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Killers of the Dream
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Killers of the Dream

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  308 Ratings  ·  33 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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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.
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
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.
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
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
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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 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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pamela Smith
Aug 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Lillian Smith's book has as much insight into the world of racism today as it did when it was written. She describes the South I grew up in and oftentimes the one I still live in. Though we've made some progress, we're far away from believing we're all one race - the human one.
Phil Overeem
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A book I should have been encouraged to read in high school. Smith's insights, though gleaned from the dark lessons of her Jim Crow Southern (white)/girlhood, still apply, I'm afraid, to the consciousness of many. Fiery, eloquent, shining writing. She has much to say about sexuality, too.
Sherry Chandler
Nov 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An important book in its time with an unfortunate relevance for current times, but I found her style too fraught and Freudian.

Though I suppose one could argue that the South of the early 20th century was fraught and Freudian.
Melissa Phuong
Sep 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To understand the present is to understand the past. The book was eye-opening and somehow is still relatable to today, surprisingly. Highly recommend this book if you want to understand the current social issues in America.
Apr 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Many of its reflections now seem outdated and even a little naive, but you have to respect how audacious this book must have been in 1949. The recognition that an oppressive culture dehumanizes everyone, even the privileged classes, is something that seems to be little understood even today.
Feb 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: uncspring2008
didactic but amazing how far this woman was ahead of her time.
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A great book that helps to understand the United States of America even today. Exquisitely written by a person of great insight.
Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Lillian Smith was brilliant and ahead of her time, but I found her stream of consciousness philosophical wanderings hard to follow.
Feb 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
by far the best book I have ever read on issues of segregation/racism/prejudice. shockingly enough, written by a white woman in the early 1940s... way ahead of her time.
Feb 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you've ever wondered what it meant to be a southerner in the early 20th century, read this book. I found found this book to be totally fascinating.
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An astonishing work of writing. A must read for all Americans.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an excellent book. I wish I had read it 40 years ago. A woman far ahead of her time.
Mar 12, 2013 added it
Articulate insights from a white Southern woman on the gap between how she was taught to treat people--at home and in church--and segregation, and struggles with her own conscience.
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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
More about Lillian E. Smith...
“The human heart dares not stay away from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.” 1 likes
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