Comment on a minority; Lillian Smith
Comments on a minority I came from north Florida. I was born in a small town whose population was at about half and half negro and white. Perhaps a few more Negroes in the town and white people. Therefore I think you might say that I was born in the Deep South and I was like that of a little smitten writer a mill author of strange fruit on a controversy all bestsellers which will be translated into a number of foreign languages but missed methods not primarily study on her writing and I use up all of her own views of the segregated wing as it exists and the shouting in the killers of the dream. In the interview recorded it hurt like a Georgia home. Three members reviewed her opinion and the background to those opinions even when I was very Today programme. We hear portions of the dissent and protected. I became aware of the fact that I lived in a town where there were invisible walls. And that those walls meant a great deal to everybody in the time. I think I
found it out in church and when I was quite small when I realized that my little college playmates and every seventh child. Had colored playmate that they didn't go to my church that in my nice big church were only white people white faces not I didn't talk to myself about it in would I don't think a child does that. I I felt it and I wondered about it and I wanted to ask questions but I was afraid to as children always ah when there is something mysterious in the home or in the town or in the culture of course as a child I didn't know the word culture but I knew there was something mysterious happening in our town and I wanted to ask questions about it. I also realized that these invisible walls were up. When after playing with my little colored
friends as freely but always in the back yard I was told that I was too old to have little colored friends. And what age does this occur. Oh it must have been about 9 or 10 I'd say. And I remember saying Why mother why Dad why does this why is this true. And always the answer was you're too young to know. But some day you will understand that it's impossible for you to continue to see you a little playmate. And this this deeply troubled me it it it hurt on OWN a very personal level of my life the level of friendship. And I didn't understand I didn't know what it was about. Because at the same time that. These invisible walls were being constructed between me and the world or much of the world. I was also being trained to be a good little American. I was always told that. Democracy is a wonderful thing
and I was also told that you must do. Treat everyone decently and with courtesy because all people are human beings. And although I was told that and also that as a Christian one believes in kindness and brotherhood. And so I was learning the lessons of the Christian religion and the lessons of democracy. But at the same time I was learning the lessons of segregation between the two races and even as a small child. Although I don't think I was a precocious child. But even when I was very young I knew that there was a discrepancy and discrepancy here a sort of dichotomy. I didn't know that word either when I was a little girl. But anyway I knew there was a big hole between these beliefs and that you couldn't cross it that there was no bridge that went across. And here you could believe in love and. Love and brotherhood and you could believe
in democracy and all men are born equal and at the same time you could believe in segregation and it troubled me deeply. So that I think even when I was a small child. I stayed very wide open and I began to see small cruelties and humiliations that I couldn't quite take for granted. And the letter I received from you few days ago. Well I'd like to quote from the letter and ask you to. Elaborate a little bit. You said that I was the problem has been to me first A Maryland psychological one second an economic one. It is of course as our all important human problems a problem and Depp's. One that can begin almost anywhere with economics climate geography history cultural patterns religious beliefs about the body image psychological entanglements between the two races and one comes out with the whole problem of human relations and one's hand.
