in human goodness and freedom and intelligence.
At the time of this writing, Rose Gladney was assistant professor of American studies at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lillian Smith - Eleanor Roosevelt Correspondence

Edited by Rose Gladney 

From Southern Changes, Vol. 9, No. 5, 1987

As writer, intellectual, and social critic of 20th century Southern and American life, Lillian Smith corresponded with a variety of notables about subjects of major historical, political, and cultural interest. The following selection from her correspondence with Eleanor Roosevelt (copied from the original in the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York) provides a glimpse of the extent, variety, and timeliness of the interests and concerns that underlay Smith's goals and achievements as a writer. It is from the first volume of Selected Letters of Lillian Smith, forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press.

Prior to the publication of her best-selling novel Strange Fruit (1944), Smith supported herself by directing Laurel Falls Camp for Girls near Clayton, Georgia. However, her public writing career began in 1936 when she and her assistant camp director Paula Snelling decided to co-edit a magazine, first called Pseudopodia, then North Georgia Review, and finally South Today. Designed to encourage fresh critical views of Southern literature and culture, it quickly became the region's most liberal literary voice, publishing and reviewing the works of blacks and whites, males and females, and calling for an immediate end to all forms of racial segregation.

In 1937 the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which had since 1928 focused primarily on developing black education, established a fellowship program open to Southern whites as well as to blacks in order to broaden its efforts to improve race relations. Because of the related interests and focus of their magazine, Smith and Snelling applied for and received joint Rosenwald Fellowships in 1939 and 1940, enabling them to travel widely throughout the South studying economic, political and cultural conditions.

In 1942, '43, and '44, they were again employed by the Rosenwald Fund to travel throughout the South in search of potential fellowship recipients among the region's college students. Eleanor Roosevelt was also involved with the Rosenwald Fund; indeed, her response to this particular letter indicated that she would be unable to meet Smith because she would be "in Hampton attending a Rosenwald meeting."

As the following account indicates, Smith's impressions of Southern college students and her assessment of major issues facing the region in 1942 sound eerily familiar some forty-five years later. Likewise, as in Smith's correspondence as a whole, this letter reveals the mind and spirit of a woman keenly observant of the world around her, especially conscious of the importance of all aspects of human relationships, and clearly aware of her role in shaping and interpreting the age in which she lived.

April 7, 1942
Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt,
The White House,
Washington, D.C.
My dear Mrs. Roosevelt:

Paula Snelling and I have this past week completed a trip through the South during which we have interviewed for the Rosenwald Fund the young Negro and White college seniors who have applied for Rosenwald scholarship-aid grants.

We have found these interviews profoundly stirring and want in some way, to share our findings with you. Some of our talks with the young Negroes were very disturbing, some most heartening, nearly all sincere and realistic. We found in the young whites--though there were exceptions--a shocking ignorance of their South, a concern primarily with their personal affairs, a restlessness about the future, little awareness of the international picture and our place in it. We found few educated whites who had ever met an educated Negro; few young Negroes who had met a racially unprejudiced white. We interviewed only the "cream" of the senior classes in 22 colleges.

Throughout the South, as we expected, we found many liberals giving up their liberalism "for the duration." Especially did this seem to be true of those who are labeled "friends of the Negro." The Negroes feel this too and are depressed and disheartened by the knowledge that many of their white friends disappear when crises arise.

Down in the Delta we found reaction rising like a great wave. Cotton is 26 cents in the Delta now and the general attitude among the planters is that neither Mr. Roosevelt nor God Himself is going to keep them from making some money while the making is good. There is a childish desperation in their attitude that would be awfully funny were they not so powerful. (Among my various activities is that of being a director of a summer camp for little rich girls. Some of these planters send their children to me in spite of my "liberalism." But this spring I find them on the defensive, very antagonistic to all liberal movements, growing suspicious of what I am teaching their children in my camp; so suspicious and antagonistic that I dared not tell them that I was on Rosenwald Fund business for their hospitality would not have been equal to such a strain being put upon it!)

There is something heartbreakingly valiant about the young of the Negro race, so eager to prove to white America their willingness to die for a country which has given them only the scraps from the white folks' democracy. There is resentment also; a quiet, strong resentment, running like a deep stream through their minds and hearts; something I think few white Americans are aware of, or want to face.

