I read Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith last week for my Freedom Stories class. It is a book about Southern culture originally written in 1949. So much of Lillian Smith's story still resonated with me as a southern woman. The "issues" might be a little different, but many of the premises are the same.
Below are some of the many quotes that stuck out to me. I suggest you read this one for yourself. It is powerful. It is not difficult to read, but some of its indictments might be difficult to swallow. See what you think...
"So many of us are sleep-walkers wandering around in search of a past that never existed; more afraid of ghosts than of atomic war, gazing backward at a Civil War fought a century ago instead of looking into the cold eye of the storm bearing down on us (18)."
"It is the apathy of white southerners that disturbs me; and may I add, this apathy is north and west of our region, too. There are so many people who are determined not to do wrong but equally determined not to do right. Thus they walk straight into Nothingness (21)."
"In the name of sacred womanhood, of purity, of preserving the home, lecherous old men and young ones, reeking with impurities...whipped up lynchings, organized Klans, burned crosses, aroused the poor and ignorant to wild excitement by an obscene, perverse imagery describing the 'menace' of Negro men hiding behind every cypress waiting to rape 'our' women (145)."
"...under the authoritarian system of white supremacy twisted up with Christian fundamentalism, they have been taught to believe one is disloyal when one makes any criticism of things as they are, even when one criticizes great evil (192)."
And quite possibly my favorite...
"In 1947, a young missionary wrote me this letter:
I wanted to stay in the South and help rid it of lynching and segregation. That is what I really wanted to do. But there was Mother...you know how disgraced she would have felt had I stayed and helped here. She would have died if she had seen me eating with a Negro...But she is proud of me now, going to Africa as a missionary. She calls me her 'missionary daughter' and gave a party last week in honor of my going. Mother's friends said they were proud of me too-going so far away to help Christianize Africa. And the president of the U.D.C. in our town is giving me a party next week; she's proud of me too. I am the only one ashamed.
Tonight I feel like a coward for I know I am needed here. My boat sails in two weeks. Maybe in some way over there I can show a little courage. I don't think I'm afraid for myself...it's Mother. I love her; I can't hurt her. How do you learn to hurt the people you love, even when you know they're wrong, for something you know is right? That is so hard.
Yes, it is so hard. And it is a hard thing too that the South has wasted this fine moral fervor by forcing it out of our region, saying there is no room for it here...Perhaps the wasting away of our people's talents and skills has been the South's greatest loss (214-5)."
After reading and discussing this book, I am left with so many thoughts. What am I not doing, speaking out against, or being involved with simply because I am afraid of what people might think? How am I apathetic? How is my Christianity tied up with and watered down by culture in ways I fail to see? How and why do Christians still find it easier to send gifted ministers out of our midst because they make us uncomfortable?
As I read the letter quoted above, I couldn't help but think, "We are still sending women to minister in Africa because we (generally speaking) don't want them in our pulpits!" It is, as Smith suggests, our loss, when we fail to embrace the prophets in our midst. And, it is, as the writer of the letter suggests, our loss when we fail to do what we feel convicted to do. We are "the only one(s) ashamed."