I always enjoy teaching the Lillian E. Smith Studies Course. This semester will be my third time teaching it, and each time I try and connect Smith’s work with the present moment. Typically, I try to work in connection with student interests, since the class is relatively small, when choosing texts. Last year, we did Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and NPR’s podcast Louder than a Riot specifically because the students in the course were planning to go to law school. This semester, I wasn’t sure who was taking the course, so I chose texts based off of other connections. As a result, I chose works by Anthea Butler, Keisha Blain, and Elizabeth Gillespie McRae. Each of these scholars connect with Smith’s work through their examination of religion, politics, education, and more. As well, I changed the student assignment this semester, providing a space to expand the pedagogical impact of Smith in the classroom by adding to the LES Center’s LibGuide.

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 various issues such as evangelicalism, school desegregation, and ongoing fights for social justice. We’ll read Fannie Lou Hamer, Keisha Blain, Anthea Butler, and Elizabeth Gillespie McRae alongside Smith as they discuss these issues and much more. Each of these authors 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.
• Blain, Keisha. Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America, 2021.
• Butler, Anthea. White Evangelical Racism, 2021.
• McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie. Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy, 2018.

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.

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.  

LibGuide EntryThe LES Center has a LibGuide (Library Guide) that provides educators with resources to teach Lillian Smith. These resources include contextual items, questions, and possible activities. During the course of the semester, we will work collaboratively to create a new LibGuide entry to add to the site.    

Lillian Smith Reflection Essay—At the end of the semester, you must write a 1,500-2,000 word essay reflecting on what we have read and discussed this semester and how you will take what you have learned in this course and apply it in your future endeavors. This can be a creative text, but it must have four-five secondary sources to support your positions. We will discuss this during the semester.  

Tentative Schedule (Subject to Change)

DateText
Jan. 11Introduction and Syllabus
Jan. 13Watch Hal and Henry Jacobs Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence
Read my graphic memoir on Smith*
Jan. 18“Introduction,” “Trembling Earth,” and “Letter to Mr. Hartley”
Jan. 20Behind the Drums
Jan. 25“Growing Into Freedom” and “Putting Away Childish Things”
Jan. 27Chicago Defender Columns
Feb. 1“Growing Plays: The Girl” and “Children Talking”
Feb. 3From Killers of the Dream
Feb. 8From The Journey
Feb. 10“The Right Way is Not a Moderate Way”
Feb. 15“Buying A New World With Old Confederate Bills”*
Feb. 17“Are We Still Buying a New World with Old Confederate Bills?”
Feb. 22“The Crisis in the South”
Feb. 24From Our Faces Our Words
March 1From Now is the Time “The Ordeal of Southern Women”*
March 3Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
March 8Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
March 10Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
March 15Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy
March 17“The White Christian and His Conscience”*
March 22White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America
March 24White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America
March 29White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America
March 31Selection from Killers of the Dream
April 5Fannie Lou Hamer “We’re On Our Way”
April 7Fannie Lou Hamer “Testimony Before the Credentials Committee, DN 1964”
April 12Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message to America
April 14Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message to America
April 19Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message to America
April 21TBD
April 26TBD
April 28Final Exam Time

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