Would you care to develop the idea of the moral and psychological lecture of the problem. Let's take it from the point of view of the negro who is also a human being and his experiences under the pattern of segregation have been extremely humiliating. They have also inevitably around most deep fears in him in the white person I think anxiety is aroused I think in the Negro. Fear is a rouse I think there's a difference there because a negro has specific objects that he is afraid of he is afraid of the power of the white man he is afraid of certain groups of hoodlums and he's afraid of the kyu Klux Klan and he's afraid of. The delinquents or criminals who may use it as a excuse a
race to inflict harm on him but psychologically. I feel that he had been deeply injured on the basis of self esteem. A person who is always reminded that he is second class when of course he isn't second class but who is told that he belongs to a second class group. He must always be pushed back a bit. You must always sit at the back of the street car or sit at the back of the bus or go in the side entrance called Khaled. That person is deeply injured psychologically. Now the person who does that to him is injured psychologically too. It works both ways. Shame and despair steam will destroy a child's. Strength. I could almost say his ego strength but arrow guns will destroy
the quality. Oh of of a white person too. So when I say psychologically I feel that both the right person and the colored person Saul's than not right. I have been injured by segregation in different ways. Now I think another relationship that has injured us psychologically has been the fact that in the south. We who are white and we who are colored. I have personal relationships with each other and have always had for 200 years. Some of these relationships have been relationships of friends some of them have been the relationship of employer and employee. Some of these relationships have been more intimate than that. That is the white child with a colored nose and that colored nurse acting out the role of substitute mother. That is a very
intimate relationship and the child is deeply influenced by that. But it is also a relationship of love. And and yet at the same time a relationship of deceased D. It writes It was taught to love this woman who made all decisions for when she was small. At the same time she was taught that he is not quite as good as you are and you must always be pushed back a little bit given a handkerchief on her birthday patted on the shoulder looked at in her old age but never invited to sit in the living room and never call out by a tattle of Mrs. So-and-So. Now this this injured the white child. On the Myra level I feel because I think a tender intimate relationship that holds in it does esteem and humiliation
is a very dangerous kind of relationship. Psychologically and does great hom too. I would say first the right child and then to the colored woman who had to assume the responsibility for that watch out. Now I have taken that very seriously because. Often people will argue back at me and say oh but only a certain number of people could afford nurses in the south. But in the old days I remembered that the cost of a New Year's was a dollar and a half a week. And so quite a few people could afford to have nurses for their children and whether it is percentage wise a small group of a large group symbolically it has been very important in the south and we human beings love our symbols you know and can't do without them. And then that other intimate relationship which I think we cannot evade. It's a relationship of sex and sometimes even love between.
Men of the South and colored women of the south and as we know historically this existed and and and existed. Among large numbers of our people and that was a relationship of deceased Diem to the U.S. and also a relationship of of guilt and guilt. We human beings I think it's wonderful that we can feel guilt but a guilt that we don't understand and a guilt that is suppressed in US does us great psychological harm when we can bring it out and say yes I should feel guilty about this thing that I've done because a thing is wrong. But now that kind of guilt can help us grow. But the kind of guilt there is very big and we can find no name for and we find instead curious rationalizations for that kind of guilt can hurt us Marlie and psychologically. And the curious
thing about all of this is. That. It it digs another chasm. Not only between Negroes and whites were inside the white person's own mind. We have a chasm that we won't bridge. We won't quite admit that these things happen. And so instead we build up anxiety and guilt feelings and. A desire not to think about it clearly. And so I feel that the mind of the South has been injured by segregation because of all of these dark out a million ambivalence is an ambiguity is that had been created by our attitude and built up by our actions. So I feel that we really have been hurt by it. When asked to discuss mob violence in the south mismeasure replied Now I think we have three mobs in the south and I would be quite willing to say you know I have to take up for
the south every once in a while. I think those three mobs in other parts of the country too. Now there is one mob that is easy to see because its a noisy mob and is out on the street. Its the mob that caused the trouble. One of the mobs that caused the trouble in Little Rock last year is the hoodlums. They are the delinquents the criminals who are given a. Call as you know we love to talk about the Rebel Without A Cause whereas a criminal with a cause is a pretty dangerous person and if that cause he thinks so is a cause that is shared by the non-criminal group and they in the community he can get a way with murder and I mean middle you know the word he can become the hoodlums on the street who I shoot down a man who indulges in and physical violence or who dynamite somebodies house or something.
