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Speaker Bios

Patricia Bell-Scott

Professor Emerita, Women’s Studies & Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia
PRESENTING: Lillian Smith & Pauli Murray: Notes on a Friendship and Literary Mentorship

In the early 1940s, when Lillian Smith first encountered Pauli Murray, Murray was struggling with the demands of being a student at Howard University School of Law, with the challenge of co-leading the campus chapter of the NAACP, and with her inability to find the time, economic resources, and courage to become a writer. In Smith, Murray—who, decades later became a groundbreaking lawyer, civil and women’s rights pioneer, and the first African American female priest—found a friend, a role model, and a mentor. Bell-Scott will examine the friendship between Murray and Smith, and the impact this relationship had on Murray’s view of herself as an artist-activist, as well as her literary style and achievements.
Bell-Scott, professor emerita of women’s studies and human development and family science at the University of Georgia, is author of The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice, which won the 2017 Lillian Smith Book Award. This book was also nominated for the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Her previous books include Life Notes: Personal Writings by Contemporary Black Women; Flat-footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives, Double Stitch: Black Women Write about Mothers and Daughters, which won the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize; and All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies, one of the first women’s studies textbooks to address race, class, and sexuality. Bell-Scott was co-founding editor of SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, a cofounder of the National Women’s Studies Association, and a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine. In 2017, the NYC Bar Association invited Bell-Scott to deliver the annual Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture. Bell-Scott’s lecture was a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, whom Justice Ginsburg claims as an intellectual mentor.


Tanya Long Bennett 

University of North Georgia
PRESENTING: A Study of Southern Boundaries in Lillian Smith’s "Strange Fruit"

Bennett examines the boundaries of Strange Fruit’s (1944) fictional Maxwell, Georgia, to better understand the impact of segregation on the lives of the town’s inhabitants. On its face, Maxwell appears to be a tightly-knit community of good-natured, caring people, living and working together in near harmony; however, viewed as a map, the town reveals systematic “divide and conquer” practices that maintain segregation, often at the price of residents’ mental well-being and sometimes even of their lives. As the novel illustrates, such structures that purportedly offer security get perpetuated under the guise of moral and religious codes, and/or as natural law, and the neuroses that shape them are the more dangerous for being hidden, and hence unarticulated. In most towns, however, these systems manifest themselves in physical boundaries. Although these boundaries are often initially accepted, they can evolve into stifling environments that stunt rather than nourish and protect, leading community members to become “strange fruit.”

Bennett is Professor of English at University of North Georgia, where she has taught since 2001. She is currently editing Critical Essays on the Writings of Lillian Smith for University Press of Mississippi, with a projected spring 2020 publication date. Her other  publications include a monograph on the novels of Lee Smith and articles on the fiction of Lorraine Lopez and Ana Castillo. She has also published two open education resource first-year composition textbooks with the University of North Georgia Press.

Hal Jacobs

HJacobs Creative
PRESENTING: Behind the Scenes of the Lillian Smith Documentary “Breaking the Silence”

In 2016, filmmaker Hal Jacobs began screening his documentary on North Georgia weaver extraordinaire Mary Hambidge when audience members began asking him if he knew about a writer named Lillian Smith who also lived near Clayton. Three years later, Jacobs, with the help of his photographer/musician son Henry Jacobs, has produced a lyrical documentary on Smith that incorporates archival footage and insightful interviews with some of the people who know her best. A native southerner himself, Jacobs found himself confronting the same issues that Smith wrote about so honestly and intelligently over 75 years ago. Along with a screening of the documentary, Jacobs will discuss the process of telling Smith’s story in Breaking the Silence

After a decades-long career as an editor in higher education and freelance writer, Jacobs started his own film/video production company in 2014. His 2017 film, Mary Crovatt Hambidge: Wanderer, Whistler, Weaver, Utopian, was awarded the “Best Documentary” at the Spring 2017 Southern Shorts Film Festival and was screened at the Atlanta History Center in September 2017. In frequent collaboration with his photographer/musician son, Henry Jacobs, his work often celebrates nature, history, creativity, and social justice—especially bringing to the forefront lost voices needing to be heard in new ways.


Emily Pierce

2019 LES Scholar & Piedmont Graduate
PRESENTING: Piedmont's Lillian E. Smith Scholars Program

Pierce will discuss the logistics of Piedmont's Lillian E. Smith Scholars Program, how and why it began, the application process for students, and the requirements. She will explore what the program is on paper to what it was in practice. By elaborating on how she met the requirements and the choices she made to do so, she will show that the Lillian E. Smith Scholars Program offers a variety of options for students concerned about social justice while engaging in Lillian Smith's legacy and work. Pierce looks at the ways that the LES scholars program impacted her time at Piedmont and how that work will influence her in her future endeavors.
Pierce is a master’s student at Georgia State University in the English department. She received her B.A. from Piedmont College as one of the first Lillian E. Smith scholars. She has presented at SAMLA and the Southern Studies Conference. She was a research intern and interviewee for Hal Jacobs’ recent Lillian Smith documentary, Breaking the Silence. She is currently editing a manuscript on Killers of the Dream for publication.

Ben Railton

Fitchburg State
PRESENTING: Killing the Dream, Reviving the Nation: Lillian E. Smith as Model for an Inclusive America

The dream of the Lost Cause, the white supremacist myth of an idealized Southern society, embodies an exclusionary vision of American identity, and the late 19th and early 20th century national embrace of those dreams and myths parallels the rise of exclusionary narratives related to immigration, race and ethnicity, and other American histories that continue into the present. In works like Killers of the Dream (1949), then, Lillian E. Smith did more than critique Southern mythologies—she offered a model for resisting those exclusionary national narratives and arguing for—and exemplifying—an inclusive America instead. Railton links Smith’s work to those broader 20th century and American trends, highlighting how much Smith can show us about her America and our own.
Railton is a professor of English Studies and coordinator of American Studies at Fitchburg State University. He writes the daily AmericanStudies blog and his work has appeared in HuffPost, Talking Points Memo, the Washington Post, and the Saturday Evening Post, where he is a columnist. His most recent book is We the People: The 500-Year Battle over Who is American. He is also the Boston Chapter Leader for the Scholars Strategy Network and an Advisor to the American Writers Museum.