December 12

Lillian Smith

December 12, 1897 - Clayton

She was one of the first prominent white Southerners to denounce segregation, and she was a controversial figure all her life.

Lillian Smith was born in Florida in 1897 and moved to Georgia as a teenager. After a stint in China, she began to speak out against Jim Crow, calling segregation “spiritual lynching.”

From her home atop Screamer Mountain in Clayton, Smith held interracial conferences and published a magazine to give like-minded Southern writers, including African-Americans, a voice to speak out. She published her first book, Strange Fruit, in 1944, a novel about interracial love that attacked racism and sexism.

As a lesbian, Smith knew what it meant to be an outsider, and her 1949 autobiography Killers of the Dream was similarly controversial. Many Southerners were repelled by Smith and her writings, but she remained outspoken, and was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, calling the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision outlawing segregation “every child’s Magna Carta.”

The Georgia woman who fought all of her life for a South freed from the shackles of tradition was born on December 12, 1897, Today in Georgia History.