Now we have this Hudler mob in the sauce and this isn't always a mob on the street but that mob couldnt go very far unless it had the protection of another mob and it does have the protection of this mob and this is mob number two. And this mob is made up of much quieter people often very well-bred people who have great economic power often and social power and economic political power. This is mob number two this mob is made up of businessman bankers sometimes of preachers and lawyers professional people. Who are deep play. Just about any change being made in the status quo. Therefore they quietly protect they the hoodlums
mob. Many of these people are in the White Citizens Council in the south and as you have you know I'm sure many of our most prominent citizens. Members of the White Citizens Councils this mob is a very dangerous mob These are the men who see that the teacher is fired if she happens to discuss segregation and have classroom. These are the men who say that the preacher is fired if he preaches a sermon that is too frank and candid about this segregation. These people are on the boards of education. They are our own disturbed the birds of the towns and cities. They are the people who can put the quiet pressure on they can. They are in the banks and they can see that the negro does not get along when he needs a loan because he has spoken up against segregation and they can also see that the white man doesn't get along when he needs a loan if
he is speaking up against segregation. Now this is a very powerful mob and it is very active in the south today. These people have graduates of our universities some of my graduates of Harvard and Yale and Princeton quite a few of them are they. They are men. Often who buy their clothes from Brooks Brothers. And they yeah. A speaking cultivated of bosses and they keep their voices low but they keep their hands in their hip pocket where their power. Lies and they can jerk out that power. And use it against everybody any time they want to because they can throw things economically. Mob is a nice word to use about these. Prominent and influential businessmen of our American communities but in a sense they are a mob because they are dominated by fear and anxiety. Now mob number three is a different mob
mob number two couldn't get very far if they didn't have the vote of mob number one. And if mob number one didn't purchase their products by the same time mob number two would not go very far. If it were not for mob number three now mob number three is the mob inside our own mind. And you see this working so well in the south that it isn't because I want to criticize the south it's because it is so plain to see that I use the South as an illustration. This is the mob thinking. People even the best educated people of the South there is anxiety in people's minds and minds. They are afraid of fears that they cannot name. They are afraid of changing things down here in the south. We have fears and we have anxieties that we have not come to terms with
and that we cannot define and that we cannot give names do now so often my friends will say sensitive people well educated people people of goodwill who would never go out on the street in a street mob and who would never exert the pressures that a boycott and a reprisal that some of our industrial powerful people do exert. Now lets take. Some of the other side church women church men professional people even writers in the stars and we writers and artists call ourselves free people and we say that we we write what we want to write and we say what we want to say but do we always are I'm not sure that we do because of this invisible mob working in us do we are afraid of something vague that may happen and we don't know what it is. A friend was up here visiting me not long ago and he said I agree with
everything you stand for. I too am opposed to segregation. I see that white people just as much as does college people. I see that the South will be more prosperous when we put every man to work every woman to work regardless of color and so on. I see all of this. I understand the economic roots the historical roots of this problem the political roots of this problem. But I'm still afraid. And I said What are you afraid of. He said I don't quite know. I'm afraid of the mob number one on the street the libs who made dynamite man out. Yes I'm afraid I may lose my job if I don't lose. I may be demoted. Maybe next year I could become vice president of my firm but I won't become vice president. I'm after. If I take an open stand. On this question and so I just don't take it up and I'm just afraid now those are real fears but he said I'm afraid of something else too I'm just
afraid period. And I don't quite know what it is I'm afraid of. Have you been subjected to threats of violence or violence and so forth. Oh yes. I doubt that there are any outspoken saw the No. Why don't Cullen has failed to be. Bullied a bit and smothered and injured. I've had of course my full share of anonymous phone calls and my full share and not a not a local calls I've never had an anonymous phone call locally. But I have had many from other Tom since it is and and I've had rather nasty calls from other sections of the country to anonymous phone calls as far west ads say as Arizona. And and these calls often and nothing but. You know obscenities.
I simply made to insult you and to humiliate you and do. It to shake you up a bit. And some of them have been threat veiled threats that sort of thing. There has been no during the last year and I have a rather carefully. All good no attempt made. By some a few prominent businessman. Out of the South to smear me as a communist although they're perfectly aware of the fact that I've always taken a very strong position against communism as being another form of totalitarianism and I've often said I know what totalitarianism is. Having lived on the dominant idea like white supremacy and so I know what another dominant idea can do to you also. But now this can be very dangerous of course because when you are. Call.