I shall be in Washington Friday, April 10th, at the Hay Adams House. I shall call Miss Thompson Friday morning and shall be honored to talk with you if you wish me to do so. I know you are a very busy person and I do not want to burden you further by a talk with me unless you think it will be useful to you to have in more detail this recent skimming of southern opinion.

Should you let me talk with you I would like to discuss with you also the possibilities for making this new venture of the Rosenwald Fund a more creative and vital youth project. Some of us think--and Dr. Embree shares this opinion--that the project should be more than a mere selection of young whites and blacks for graduate study. Could they feel themselves a part of some big and creative effort, something that had to do directly with their South, that had adventure in it, it would become a significant experience for them, rather than merely one more year of university study. They need somehow to be brought together, to have actual experience with each other, though heaven only knows how we can work it out in a South where such an idea can be mentioned now only in whispers. But how can the South ever work out its bi-racial problems when its intelligent and educated young whites and Negroes have never met an educated member of the other race?

I believe Miss Lucy Mason recently wrote you about Paula Snelling and me and our magazine The North Georgia Review which has now changed its name to South Today. I merely mention this kindness to us so that it will help you identify us.
There are many of us who are deeply grateful to you for your unwavering stand for the democratic decencies.
At the time of this writing, Rose Gladney was assistant professor of American studies at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Lillian Smith Awards for 1990

From Southern Changes, Vol. 12, No. 5, 1990


The Lillian Smith Awards are presented yearly to recognize and encourage outstanding writing about the American South. Smith long distinguished herself as one of the region's foremost advocates of human rights and one of its most sensitive students. She wrote many works, both fiction and non-fiction. Hers is the rare type of topical literature that remains relevant year after year because it confronts deeply rooted social problems and promotes a recognition of their very human roots and dynamics. The Lillian Smith awards for fiction and non-fiction have been presented since 1968. The recipients do not have to be Southerners, but their honored work must be about the South.

Dori Sanders is the 1990 recipient of the Lillian Smith Award for fiction. Sanders is the author of the award winning novel Clover. Born in York County, South Carolina, Sanders attended York County Public Schools and later studied at community colleges in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland. She divides her time between her writing, working on her family's peach farm, an open air market, and as an associate banquet manager in Maryland. Besides being featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers, Clover is being translated for publication in Japanese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish and German and Walt Disney studio has acquired movie rights. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill is the publisher of this work.

Wayne Flynt is the 1990 recipient of the Lillian Smith Award for non-fiction. Flynt, a native of Alabama, is currently the Hollifield Professor of History at Auburn University and a Baptist minister. In the sixties Flynt was a civil rights activist within the Baptist church. After the Movement he established a distinguished career as teacher and author. In 1989 he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Poor But Proud: Alabama's Poor Whites, which utilized scholarly research and oral history to document the historical, economic, and socio-political implications of Southern poverty. His chronicle of how poor Euro-Americans struggled to retain their dignity and make sense of their world is one of the great dramas of the story of the American people. This work is published by the University of Alabama Press.

"What Blood Won't Tell" - 2009 Lillian Smith Award Recipient

U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney’s infamous declaration in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that an African American had “no rights that the white man was bound to respect” is widely regarded as one of the causes of the American Civil War. However, few remember that Justice Taney’s language was largely borrowed from an earlier decision of the Georgia Supreme Court. Over 150 years later, this same Georgia Supreme Court decision inspired Ariela Gross to undertake an investigation into the role that the courts have played in the development of the American conception the idea of race. The result of this investigation is Professor Gross’s recent book, What Blood Won’t Tell: A History of Race on Trial in America. This important new work was recently recognized with a Lillian Smith Book Award for 2009. Dr. Gross and Professor Mary A. Twining discuss lessons from the book in this video which was taken at the 2009 Award Ceremony.

video

"Is race something we know when we see it? In 1857, Alexina Morrison, a slave in Louisiana, ran away from her master and surrendered herself to the parish jail for protection. Blue-eyed and blond, Morrison successfully convinced white society that she was one of them. When she sued for her freedom, witnesses assured the jury that she was white, and that they would have known if she had a drop of African blood. Morrison’s court trial—and many others over the last 150 years—involved high stakes: freedom, property, and civil rights. And they all turned on the question of racial identity. 

