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Killers of the Dream

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  391 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Published to wide controversy, it became the source (acknowledged or unacknowledged) of much of our thinking about race relations and was for many a catalyst for the civil rights movement. It remains the most courageous, insightful, and eloquent critique of the pre-1960s South.

"I began to see racism and its rituals of segregation as a symptom of a grave illness," Smith wro
Paperback, 272 pages
Published July 17th 1994 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1949)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book offers perhaps the most profound and yet concise explanation of the origins of 'white supremacy' -- as a concept, a practice, and even a legal framework at one time in our country. She has taken an extremely complicated issue and presented it in a way that is easy to follow, makes a great deal of sense, and I think it should be national required reading, for ALL ages.
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the fact that his book was originally published in 1949 -- and the version I read included a letter from the author to her publisher acknowledging a few updates and two new chapters added in 1963 -- it remains a remarkable and stark account of the twisted and conflicted psyche of the South and how that both permitted slavery, and following its abolition, the quick derailment of Reconstruction and establishment of the longstanding and thoroughly twisted Jim Crow "solution" to the "negro p ...more
Garrett Peace
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Just an amazing explication of the connections between segregation, Southern religion, and Southern identity. Gets a little too Freudian at times and becomes kind of a rallying cry near the end, in ways that made me feel like I was being talked down to. But I’m also not her specific audience of the time, and there are aspects of this book that are certainly of their time. The rest of it, though, feels incredibly relevant, both for an understanding of the South and an understanding of the United ...more
Aaron Gertler
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A very strange book -- strange in the way that only books written a long time ago, or very far away, can be strange. Smith's writing lets us deep inside her mind, into a world where the steady growth of Communism was an existential threat, and where Freudian theories could be spoken without irony or hesitance. I don't know how Smith's story of the South, and her explanation of the region's mindset, is propaganda, but she manages to remain fairly convincing even during her wildest flights of fanc ...more
dead letter office
Mar 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is interesting mostly as a look at person who wrote it. I'd been mostly in the dark as to the activities of the vocal minority of anti-segregation white southerners of the 40's and 50's. It's powerfully dated in its fixation on Freud and Communism and in her insistent use of extravagant metaphor (she devotes an entire unreadable early chapter to an allegorical play allegedly put on at a summer camp by the world's most articulate, race-conscious, reflective, melodramatic, and generally Lilia ...more
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
i always find it interesting and awfully sad that books written during/around the heights of the civil rights movement are still so damned spot-on about how incredibly racist America is... Smith's personal-slash-historical/factual rendering of life in the South under a racist government is appallingly real and still pertinent... nothing new or amazingly analytical, which in no way blunts her narrative... at times, white America has undervalued, even ignored, the personal/the memoir/the storytell ...more
Jul 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Best book ever to understand how politics in America came to be and is still hobbled by Southern States; not all the time, Clinton broke through. But Smith shows why the animosity and now, overt hatred to Obama. In hobbleling us, the south has even more grossly hobbled itself.
Josephine Ensign
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and disturbing read about the (continuing) consequences of white supremacy and other legacies of the American South. A few favorite quotes: "...for nearly two centuries, white supremacy and Christian asceticism of a crude naive kind combined with isolation and poverty to destroy the vast talent that was dormant..." p. 217 And, "Even now, much of our best talent goes into what F. L. Lucas calls 'stained-glass writing,' which shuts out the glare of the turmoil in man's soul and his w ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book offers an insightful and sometimes astounding look at the factors that contribute to segregation and racism. Smith probes the painful questions about WHY someone could function as a decent, compassionate, and 'good' person in many regards, yet either condone or quietly ignore horrible injustices. She shines an uncomfortable light on the damage caused by the taboo against speaking up or questioning tradition.
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal. Lillian Smith probes with sharp criticism the pre-1960s southern way of life. This book is at times soulful diary, at times insightful diatribe. With masterful introspection, she looks beyond her own identity to explore the link between sexual and racial discrimination. Really, this is simply beautiful writing explaining a thoughtful analysis of human behavior. Recommend to everyone.
Gina Braun
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was one of the first that I read when I was trying to understand the complicated world of racism and how I fit into it. Written so long ago, it’s one of the most honest looks at racism as a white person. Lillian is one of the original anti racists. Such an important read for every white person.
Stacey Adams
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book should be read in every school in the South (the Country in fact). It is as relevant in 2019 as it was in 1949 when it was published. Having lived in the South most of my life; it put into words so many feelings I've had - mostly trying to understand people in my life who were so loving to me, but could be so excepting of hatred and ugliness around them.
Tiffany Chang
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The only book I believe I’ve ever read that addresses SYSTEMIC racism and oppression on African Americans, women and colonies alike.
ALSO the only book the calls out the American interpretation of religion and politicians’ bullshit.
That being said, the writing can be too ramble-y and metaphorical at the point that I would wonder what the author’s point was.
Leo Rain
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erin Curley
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful book, many things reminded me of the politics we are in today. Kind of slow and confusing at parts but a worthy read
I learned history I did not know. Like her message, her writing style is compelling.
Debbie J
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Killers of the Dream, published in 1949, frequently shows its age. Its basic ideas, however, may still resonate with readers whose viewpoints lean toward the progressive end of the political spectrum.

