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Lillian E. Smith Honored with Georgia State Senate Resolution

Jul 13th, 2020

The Georgia State Senate has passed a resolution honoring Lillian E. Smith for her work as a writer, educator, and activist. 

“The Georgia Senate’s resolution commending Lillian E. Smith’s life and work recognizes her tireless striving for equity,” said Dr. Matthew Teutsch, director of the Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College. “It recognizes that her voice and her words played a pivotal role during the middle part of the 20th century. It recognizes that her voice and her words echo today as we still strive to achieve her dream, and the dreams of countless others, of equity for all.”

Smith, a native of Jasper, Florida, moved in 1915 with her family to north Georgia, where they had a summer home in Clayton. She studied at Piedmont for a year before attending the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. 

Smith’s father operated the Laurel Falls Camp for Girls in Rabun County. She took over as director in 1925. The camp developed a reputation not only in the South but across the country for being a progressive and well-rounded camp for young women. It continued until 1948. Today, the more than 150 acres are home to the Lillian E. Smith Center. It serves as an educational center and artist retreat.

From 1936-45, Smith and her lifelong partner, Paula Snelling, published a literary magazine that became a forum for white and black writers to share their literary and artistic work. 

In 1944, Smith published the novel Strange Fruit, which addressed the racial, sexual, and spiritual tensions of a small southern community that became an international bestseller and Broadway play. 

In 1949, she published Killers of the Dream, a detailed self-examination of white supremacy that was republished in 1961 and became a resource for the Freedom Riders.

Smith is recognized in the resolution “for her work as a gifted writer, educator, and activist who was one of the first prominent white southerners to openly denounce racial segregation and be recognized by the Georgia State Senate.”

The resolution continues: “the members of this body commend Lillian E. Smith for the extraordinary work that she did for the cause of civil rights and honor her distinguished legacy as a trailblazer for social justice.”

Teutsch said the next goal is to get an historical marker at the camp. He also gave credit to Hal Jacobs, director of the documentary “Breaking the Silence,” for helping bring attention to Smith and getting Senate Resolution 1011 passed.