Recently, I wrote about the some of the episodes I’ve recorded for “Dope with Lime,” the Lillian E. Smith Center’s podcast series that I have been doing this past year. Today, I want to share with you the last three episodes of season two. These episodes include conversations with Benjamin Boswell, Rose Gladney, and Paul Kendrick. We talk about a wide range of topics from Lillian Smith, of course, to Christianity to the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis to the nine days that Martin Luther King, Jr. spent in jail because of his participation in the Atlanta sit-ins in October 1960. The conversations I had with each of these guests has been enlightening and invigorating.
Note: the following is the short piece I wrote for the latest issue of “A View from the Mountain.”
“Dope with Lime” Description
“Dope with Lime” is a production of the Lillian E. Smith Center at Piedmont College. Through interviews with scholars, artist residents, readers, and more, “Dope with Lime” discusses Lillian E. Smith’s life, work, and continued legacy.
“Dope with Lime” was a column that Lillian E. Smith wrote in the pages of the literary journal that she co-edited with her partner Paula Snelling. Colloquially, the phrase referred to cutting the sweetness of Coca-Cola with lime juice. In her columns, Smith would us satire and bite to comment on Southern life and letters. The column was, for all intents and purposes, blog and podcast like, relaying Smith’s thoughts in a conversational and witty manner.
Episode 13: Benjamin Boswell
In this episode, I spoke with the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Boswell. He is the pastor at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, and he is a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He also facilitates anti-racism training for whites entitled “What Does it mean to Be White?” Today, we will talk about Lillian Smith’s influence on his work, his anti-racism workshops, the connections between social justice work and religion, and Smith’s essay “The White Christian and His Conscience.”
Over the past year, I have been digging deeper into some of the ways that religion, and specifically Christianity, work to maintain white supremacy. This is something that Lillian Smith dealt with throughout her writing, even before Killers of the Dream (1949). Smith understood the ways that racism and hate split one’s psyche in twain, creating “logic-tight compartments” that separated the head and heart. In Killers of the Dream, she writes,
They did a thorough job of splitting the soul in two. They separated ideals from acts, beliefs from knowledge, and turned their children sometimes into exploiters but more often into moral weaklings who daydream about democracy and human dignity and freedom and integrity, yet cannot find the real desire to bring these dreams into reality; always they keep dreaming and hoping, and fearing, that the next generation will do it.
The splits that the “race-sex-sin spiral” create within individuals lead them to know right from wrong but also hinder them from acting when they see something wrong occur. Boswell points to this as the “psychic wound of slavery” that affects us and perpetuates whiteness. He continues by pointing out, as Smith does, that the institution of slavery and continued white supremacy “literally broke American Christianity.”
Episode 14: Rose Gladney
In this episode, I spoke with Dr. Rose Gladney, Professor Emerita of American Studies at the University of Alabama. She has published extensively on the life and work of Lillian Smith including How am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith and A Lillian Smith Reader which she co-edited with Lisa Hodgens. She has interviewed Paula Snelling, and Lillian’s relatives Esther Smith, Frank Smith, Annie Laurie Peeler, and Nancy Smith Fichter along with numerous former Laurel Falls campers. Today, we are going to talk to Rose about her work and Smith’s continued influence.
Gladney’s work has been extremely influential on my own because throughout her career she has been at the forefront of bringing Smith back into the public consciousness. During our conversation, Gladney talked extensively about going to college in Memphis and teaching at high schools in Memphis during the late 1960s. She details how she went to school seeking answers to the question that had rattled around in her mind for years: “Why do we still have racism?” Her teaching and involvement with the American Federation of Teachers, in part, answered that question.
Gladney details the backlash she received from administration about working with the AFT and calling for Civil Rights. She details getting to know Civil Rights activists such as Jim Lawson. She details her role in Debra Cleaves’ case where Cleaves, a senior at Northside High School, got suspended for participating in boycotts against inequality in Memphis in various sectors by not attending school on “Black Mondays,” days each week when students would protest by not attending school. All of this, and more, led to her life of fighting for social justice and civil rights for all.
Along with all of this, Gladney points out that Smith’s sister, Annie Laurie Peeler, played a major role in the creation of the Head Start program. As well, she highlights whey she keeps coming back to Smith’s The Journey (1954). She returns, again and again, because “it’s written out of a time in [Smith’s] life where she felt intensely her imminent death and what that meant that she was working through things that were so very much important to her.” In this manner, Smith spoke to all of humanity, focusing on her own mortality and the mortality of us all.
Episode 15: Paul Kendrick
In this episode, I spoke with Paul Kendrick. Paul and his father Stephen’s recent book, Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election, details King’s imprisonment in October 1960 during the Atlanta sit-ins and the effects that his arrest had on the 1960 presidential election. Rev. Otis Moss Jr., who took part in the sit-ins, calls Nine Days an “urgent, relevant, and historically accurate” book. Kendrick teaches at National Louis University in Chicago, he serves as the Executive Director of Rust Belt Rising, and he served in President Barack Obama’s White House Presidential Office. I talked with him about Nine Days, Lillian Smith’s connection to the events in October 1960, and more.
I had always heard about the role that Robert and John Kennedy played in getting King released from Reidsville in October 1960 and the ways that their assistance propelled John past Richard Nixon in the November election. What I did not know, until I started digging into the story and reading Nine Days, was Lillian Smith’s involvement in that moment and the roles that Black and white staff members in Kennedy’s campaign played to get King released. Over the course my discussion with Kendrick, we talked about all of these things, constructing the frame around the simplistic narrative that we typically receive of October 1960 in our history classes.
After I spoke with Kendrick, I started doing digging in newspapers from October 1960, learning more about the even that took place the weekend before the sit-ins on October 19. That weekend SNCC hosted a training session at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Atlanta, and Lillian Smith closed out the event. There, she delivered one of her most powerful speeches, “Are We Still Buying an New World With Old Confederate Bills?” She begins her speech by praising those in attendance and their commitment while also lamenting the lack of white students within the crowd. She said, “I regret that there are so few southern white students, as yet, working side by side with you; I am sorry they have not yet realized that segregation is their enemy also; that it harms their minds and souls as much as it does yours; that it blocks their freedom and their future as severely as it does yours.”
Looking at the newspaper articles, about 250 people attended, and some of the papers state that out of the 250 in attendance 10 white students from the South were there along with some from the North. Two of those students were Richard Ramsey and Constance “Connie” Curry who took part in the sit ins. This information is important to remember, especially when thinking about the ways that we relate history. When I grew up, I did not hear about any, in my recollections, whites on the ground who took part in the Civil Rights Movement, let alone any Southern whites. If I had known this, what impact would that have had on a white boy from the South who never thought about issues of race and oppression? How would my trajectory have changed? These are things are I ask when I learn about people like Curry, Ramsey, and others like them who stood alongside Black students in the fight for equality and equity.
Next post, I’ll talk about three more episodes, so stay tuned. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.