A communist as I have been by these anonymous letters I have been sent to as many as 50000 people the same letter and no little innuendos. A carefully worded so that is not libelous and I can't sue them but they have done this and it can be very dangerous some of those letters have come into my home town that I know of too and they have gone. They have been very widely distributed in the south. Now what you would say now what is that for. That is a very evil thing because just to give the green light to the hoodlums and if the hoodlums. Do it he feels that he can now put the stick of dynamite where it will come out and most. And these letters are very dangerous and very evil when they're sent out. And as for instance there's a man in Texas. A multi-millionaire who is
underwriting a great many of these efforts in the south. I don't know why he's doing it. Maybe he's a sick man. Maybe he's a hater and maybe he's indulging his hate because he has a lot of money and he can do it and he can have fun stirring up you know. So to through terror in the minds of many people I don't know what his real reason is but I do know that he has underwritten many of these little projects that. Are stirring in the south today. I never have been shot at yet that I know of I didn't hear the pistol shot if. I was and. I've had some pretty bad things happen as a writer I think the things that hurt me the most are somehow an anonymous threat doesn't scare me very much. But what does bother me is is
to feel a kind of smothering going on you know a writer likes to write and likes to be read and likes to be heard. I think artists want the paintings looked at. And musicians want their music listened to and a writer wants how books read. And there have been throughout the South a good bit of very quiet boycotting of all of my writings and know that that troubles me. But I don't think anything has happened to me that is more dramatic of worst than it has and it has happened to many other white people who have taken a position like this I think you have to expect this. If you if you are trying to change your own situation and it is a great deal of fear and anxiety and hysteria everywhere and you take a position against a crowd and in other words you become a deviant. You see and you you do deviate and
all deviation ist should be punished. You know that's sort of the the world's view at the present time. And so they try to punish you that sold you not as particularly a martyr or anything like that you just have to take it. And our discussion earlier before the recording session broke the subject of the relationship between the southern state and the federal government. In this instance personified through the ledge at the judicial branch the Supreme Court you termed the situation as being an open door. Would you like to recap what you said at that time. Thank God for the Supreme Court and without the Supreme Court and without the Constitution. It was that everything that the Supreme Court stands for and symbolizes. I don't know where we would be today in the south. We would be in a state of terror. I feel
sure there would be tremendous violence. There would be widespread violence. There would be panic. There would be an AK and we would have really nothing that free people cherish because there's Supreme Court and the Constitution which it supports and defends and explains this. This is the open door that keeps giving us a glimpse of the fact that we our citizens are the largest democracy on earth and the most powerful one and that we do have rights as human beings and that state is southern states and officials of the Southern States cannot take these rights completely away from us now they have tried to do in many ways. And today we who live in the rock in the SOLs as citizens are
not as free as people who live in other parts of the country. And these rights have not been taken away by the Supreme Court. What about Washington. But these rights have been taken away by our governors and sometimes AND I WAS cities by mayors and chiefs of police and so on. And you know specifically would you like to list some of these rights. OK. Where we almost lost completely the right of free speech in the south. It's very hard for a citizen now to speak his real opinion on this subject. Of segregation. If you are a teacher and you speak it in the school room where you certainly have a right to discuss human problems or you will lose your job. And you will not be protected by any force in your state except a limited public opinion. But you can't appeal to the Supreme Court if you won't tell us is the open door.
And this is really the open door and it gives some of us a tremendous sense of security to know that those nine marvelous judges are still there and will look after our law. Right a bit if we appeal to them and this is a good thing. Thank you Ms Smith. You have been listening to comments on a minority. Today we heard Mr. little Ian Smith a noted writer on Southern themes as she discussed her own opinions regarding the status of Negro white relations in the south. These comments were taken from a longer interview recorded by our producer E-W Richter in Miss Smith mountaintop home in Clayton Georgia during the summer of 1958. This interview was made in connection with the production of the last citizen. The Negro in America a series of radio program produced under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center went by to join us again next week when our guest will be the executive director of the Southern Regional Council Mr. Harold Fleming the Southern Regional Council is a nonprofit organization which has been quietly working in the area of race
relations in the south for many years. Mr. Fleming will tell us something about the quandary in which the southern eye finds themselves comments on a minority has produced and recorded by radio station WABE a Purdue University. This is the end of the Radio Network.
- Comment on a minority
- Lillian Smith
- Producing Organization
- Purdue University
- WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program features an interview with Lillian Smith, a writer and social critic.
- Series Description
- This series explores minority issues in the United States in the mid-20th century.
- Broadcast Date
- Social Issues
- Media type
Guest: Smith, Lillian Eugenia, 1897-1966
Interviewer: Thompson, Ben
Producer: Richter, E.W.
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 60-51-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Comment on a minority; Lillian Smith,” 1960-10-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-db7vrc71.
- MLA: “Comment on a minority; Lillian Smith.” 1960-10-24. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-db7vrc71>.
- APA: Comment on a minority; Lillian Smith. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-db7vrc71