"Over the past two centuries, individuals and groups (among them Mexican Americans, Indians, Asian immigrants, and Melungeons) have fought to establish their whiteness in order to lay claim to full citizenship in local courtrooms, administrative and legislative hearings, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Like Morrison’s case, these trials have often turned less on legal definitions of race as percentages of blood or ancestry than on the way people presented themselves to society and demonstrated their moral and civic character.

"Unearthing the legal history of racial identity, Ariela Gross’s book examines the paradoxical and often circular relationship of race and the perceived capacity for citizenship in American society. This book reminds us that the imaginary connection between racial identity and fitness for citizenship remains potent today and continues to impede racial justice and equality."
“Gross supplies a specific accounting of the contortions into which communities and the courts tangled themselves while trying to figure out who was really white or black, or something else. And she looks at the consequences of this thinking, how it divided a nation into black, "non-white" (Native Americans and immigrant groups that didn't come from Europe), and white - the people my grandmother and so many others refer to as, simply, Americans.”



Join us for the 2012 Ceremony
DeKalb County Public Library
Decatur, Georgia
September 2, 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SRC Remembers the Landmark 1986 Campaign for Georgia's Fifth Congressional District

Taking the Fifth

By Marilyn Davis and Alex Willingham

From Southern Changes, Vol. 8, No. 3, 1986

Two election contests have drawn much attention to Georgia this year: a race crucial in determining the party alignment in the US Senate, and a struggle between long-time allies that will send a strong and articulate black Southerner to Congress. Indeed, the Senate campaign helped prompt the congressional one.

The race for the House seat took place in Georgia's Fifth District, centered in Atlanta. Georgia, and the nation, have become accustomed to the special nature of the state's Fifth District, since mid-century one of the South's most volatile and visible political theatres. During the last forty years, the Fifth has sent Georgia's first woman to Congress, followed her with an arch-segregationist, later with Andrew Young, and most recently, white liberal Wyche Fowler.

This year Fowler left his congressional job and won the Democratic Party's nomination for the US Senate. In making the run for the Senate, Fowler is testing whether a record built in his old district, composed entirely of urban voters and a majority-black population, can sit well with the citizens in rural, whiter and more conservative areas of the state. Some answers were provided in the August 12th primary. Fowler captured the Democratic party nomination against leading contender Hamilton Jordan (once of the Carter White House staff) without a runoff. Now, in one of the country's most important campaigns, Fowler faces Reaganite incumbent Mack Mattingly this fall.

With Fowler gone, the action in the Fifth's Democratic primary turned upon the rivalry of two civil rights veterans: Georgia state aerator Julian Bond and Atlanta city councilmember John Lewis (both age 46). Lewis was to eventually win the nomination in a come-from-behind upset decided in the run-off primary on September 2.

The Fifth District has a black population of sixty-five percent (the black voting age population is sixty percent). Bond and Lewis were hoping to become just the third black among the 138 members now serving in the US House from the eleven Southern states (blacks make up twenty percent of the population of the South).

Lewis, son of an Alabama sharecropper, was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. At the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his "I Have a Dream" speech, Lewis received national attention when march organizers demanded that he censor and tone down his own public remarks. Two years later, he was one of the main targets of police attacks at the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma to Montgomery March.

Lewis later directed the Southern Regional Council's Voter Education Project. His first attempt at public office came in 1977 when he made an unsuccessful attempt to win the congressional seat. He was appointed head of the federal Action agency in the Carter Administration. In 1981, he won election to the Atlanta city council and became a chief advocate of ethics in government. In 1985 he was reelected over token opposition.

Bond is also a former SNCC leader (he was communications director), active in voter education. He is one of three children of Horace Mann Bond, the renowned educator and historian. In 1966, after being elected to the Georgia General Assembly, Bond was denied his seat when he stood firm in support of SNCC's anti-Vietnam War policy statement. He was able to join the state legislature only after a legal battle which drew international attention and support.

Although still too young to accept the office, at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago Bond's name was placed in nomination as the party's vice-presidential candidate. Bond has been widely sought as a gifted public speaker, particularly on college campuses. He once hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

The contest between Bond and Lewis meant that Georgia would send to Congress a civil rights activist with strong credentials appropriate for a congressional district that has struggled for decades with the declining traditional symbols and the new and complex strains emerging in contemporary Southern politics.

