This volume collects Lillian Smith's speeches and essays, under three headings. In "Addressed to the South," they are a historical record of segregation and the opposition to segregation. In "Words That Chain Us and Words That Set Us Free," they discuss the power of language to change political and social situations, the necessity of respect for people's differences, the groping for meaning that we do, and the political role of the creative person. The speeches and essays in "Of Women, Men, and Autobiography" deal with such topics as the difference in experience of women and men, the power and powerlessness of women, and the complexities of autobiographical truth.
"Wasn't it really we who were problems to them?" Lillian Smith (189%1966) was one of the hardy few to speak for the Negro's humanity in the segregated South, and speak she did - in articles and especially speeches - even before the furor over Strange Fruit (1944), her novel of black/white love, and throughout the violent confrontations to come. Some of her audiences were small, insular, edgy, but - as Paula Snelling notes in her tidy introduction - "hungering to hear such words said aloud." The selections, arranged in three chronological groups, reflect both changing priorities and Smith's ever-enlarging views: in 1944, counseling against stereotypes, she lists steps to foster interracial friendships ("And pay your cook more wages"); in 1961, after Charlayne Hunter has been stoned at the University of Georgia, she advises students at nearby Emory: "Your best protection against mobs. . . is for everyone to think for himself and be different, to vary in beliefs, and to avoid the worshipping of idols." By idols she means - pace Ernst Cassirer - products of the extrapolating, homogenizing "mythic mind" which, against reason, makes all whites White, all blacks Black. She is also movlng from the issue of race into direct engagement with human experience-and foremost a woman's experience. Early on, she had expressed proto-feminist views ("proto" with reference, like editor Cliff, to the discontinuity of feminist thought); and she had written of herself - as a young, tradition-bound Southerner - in Killers of the Dream. Fighting cancer, she began to write her life story: "The Mysteries of Autobiography as title? Perhaps." And many readers will find her observations on autobiography - on why "no woman has yet written a great autobiography" (though women are great diarists), on the multiple, conflicting selves ("Call Me Ishmael") - to be, though brief, as valuable as anything in the book. But her real subject, in any case, was not race but human dignity and the power of ideas. (Kirkus Reviews)