When we found the records in a closet, the first one we put on the turntable didn’t have a label. As the needle dropped into the groove, a laugh appeared through the speakers. A woman, in a ghastly, devilish voice cackled, “The wind blows hard. There is not light. A cold wind blows.” The woman said this a couple of times, and then she stopped and laughter arose from others in the room. At first, we thought this was Lillian and others testing the recorder, just messing around and having fun. However, after a trip to the Hargrett Special Collections Library at UGA to examine Lillian Smith’s papers, we discovered that the recording was part of a larger piece, a play without a title. Only “1940” appears at the top of the page, but after digging deeper, we discovered that this recording, and others that we have digitized, are recordings of “A Play for a Young Girl.”
The play arose during the summer of 1940 at Laurel Falls Camp. That season, the campers and counselors felt the gathering storm clouds of war. They enjoyed the normal camp activities, but during their talks, they discussed the impending war. Writing to Glenn Rainey in September 1940, Lillian Smith said of the campers that summer, “They were less tolerant of the Negro this summer . . . more inclined to defend the South . . . America . . . to hate Hitler and Germans.” The play arose from these conversations. It arose from the fears the campers felt at the time surrounding the encroaching war.
When they read the play, some of the counselors disapproved because they viewed it as “unpatriotic.” They thought the campers should not hear about such things. Smith decided to stop production on the play for that summer; however, one night things changed. As she detailed to Rainey, “I gathered my children up one night and we went to the library and Esther read it to them. . . . The children were deeply touched and profoundly impressed. A few counselors straggled in—I had invited none of them—and some told me afterward that they regretted we had given up the idea of producing the pay . . . But that was Esther’s and they did not really believe what thy said.”
It is important to thing about “A Play for a Young Girl” in relation to other plays from Laurel Falls Camps, specifically “Drums.” As well, it is important to think about how this play connects with Smith’s pacifism and her views on war, views she expressed when she wrote to her father from China in 1925. Seeing the violent clashes on warlords around her, she told him, “Personally I’ll go to prison before I’ll help in any way fighting another war.”
You can find Smith's letter to Rainey on the left-hand column.