The beginning of that struggle may be dated from a special election held in February of 1946, when Fifth District voters sent Helen Douglas Mankin, Georgia's first woman to Congress to fill the unexpired term of the recently resigned veteran Representative Robert Ramspeck. That year's special election marked the first time Atlanta's black voters had been allowed to participate in a congressional election since 1929. Their participation had been prohibited by the White Primary system under which voting in the nominating elections conducted by the Democratic party was limited to white citizens. Democratic nomination amounted to victory.

When the time came for Mankin to run again, in the regularly scheduled primary election of 1946, blacks gave her strong support. She received an overwhelming vote in the Ashby Street precinct that was to become a bellwether of black political participation in Atlanta.

Representative Mankin's tenure was short. She won a popular majority in the regular primary, but was denied the nomination when Democratic party leaders decided to make a "special exception" and apply the rules of the county unit system--another of Georgia's traditional disfranchising devices.

The ultimate victor that year was James C. Davis, ally of the openly racist Eugene Talmadge whose faction then controlled the Democratic party and whose views could not have been more in contrast to those of the majority of the Fifth's population.

The county unit system insured the continued renomination and reelection of Davis, although he drew consistent opposition and, in 1952, again lost the popular vote. Blacks always opposed Davis and his segregationist views. In 1954, Morris Abrams, then flying the banner of Southern liberalism, lost a party nomination to Davis. Abrams received ninety-four percent of the vote at that Ashby street box. When the county unit system was declared invalid in a 1962 Supreme Court decision, Davis did not seek reelection.

In the following years, the Fifth was to elect a white Democrat, Charles Weltner, who would be one of the few Southerners to vote for civil rights legislation, and who resigned his seat rather than run on a ticket with an avowed segregationist. Weltner was replaced in 1966 by one of the region's first Republicans Fletcher Thompson.

In 1972, after an attempted gerrymander by the Georgia legislature, the white majority district elected Andrew Young as the state's first black congressman. Young was known as a close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. He then worked as director of the Atlanta Community Relations Commission--a position that afforded him wide contact among the district's voters and established his reputation as a mediator. During Young's years of campaigning for Congress, he enjoyed wide bi-racial voting support. He received a critical fourth of the white vote in that first winning election and increasingly larger proportions in his reelection efforts.

Young served until 1977 when he accepted an appointment by President Carter to head the US delegation to the United Nations.

Despite the growing black population in the Atlanta area, the Fifth District remained majority white. Boundary lines were drawn in such a way as to split the black voters among three congressional districts. During the 1980 reapportionment, an attempt was made to redraw the lines. The Georgia legislature refused, but was eventually forced, to improve matters when a federal court held the districts to be discriminatory. New lines were drawn creating a majority black population in the Fifth District in 1982.

The Fifth elected, after Young, Wyche Fowler, a white who shared the moderate views of Atlanta's black middle class. Fowler served and won reelection as the racial make-up of the district was reversed.

The idea of a white representing a black majority seemed to suit the fancy of a district where a black had represented a white majority. Black leaders praised Fowler's voting record and his attention to serving constituents. He was adept at campaigning within the black community. During the Reagan drive to dismantle social programs targeted to urban and minority citizens, Fowler was a dependable opponent.

The arrangement became uncomfortable, however, as potential rivals began to insist that the district select a black representative. In 1984, SCLC activist Hosea Williams and three other blacks challenged Fowler, who nevertheless won handily. This year, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, as well as an opportunity to challenge the freshman Mattingly, Fowler chose to make his move for the Senate.

Although ten candidates entered the contest when Fowler decided not to seek the congressional seat, the Fifth was really Bond's to win or lose.

National celebrities and politicians--including Rosa Parks and New York mayor Ed Koch--came into the district to campaign, most of them supporting Bond. Former New York Representative Shirley Chisholm, now head of the National Black Women's Political Congress, came to endorse Jan Douglass, one of five women candidates.

The August primary in the Fifth developed within a broad consensus on issues among the candidates. Most opposed intervention in Central America and supported effective sanctions against apartheid in South Africa. On the whole, the candidates were sharply critical of the Reagan effort to crirpple domestic programs, curtail civil liberties, bloat the military, and politicize the government's civil rights agencies.

Bond's frontrunner status was taken for granted both by the other candidates and the news media. He was the leading fundraiser among the group and enjoyed wide recognition in the opinion polls. Consequently he became the target of "negative advertising" by opponents who perceived him as vulnerable among white voters.

