Georgia holds a central place in the story of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who fought for social justice and civil rights for black American citizens and continues to inspire change today. While his impact can be seen most obviously in Atlanta, from his birthplace to his legacy at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, his impact was also evident in northeast Georgia.
Lilian E. Smith, a white woman who ran a girls’ camp in Clayton, was a voice for desegregation, gender and racial equality and an outspoken supporter of the civil rights movement. Smith taught these ideas of racial equality in his camp and went on to write “Strange Fruit,” the bestselling novel surrounding an interracial relationship that defied racist norms.
Smith and King began corresponding in 1956, forming a friendship as they fought together for King’s dream: an America free of racism.
“King respected Smith, not just as a fellow anti-racist and civil rights activist,” wrote Matthew Teutsch, director of the Lillian E. Smith Center at the University of Piedmont, in an essay for the Afro-Intellectual History Society. American. “He respected her as a friend and she respected him as a friend.”
They both noted each other in key speeches and letters that fueled the civil rights movement, as in King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he writes Smith “wrote about our struggle in eloquent terms , prophetic and understanding”.
When King was arrested in Atlanta before being pardoned by President John. F. Kennedy, one piece of the story is omitted: he was in the car with Smith.
“We don’t understand that he was arrested, before the cop even knew who he was, for having Lillian Smith, a white woman and her friend, in the front seat with him,” Teutsch wrote for AAIHS. “We don’t understand that he was taking her to the hospital after having dinner together. We don’t understand that the two had a correspondence and a relationship. We need that part of the story. We need to see the work King and Smith did together, the thoughts they shared, the words they wrote to each other. We need their relationship in our memory.
As we reflect today on the legacy King left in the United States and around the world, remembering his impact in every corner of the country, Teutsch says we must remember the change he stood for. is beaten and how it was received.
“We have to remember the backlash that King faced in his lifetime,” Teutsch told Now Habersham. “I came across articles in my hometown newspaper, The Shreveport Times, about the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where writers said the march and the movement ignored the laws, laws that , as we know, subjugated black men, women and blacks. children to non-citizenship and oppression.
Teutsch tells Now Habersham to realize King’s dream, which he, Smith and so many other activists fought for, we must also recognize that the issues they pushed against are not ones that will disappear overnight.
“At the end of the day, we need [to] remember that to achieve the beloved community that King fought for, and I would say Lillian Smith fought for, we have to remember that the issues that King and Smith fought against don’t go away so easily says Teutsch. “As King said at the end of ‘A Testament of Hope’ when he connects civil rights activists to the Founders of the United States, ‘Today’s dissidents tell the complacent majority that the time is come where a new evasion of social responsibility in a turbulent world will court disaster and death. America hasn’t changed yet because so many people think it doesn’t need to change, but that’s the delusion of the damned.