Last year, I posted about my first Lillian E. Smith Studies course which I taught in spring 2020. Today, I want to share the syllabus I constructed for the spring 2021 semester. The focus, still, is on Smith and her work, but I am also incorporating Michelle Alexander’s work on mass incarnation, using NPR’s Louder than and Riot podcast and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. Along with this, we will look at Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, a text that corresponds with Smith’s writing. The final project for this course will include completing an application for a historical marker in Clayton commemorating Smith’s life and work.

Course Description and Objectives:

Lillian E. Smith was a key figure on the forefront of the movement to end racial segregation in the U.S. A writer from the South, she used her work as a platform to advocate on behalf of social justice, diversity, and equality.  In this course invites we will explore the work of Lillian Smith and others considering how they help us to think about social justice in the U.S. and globally.

Lillian Smith begins The Journey (1954) with the following paragraph:

There is no going alone on a journey. Whether one explores strange lands or Main Street or one’s own back yard, always invisible traveling companions are close by: the giants and pygmies of memory, of belief, pulling you this way and that, not letting you see the world life-size but insisting that you measure it by their own height and weight.

She knew that individuals’ beliefs, fears, joys, and culture serve as “invisible traveling companions” as one goes through their life. Throughout her life, she examined the beliefs that she had learned growing up in the South. She pushed back against the mythological, compartmentalized beliefs that others inculcated within her. She, essentially, held a mirror up to herself, examining every aspect of her life, and determined that the systems that supported her and her family did not support everyone. That those systems needed to change. That in order for that change to occur she must come face to face with her own beliefs and fears.

For Smith, this examination led her to a life of social justice, speaking out against racism and segregation, speaking out against discrimination, speaking for the future of the children she counseled, speaking out for the future of America and the world. This course will explore Smith’s legacy and work. We will look at contemporary writers such as Isabel Wilkerson, Michelle Alexander, and more who each call out the ways that the systems we live within affect all of us and discuss ways to extricate ourselves and our society from these systems.  

In this course, you will engage with thinking critically about injustice in contemporary American society and the world. You will gain understanding of the intersections the lead to structural systems that privilege groups while oppressing others. You will encounter works that cause you to examine yourself and think about your position within these systems, and this examination will help us works towards developing empathy and understanding for others. Finally, you will think about the question, “What can we do?” This question will help you to think about your own position and how we can take the material we explored to create a more just and equitable society for all. 

Primary Texts:

  • A Lillian Smith Reader, edited by Margaret Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens, 2016.
  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, 2020.
  • Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, 2020.

Secondary Texts:

  • I will provide secondary readings as needed.

Organization:

The course will be organized around discussions and projects centered on social justice and the work of Lillian E. Smith. Classes will vary in what we do each day. Some days we will discuss readings. Some days we will work on projects. Since this is a directed study, the schedule will be semi-fluid.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Attendance and Participation                                                  10%
  • Reflection Journal                                                                    30%
  • Short Videos                                                                            30%
  • Historical Marker Application                                                 30%

A=90-100; B=80-89; C=70-79; D=60-69; F=59 or below

Attendance and In-Class Participation Although I believe that as adults you should have control over your own education, attendance is vital to your success in this course. Much of your learning and work will take place in class, and you will be involved in discussing the readings in class. To fully comprehend and hopefully appreciate the texts, you should come to class fully prepared. This means you should have read the homework and completed any assignments for class.

You will be held accountable to the following attendance policy: 4 or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of FA (failure due to absences). If you have an excused absence—e.g., university-sponsored trip, doctor’s visit—you must provide verification to the course instructor, in writing, no later than one week after the absence occurs. Tardiness is disruptive and disrespectful to your peers and to the teacher. Every two instances of tardiness (defined as 5 minutes late or more) will be counted as one absence.

Daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities. There will be small group discussions during classes and other activities that will be part of this grade.

Reflection Journal—Every three weeks, you will find a news article that relates to a topic we have been discussing during the course of the semester. You will write a 500-750 journal entry talking about the ways that the article/event highlights the systems we discuss, and you will provide a brief discussion answering the question, “What can we do?” Overall, there will be five reflections.  

Short VideosEach week, I upload a brief (2:20) video to the Lillian E. Smith Center’s social media accounts. During the semester, you will produce four of these videos discussing aspects of Smith’s work or other texts we have read during the semester. Each video will consist of a script and the finished project. These are each about 200-300 words. You can find an example on Twitter.   

Lillian Smith Historical Marker Application—This will be an ongoing and collaborative project for the Lillian E. Smith Center. You will help to formulate materials for a historical marker celebrating the life and work of Lillian E. Smith. This will be a fluid assignment, but you will produce text, conduct research, and other items for the application.

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Tentative Schedule (Subject to Change)

DateText
Jan. 19Introduction and Syllabus
Jan. 21Watch Hal and Henry Jacobs Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence Read my graphic memoir on Smith*
Jan. 26“Introduction,” “Trembling Earth,” and “Letter to Mr. Hartley”
Jan. 28Behind the Drums
Feb. 2“Growing Into Freedom” and “Putting Away Childish Things”
Feb. 4Chicago Defender Columns
Feb. 9“Growing Plays: The Girl” and “Children Talking”
Feb. 11From Killers of the Dream
Feb. 16“The White Christian and His Conscience”*
Feb. 18From The Journey
Feb. 23“The Right Way is Not the Moderate Way”
Feb. 25“Buying A New World With Old Confederate Bills”*
March 2“Are We Still Buying a New World with Old Confederate Bills?”
March 4“The Crisis in the South”
March 9From Our Faces Our Words
March 11Caste Parts One and Two
March 16Caste Part Three
March 18Reading Day: No Classes
March 23Caste Part Four
March 25Caste Parts Five through Seven
March 30Charisse Burden-Stelly “Caste Does Not Explain Race”
April 1The New Jim Crow Introduction and Chapter One
April 6The New Jim Crow Chapters Two and Three
April 8Piedmont Symposium
April 13The New Jim Crow Chapters Four and Five
April 15The New Jim Crow Chapter Six
April 20Louder than A Riot “The Conspiracy Against Hip-Hop” and “The Camouflage Assassin: Mac Phipps (Pt.1)”
April 22Louder than A Riot “The Camouflage Assassin: Mac Phipps” Parts two and three
April 27Louder than A Riot “Prison to Prison Pipeline: Isis the Saviour” and “Captured by the Game: Nipsey Hussle”
April 29Discuss Ava Durveney’s 13th  
May 4Wrap up
May 11Final Exam Time

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