Specially-targeted radio spots said Bond would promote racial division, an allegation based on speeches in Bond's 1972 A Time to Speak, A Time to Act, a book which responded to the growing racial and socioeconomic differences between the inner city and the suburbs. Other radio spots claimed Bond to be delinquent in his federal tax payments. No taxes are currently in arrears but in recent years, the allegation said, some had been.

Such charges exploited a stereotype of Bond as a media personality, ineffective, disorganized, and lazy.

Bond's defenders argued that his persona and glamor were further reasons to commend him to voters. They pointed, also, to his twenty years of perseverance in the Georgia legislature which should be seen, they said, in relation to the hostility he encountered. A conservative, white, "old boy," leadership not only despised Bond's presence but often used its powers spitefully to limit his access. A loyal constituency repeatedly resumed Bond to office.

An opposite image from that of the flashy, glib, Bond dogged John Lewis, a man whom the editors of Time once called a saint. In this year's campaign he enjoyed the endorsement of the Atlanta Constitution (as he did in 1977). Yet in '77 (and again in '86,) there were questions about whether he is dynamic enough to give effective representation.

Lewis' defenders pointed to a personal history marked by hard work, sacrifice and principled dissent. They say his persistent advocacy of ethics in government while on the Atlanta City Council illustrates his best quality, integrity. Lewis's ethics proposals walked with leaden feet among some of his colleagues (four of the current council members have had brushes with the law), but he has pursued this knotty and sensitive issue with characteristic courage.

Some Atlanta voters, wondering at what spot the ethical footsteps might trespass across the threshold of civil liberties were startled when, in the strained final days of the first primary campaign, drug testing was made an issue. Lewis and several others volunteered to undertake drug testing at a local hospital. Bond refused. The action set the tone for a Run-off campaign marked by considerably sharper controversy. Lewis hammered away at the drug theme manipulating it, and other conservative domestic and foreign issues as a strategy to appeal to white voters.

On the eve of the August 12 primary, Bond hoped to win outright. A day later he received forty-seven percent of the vote to Lewis' thirty-six percent (double what was granted to him in the pre-election polls) forcing the September 2 runoff.

Despite his failure to avoid a run-off, Bond demonstrated strong vote getting power. Of the 242 precincts in the district, Bond carried over seventy perecent on August 12. He outpolled Lewis in the black precincts (getting as high as seventy percent of the vote and averaging sixty-one percent), but came in third overall in the white precincts. Bond also won a majority of the precincts (sixty percent) in the run- off.

In August and again on September 2, Bond won low income black precincts by comfortable majorities. The crucial difference in the election was the refusal of whites to vote for Bond in appreciable numbers. Upper income whites, were especially reluctant to vote for Bond. Precincts of affluent whites rarely gave him more than ten percent of the vote. The extraordinary majorities Lewis enjoyed among white voters furnished the key surprise in the voting and poses a new set of questions about the quality of politics to be expected in a district with such contradictory voter preferences between the affluent white minority and the low income, inner city black majority.

Only seventy-thousand voters (twenty-nine percent of the 230,000 registered) came out for the August 12 primary--about the same number as voted in the September runoff. The small voter turnout is a striking irony given the roles these two men have played in voter registration.

Even in the Fifth District, black voters continue to suffer special disadvantages in the political process, the results of a legacy of underparticipation, of continuing disparities in social and economic opportunities, and of growing doubts about the capacity of political leadership. Despite fifteen years of black progress in office holding, voter registration among Atlanta blacks reaches only about half its potential.

The 1980 census shows that in Fulton County (a major part of the Fifth District) less than half of black youth live in two-parent homes. In black, female-headed households with children, the median annual income is $6,000, less than half that of similarly situated whites. The county's $25,000 median income for white families is twice that of black families. One census tract in a black community in the Fifth District shows the median family income at $2,900. By contrast, the highest median family income in the Fifth ($53,000) is in a white neighborhood.

No single election will change these disparities and inequalities. They are a reminder of the challenge facing the Fifth District. The competition between Bond and Lewis has been uncomfortable for those who see them as pure symbols of the movement years. The campaign has created definite expectations--and hope --about the future. Despite the near-reverence for both men, it is only realistic to admit that the problems that face the Fifth and the country are much more resistant to symbolic and even electoral change than they seemed in the days of Movement victories.

As this article was written Marilyn Davis taught political science at Spelman College in Atlanta. Alex Willingham was research associate at the Southern Regional Council and a contributing editor of Southern Changes.