Monday, August 10, 2015

The Southern Regional Council Announces the Lillian Smith Book Award Recipients for 2015

Atlanta - Two exceptional books will be recognized with this year's Lillian Smith Book Awards. These awards were established by the Southern Regional Council (SRC) to recognize authors whose books represent outstanding achievements demonstrating through high literary merit and moral vision an honest representation of the South, its people, its problems, and its promise.

This year's Awards Ceremony is a partnership between the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, and the Georgia Center for the Book. It will be presented in connection with the Decatur Book Festival at the DeKalb County Public Library in Decatur, Georgia on Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

The 2015 Award Recipients are:

Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South 

By Andrew Maraniss

The New York Times bestselling book Strong Inside is the untold story of Perry Wallace, who in 1966 enrolled at Vanderbilt University and became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Strong Inside is not just the story of a trailblazing athlete, but of civil rights, race in America, a campus in transition during the tumultuous 1960s, the mental toll of pioneering, decades of ostracism, and eventual reconciliation and healing.

This fast-paced, richly detailed and meticulously researched biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a more complicated, illuminating and rewarding story of sports pioneering than we’ve come to expect from the genre. First-time author Andrew Maraniss masterfully unfolds the unique life story of Wallace, the rare slam-dunking basketball star who was also a valedictorian, engineering double-major, law school graduate, and university professor. Wallace’s unusually insightful and honest introspection reveals his inner thoughts throughout his journey.

Wallace entered kindergarten the year that Brown v. Board of Education upended “separate but equal.” As a 12-year old, he snuck downtown to watch the sit-ins at Nashville’s lunch counters. In 1963, he entered high school a week after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. While in high school, he saw the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, and his Pearl High basketball team won Tennessee’s first integrated state tournament. The world seemed to be opening at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt recruited him, Wallace courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the SEC. His experiences on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be nothing like he ever imagined.

On campus, he encountered the leading civil rights figures of the day, including Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Robert Kennedy – and he led Vanderbilt’s small group of black students to a meeting with the university chancellor to push for better treatment.

On the basketball court, he experienced an Ole Miss boycott and the rabid hate of the Mississippi State fans in Starkville. Following his freshman year, the NCAA instituted “the Lew Alcindor rule,” which deprived Wallace of his signature move, the slam dunk.

Despite this attempt to limit the influence of a rising tide of black stars, the final basket of Wallace’s college career was a cathartic and defiant dunk, and the story Wallace told to the Vanderbilt Human Relations Committee and later The Tennessean was not the simple story of a triumphant trailblazer that many people wanted to hear.  Yes, he had gone from hearing racial epithets when he appeared in his dormitory to being voted as the university’s most popular student, but, at the risk of being labeled “ungrateful,” he spoke truth to power in describing the daily slights and abuses he had overcome and what Martin Luther King had called “the agonizing loneliness of a pioneer.”

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle, 1814 - 2014

By Lee Formwalt

Looking Back, Moving ForwardWhen he started writing a history of the Southwest Georgia Freedom civil rights struggle late in 2013, historian Lee Formwalt was finally working on a project he had begun in essence four years earlier when he was the Albany Civil Rights Institute’s executive director.

While it seemed logical that Formwalt would be the one to write the book, he found that it was impossible because of his workload at the ACRI. It was only after he left the Institute in 2011 to return to Bloomington, Ind., that fate stepped in.

“After I left Albany I didn’t hear anything for awhile until (ACRI Executive Director Frank Wilson) called and asked, ‘how’s the book coming along?’” Formwalt said. “I realized that all the major research had been done and I had the majority of what I needed to actually get started. We signed a contract in November and I wrote the book in four months.”

The result was “Looking Back, Moving Forward - The Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle, 1814-2014,” a slick 100-page, 40,000 word history of the region’s struggle for equal rights. There was a 5,000 copy first printing and all proceeds from the book benefit the ACRI.

SRC is an inter-racial organization founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice in the South. SRC initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards shortly after Smith's death in 1966 to recognize authors whose writing extends the legacy of the outspoken writer, educator and social critic who challenged her fellow Southerners and all Americans on issues of social and racial justice. Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. The Georgia Center for the Book became a partner in 2007, when the awards ceremony first became part of the Decatur Book Festival. Piedmont College, which operates the Lillian Smith Center, joined as a sponsor this year.

The 2014 winners of the Lillian Smith Book Awards were We Shall Not be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth Sit-In and the Movement it Inspired by M. J. O'Brien, and In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma by Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson