A major gift from the Lillian E. Smith Center Foundation provides Piedmont College with unique educational opportunities, says President James Mellichamp.
In September, the Foundation donated all of its assets to Piedmont, including 150 wooded acres near Clayton, where Smith lived and wrote her groundbreaking novels during the early days of the Civil Rights movement.
In addition to the property, the gift includes six buildings that were part of the former Laurel Falls Camp, a nationally recognized camp for girls that Smith's family opened in 1920 and operated until 1948. Also part of the transfer are the copyrights to Smith's written works, including her most famous novel, Strange Fruit.
Mellichamp said the college is now working on a strategic plan for how the property will be used in the future. "Obviously it is a fantastic place for faculty, students, staff, and alumni to hold meetings and retreats. It is a wonderful outdoor laboratory for the natural sciences, photography, and other subjects. And then there is the literary connection to Lillian Smith herself. We plan to reissue some of her writing and involve the English faculty and students in those projects along the way."
Since 2011, Piedmont has conducted several "Maymester" classes at the Smith Center, during which students staying at the center have studied social issues, environmental science, environmental ethics, nature and creative writing, and geology.
Lillian Smith attended Piedmont College for one year in 1915 and she taught briefly in Rabun County schools. She and her family operated the Laurel Falls Camp near Clayton, but she is best known from her writing as one of the early voices of the Civil Rights movement. She began to speak out against Jim Crow laws, saying "segregation is spiritual lynching." In 1944, Smith penned her best-known work, at the time a highly controversial novel called "Strange Fruit" about interracial relationships.