Smarty Pants Podcast

Not Ready to Make Nice

Meet Lillian Smith, forgotten southern radical

By Stephanie Bastek | April 5, 2019
Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Lillian Smith was the most radical writer you’ve never heard of—a novelist, essayist, civil rights activist, and general bomb thrower, as Tracy Thompson describes her in “Southern Cassandra,” an essay from our Spring issue. Born in 1897, Smith grew up among what she called “the best people”—the wealthy, southern aristocracy—but she betrayed every value of her social class until the day she died in 1966. She pushed for immediate desegregation in an era when the notion made most white people balk, drew a straight, damning line between race and sex, and argued that there was no way to untangle the rationale of Jim Crow from the supposed need to protect the purity of white women. Nobody listened to her at the time. But as Thompson argues, maybe if we had we’d be a little better off.

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