It’s a powerful work written by a Southern woman whose comparatively privileged upbringing had afforded her a certain advantageous vantage point. Her socioeconomic status--plus a few years spent teaching in China--enabled her to view and assess her fellow Southerners’ historical foibles with a criti
Published in 1949, a powerful critique of society in the South: segregation, sin, sexual mores and so on.

Lillian Smith pointed out, for example, how the same parents and models who taught her morals and what she knew "of tenderness and love and compassion" taught her "the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their 'place.'" They taught her also "to split my conscience from my acts and Christianity from southern tradition."

The "special southern trauma in which segregation not only divided the race
Michael David
When I watched the first season of True Detective about two years ago, I was impressed and appalled at the presentation of the uncanny nature of the Deep South. Having read most of Faulkner's novels, I'd been wondering whether the South in the United States was made perverse by his descriptions.

As Lillian Smith points out, the greatest Southern writers actually painted a picture of Southern culture extremely accurately. The South was full of grotesqueries because it tried to portray Southern 'c
Nov 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: recently-read
I'm working on a project that focuses on white Georgia women during the Progressive era in which I'm trying to untangle views on race, so, although I'm ashamed to admit that although I'd never before read Lillian Smith's books, I wanted to read her reflections on race in her home region. Although she is writing in the late 1940s, her reflections in this book about her childhood were helpful. Overall, the book is a painful commentary of a white woman in the South struggling to understand race rel ...more
Mar 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in race and gender in the US
Shelves: booksofthepast
This book reminds me that fighting for justice (and writing for it, speaking for it, singing for it, LIVING for it) is an integral component of a complete life for me. Smith inspires me. A woman of vision, she displayed a precient understanding of the complexities of Southern society during her lifetime. Written in 1949, this book was a precursor of and inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement, exposing the moral and social cost of racial segregation, gender discrimination, and sexual oppressio ...more
Feb 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe I didn't read this book years ago. It's probably only because I'm in grad school that I count this as 'fun' reading, because it's a social analysis of the South. It's a little dry, but not entirely, and the writing feels a bit dated style-wise (this was originally published in the 40s). However, I thought it was fascinating as an attempt to explain the worst parts of the South's history and continuing wounds of racism and segregation. Lillian Smith is from the Florida panhandle o ...more
Mar 29, 2009 rated it liked it
This was the first book on the syllabus for ENG/Women's Studies 307, (100 years of Southern Women Writers), in which I am serving as a graduate-level TA. It seemed too dry and abstract at first, but, as we progressed into novels by black women writers like Alice Walker and autobiographical writing by Zora Neale Hurston and others, it proved to serve as a good background about the ways of thinking in the segregated south.
Joanna Hamadeh
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Amazing deconstruction of the collective social psychology of the racist white south. Although written in 1949, it feels uncomfortably current. It is a difficult book to review. It is filled with parables and metaphors that comment on the role that religion, white classism, the collective shame of slavery, gender roles, sexuality and the false construction of "whiteness" has played in the creation of a culture of hatred and violence.
Cynthia Kepler-Karrer
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Changed my life in seminary and gave perspective to my own upbringing (which was far more Lillian Smith-like than Southern). I keep returning to the first chapters and the sense of futility expressed by her camper, especially after the experience of the play--not out of some masochistic tendency, but because I know that it will always take strength to speak out against racism. It helps me to name what we're up against (which has expanded in the years since the publication).
Craig Amason
Feb 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-shelf, favorites
I should have read this book in college. It is beautifully written, with some of the most effective metaphors in nonfiction I have ever read. Nancy Smith Fichter, a niece of Lillian Smith, is now running the Lillian Smith Center near Clayton, Georgia, as a writer's retreat. Nancy and her husband, Robert, are doing a fine job of keeping the dream alive.
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a book, written in the 40's, by an immensely gifted author, who I feel has never gotten the attention, accolades and required reading that she so richly deserves. She is a southern woman,so aware of the struggle that was swallowing the South and how hated and feared were the black male and female. A must to any student of history.
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This book is so great. Read it for my history class on southern women from the nineteenth century. It's heavily based on psychoanalysis. Lillian Smith writes with a provocative language as she attempts to explain the sickness of the south during the Jim Crow Era. This book definitely makes you think!
Sep 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I had forgotten I read this book until I saw it on my bookshelf yesterday. I read it for an American Studies class when I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama (1988-1992), and part of my Women's Studies minor. Rose Gladney was my American Studies professor for the class, and was an amazing teacher.
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Lillian Smith was a writer and social critic of the Southern United States, known best for her best-selling novel Strange Fruit (1944). A white woman who openly embraced controversial positions on matters of race and gender equality, she was a southern liberal unafraid to criticize segregation and work toward the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, at a time when such actions almost guaranteed social os ...more

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