Two exceptional books will be recognized with this year's Lillian Smith Book Awards at a ceremony during the Decatur Book Festival on Sunday, September 3rd.
The Southern Regional Council established the Lillian Smith Book Awards shortly after Lillian Smith's death in 1966. Internationally acclaimed as author of the controversial novel, Strange Fruit (1944), Lillian Smith was the most liberal and outspoken of mainstream, mid-20th century Southern writers on issues of social and racial injustice. Smith’s family donated the collection of her letters and manuscripts to the University of Georgia 's Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and, in 2004, the UGA Libraries joined the SRC as a partner in administering the awards. The awards are now presented as a partnership between the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, Piedmont College (which operates the Lillian Smith Center), and the Georgia Center for the Book (which hosts the Decatur Book Festival).
The 2017 Award Recipients are:
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murry, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice
Patricia Bell-Scott’s groundbreaking biography, The Firebrand and the First Lady—two decades in the works—tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, who was the granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives, enriched the conversation about race, and added vital fuel to the movement for human rights in America.
Pauli Murray first saw Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Depression, at a government-sponsored, two-hundred-acre camp for unemployed women where Murray was living, something the first lady had pushed her husband to set up in her effort to do what she could for working women and the poor. The first lady appeared one day unannounced, behind the wheel of her car, her secretary and a man Murray presumed to be a Secret Service agent as passengers. To Murray, then aged twenty-three, Roosevelt’s self-assurance was a symbol of women’s independence, a symbol that endured throughout Murray’s life.
Five years later, Murray wrote a letter to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South. Murray’s letter was prompted by a speech the president had given at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, praising the school for its commitment to social progress. Pauli Murray had applied for and would be denied admission to UNC graduate school because of her race.
She wrote in her letter of 1938:
“Does it mean that Negro students in the South will be allowed to sit down with white students and study a problem which is fundamental and mutual to both groups? Does it mean that the University of North Carolina is ready to open its doors to Negro students … ? Or does it mean, that everything you said has no meaning for us as Negroes, that again we are to be set aside and passed over … ?”
The president’s staff forwarded the letter to the federal Office of Education. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote back to Murray: “I have read the copy of the letter you sent me and I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly … The South is changing, but don’t push too fast.”
So began a friendship between Pauli Murray (poet, intellectual rebel, principal strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, cofounder of the National Organization for Women, and the first African American female Episcopal priest) and Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) that would last for a quarter of a century.
It was a decades-long friendship — tender, moving, prodding, inspiring — sustained primarily through correspondence and characterized by brutal honesty, mutual admiration, and respect, revealing the generational and political differences each had to overcome in order to support each other’s growth as the transformative leaders for which they would be later known.
Of the two extraordinary women, one was at the center of world power; the other, an outsider ostracized by multiple discriminations, fighting with heart, soul, and intellect to push the world forward (she did!) and to become the figure for change she knew she was meant to be; each alike in many ways: losing both parents as children, being reared by elderly kin; each a devoted Episcopalian with an abiding compassion for the helpless; each possessed of boundless energy and fortitude yet susceptible to low spirits and anxiety; each in a battle against shyness, learning to be outspoken; each at her best when engaged in meaningful, important work. And each in her own society sidelined as a woman, and determined to up-end the centuries-old social constriction.
Drawing on letters, journals, published and unpublished documents, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott, professor emerita of women’s studies and human development and family science at the University of Georgia, presents the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.
Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s
By Risa Goluboff
In 1950s America, it was remarkably easy for police to arrest almost anyone for almost any reason. The criminal justice system—and especially the age-old law of vagrancy—played a key role not only in maintaining safety and order but also in enforcing conventional standards of morality and propriety. Vagrancy laws were so broad and flexible that they made it possible for the police to arrest anyone out of place: Beats and hippies; Communists and Vietnam War protestors; racial minorities and civil rights activists; gays, single women, and prostitutes. As hundreds of these “vagrants” and their lawyers claimed that vagrancy laws were unconstitutional, the laws became a flashpoint for debates about radically different visions of order and freedom. By the end of the 1960s, vagrancy laws were discredited and American society was fundamentally transformed.
In Vagrant Nation, Risa Goluboff reads the history of the entire era through the lens of vagrancy laws and shows how constitutional challenges to them helped constitute the multiple movements that made “the 1960s.” As Goluboff links the human stories of those arrested to the great controversies of the time, she powerfully demonstrates how ordinary people, with the help of lawyers and judges, can change the meaning of the Constitution. Since the downfall of vagrancy laws in 1972, battles over what, if anything, should replace them, like battles over the legacy of the Sixties transformations themselves, are far from over.
Praise for Vagrant Nation:
“Vagrant Nation is an extraordinary accomplishment, one of the best books of constitutional history ever written. Using vagrancy law as her launching pad, Goluboff ties together and sheds light upon all of the major social reform movements of the 1960s and the constitutional law that arose around them-civil rights, gay rights, criminal procedure rights, the free speech rights of communists and Vietnam War protestors, the expressive rights of hippies and beatniks, and the sexual revolution. In the process, Goluboff teaches us how constitutional law gets made.” –Michael J. Klarman, Kirkland & Ellis Professor, Harvard Law School“Vagrant Nation is a fascinating account of how constitutional change occurs when old laws and new social understandings collide.” –Linda Greenhouse, Lecturer, Yale Law School“Vagrant Nation tells how police used vagrancy laws as all-purpose weapons to stifle the movements defining the Sixties, and how a movement of movements persuaded the Supreme Court to eradicate those laws and ban jailing people simply because they were different-black, poor, gay, hippie, or antiwar. It’s a brilliant account of how a forgotten campaign to reform the law made America a more tolerant and much better country.” –Lincoln Caplan, Truman Capote Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School“A masterful exploration of constitutional change! Goluboff presents a fascinating account of how dragnet criminal laws, once considered desirable protection against undesirables, clashed with emerging visions of a more inclusive society.” –Susan Herman, President, American Civil Liberties Union
The 2016 winners of the Lillian Smith Book Awards were Cheryl Knott, a professor in the School of Information, University of Arizona, and author of Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow; and Minion KC Morrison, professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware, and author of Aaron Henry of Mississippi: Inside Agitator.