Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lillian E. Smith: Part II

On March 10, 1956, Lillian Smith wrote a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. She told him how much she admired his work and how she thought that King’s approach would be successful. She tells King that she would like to have the opportunity to meet him, and she offers her encouragement to the movement. Along with all of this, Smith also noted, as she did in speeches such as “The Right Way is Not the Moderate Way,” the effects that King’s work and the work of so many others would have on the white psyche. She writes for King to tell those in Montgomery, “I, too, am working as hard as I can to bring insight to the white group; to try to open their hearts to the great harm that segregation inflicts not only on Negroes but on white people too.”

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Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lillian E. Smith: Part I

On February 4, 1968, two months before his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “The Drum Major Instinct” at Ebenezer Baptist Church. During the sermon, King pointed out that the drum major instinct can lead to “tragic race prejudice.” On this point, he continued, “Many have written about this problem—Lillian Smith used to say it beautifully in some of her books. And she would say it to the point of getting men and women to see the source of the problem.”

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The Official Record in Van Jensen and Nate Powell's "Two Dead"

The back matter of Van Jensen and Nate Powell’s new book, Two Dead, describes it as, “at once a white-knuckled and unputdownable thriller, a roman à clef inspired by true events, and a book about post-traumatic stress disorder and the underlying social traumas of how war and segregation affect their survivors on all fronts.” Today, I want to look at a brief section from Two Dead and discuss the ways that the section, as a microcosm of the whole, highlights the “underlying social traumas” created by racism. I will not give too much of the plot away, but I will provide enough to understand the discussion.

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