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.
Go beyond the episode:
- Read Tracy Thompson’s essay, “Southern Cassandra”
- Watch the trailer for Breaking the Silence, a documentary about Smith
- Visit some of Smith’s haunts on the Southern Literary Trail
- Check out Smith’s books: Strange Fruit, Killers of the Dream, How Am I to Be Heard, or for a taste of all three, A Lillian Smith Reader
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek. Follow us on Twitter @TheAmScho or on Facebook.
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