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.
- 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.
- I will provide secondary readings as needed.
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%
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 Videos—Each 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.
Tentative Schedule (Subject to Change)
|Jan. 19||Introduction and Syllabus|
|Jan. 21||Watch 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. 28||Behind the Drums|
|Feb. 2||“Growing Into Freedom” and “Putting Away Childish Things”|
|Feb. 4||Chicago Defender Columns|
|Feb. 9||“Growing Plays: The Girl” and “Children Talking”|
|Feb. 11||From Killers of the Dream|
|Feb. 16||“The White Christian and His Conscience”*|
|Feb. 18||From 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 9||From Our Faces Our Words|
|March 11||Caste Parts One and Two|
|March 16||Caste Part Three|
|March 18||Reading Day: No Classes|
|March 23||Caste Part Four|
|March 25||Caste Parts Five through Seven|
|March 30||Charisse Burden-Stelly “Caste Does Not Explain Race”|
|April 1||The New Jim Crow Introduction and Chapter One|
|April 6||The New Jim Crow Chapters Two and Three|
|April 8||Piedmont Symposium|
|April 13||The New Jim Crow Chapters Four and Five|
|April 15||The New Jim Crow Chapter Six|
|April 20||Louder than A Riot “The Conspiracy Against Hip-Hop” and “The Camouflage Assassin: Mac Phipps (Pt.1)”|
|April 22||Louder than A Riot “The Camouflage Assassin: Mac Phipps” Parts two and three|
|April 27||Louder than A Riot “Prison to Prison Pipeline: Isis the Saviour” and “Captured by the Game: Nipsey Hussle”|
|April 29||Discuss Ava Durveney’s 13th|
|May 4||Wrap up|
|May 11||Final Exam Time|