Lillian Eugenia Smith was born in Jasper, Florida in 1897. When her father's Florida businesses failed in 1915, the Smith family came to Rabun County, Georgia, where her father had recently acquired property on Screamer Mountain and where he opened a summer camp for girls. At first Lillian worked with her family to create the camp, but with her father's blessing, she soon became the owner and director of Laurel Falls Camp for Girls. This institution continued until 1949 and developed quite a reputation for being a progressive and well-rounded camp for young women, not only throughout the South, but across the country.
Lillian Smith emerged in the 1940s at the forefront of the Southern debate on segregation, where she was at least a decade ahead of other white liberals and stood virtually alone in calling for an immediate end to segregation laws and practices. Meanwhile, she was developing her talents as a fiction-writer. Her 1944 debut novel, Strange Fruit, was about a secret interracial love affair in a small Georgia town. In 1949 she published Killers of the Dream, a brilliant psychological and autobiographical work warning against the evils of segregation. Before her death in 1966, Smith would go on to publish several more books, fiction and nonfiction, and numerous articles and essays on social justice and racial equality, all of which were written from her home on Screamer Mountain.
Upon her death in 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr. called Lillian Smith "one of the brightest stars in the human firmament." Smith, a white Southern Civil Rights activist, worked tirelessly to combat racism and segregation. From 1925-1948, she ran Laurel Falls Camp for girls in Clayton, GA. There, she talked to campers about race, psychology, sex, and more.
At the camp, we discovered boxes of lacquer 78-rpm discs and magnetic tapes that Smith and her partner Paula Snelling recorded at the camp and during their travels. These records contain everything from plays that campers wrote for camp banquets to musical performances at HBCUs to stories about the camp's mythological Buss Eye.
The Lillian Smith Record Collection and LibGuide are resources for educators, scholars, and the public, providing a reservoir of insight into Smith's impact on countless women and their connections in the fight for social justice.
On this LibGuide, you will find resources, in the form of introductions, questions, possible activities, and other items for educators and others who want to explore some of the records that we discovered at the Lillian E. Smith Center.
These recordings are important to teaching, research, and the creation of new knowledge, art, and experience because they shine a never-before-seen light on Lillian Smith as director of Laurel Falls Camp for Girls. We have her letters and some of the plays she and the campers produced; however, these records provide audio recordings of the camp and some of the stories that we do not have, either published or unpublished, in the archives at the University of Georgia or the University of Florida.