March 2022 WATERtalk with Melanie Morrison

“Letters from Old Screamer Mountain”

with Melanie Morrison

Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 1 pm EDT

Video recording available here.

WATER thanks Melanie Morrison for bringing her book, Letters from Old Screamer Mountain (RSWMS, 2021) to our circle. She read the Introduction and then from letters dated July 8, 2012 and July 11, 2021.

These notes are meant to give a general idea of the content.

Letters from Old Screamer Mountain tells the story of Lillian Smith’s Laurel Falls Camp of old and a recent writer’s stay there in what is now the Lillian E. Smith Center for the Arts in Clayton, Georgia. This book is far more than women’s history and a travelogue. It is a deep and sensitive dive into the writer’s mother’s 1939 signal experience at Smith and her partner Paula Snelling’s unique center for anti-racist education where the author stayed in recent years where she tried to make sense of and help to eradicate lynching as one of racism’s most powerful evils. The book is a collection of letters written by daughter to mother, albeit at a time when the mother’s diminishing memory made it impossible for her to relate to most of it. Now a larger public benefits from these writings at a time when lynching continues in many forms and racism remains to be eradicated.

Discussion followed the reading. Here is a sample of it:

  1. One participant arrived unaware that Lillian Smith’s work would be under discussion. She had recently been given one of her books, proving just how contemporary the work is.
  2. Melanie shared some of the roots of Lillian Smith’s thinking that can be found in the magazine she and Paula Snelling started, North Georgia Review. She also mentioned that Lillian and Paula nurtured their relationships with their neighbors. As white women living together promoting anti-racism, one wonders what the neighbors thought of them.
  3. Another participant raised serious concerns about “a world full of hate,” asking what drives people to hate others because of their skin tone. She suggested that as long as there are races there will be racism. Whom can one trust? Melanie talked about white people showing up. For example, voting has never been a right guaranteed to people of color. Voting rights is an issue on which white people need to show up.
  4. An anti-racism educator spoke about her work in Canada. Melanie offered her own reflections on the amazing work young people are doing and how much there is to learn from them. The work continues in new and creative ways.
  5. A United Church of Christ staff member spoke of that group’s efforts and her own to make change.
  6. Another colleague spoke about applying for the same writer’s opportunity at the Lilian Smith Center to continue her work on similar issues.

We only began to scratch the surface of these issues, but we did so with gratitude to Melanie Morrison for her book which is an ideal ‘way in’ for broad audiences.

Here are some resources from Melanie:

  1. “Breaking the Silence: Lillian Smith” is an outstanding, award-winning documentary released within the last year or two: It can be rented and streamed for a 24-hour period for only $5.00.  I highly recommend it.
  2. How Am I to Be Heard: Letters of Lillian Smith is edited by Margaret Rose Gladney and can be ordered through bookstores.
  3. “Crossing the River of Blood Between Us: Lynching, Violence, Beauty, and the Paradox of Feminist History” by Emma Coleman Jordan is a profoundly important analysis of how the unacknowledged role of white women in lynching continues to impact the relationship of Black and white women today. It can be downloaded from this Georgetown link:
  4. I wrote a piece about the role of white women in modern-day lynching entitled “Trayvon Martin, the Legacy of Lynching, and the Role of White Women.” It can be accessed here:
  5. In addition to Killers of the Dream, I would recommend The Winner Names the Age: A Collection of Writings by Lillian Smith. This is a power-packed book of Smith’s essays and speeches.
  6. If people are interested in a writing residency at the Lillian Smith Center, they can access the website here:

Here are some comments from the Chat:

  1. Letters from Old Screamer Mountain by Melanie Morrison, Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, 100 pages, $25. WATER thanks RCWMS for their beautiful work on this volume.
  2. Documentary about Lillian Smith’s camp: “Miss Lil’s Camp” (2004).
  3. Many expressions of appreciation were woven throughout the chat. Thanks, Melanie!