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Lillian Smith Studies: Laurel Leaf mid-summer 1946

Laurel Falls Camp Brochure

Billie Holiday "Strange Fruit"

Reginald Marsh "This is Her First Lynching"

How Lillian Smith "Seared the Conscience of White America"

Introduction

Lillian Smith wrote this newsletter in mid-summer 1946 to the parents of Laurel Falls Campers. Smith served as the director of the camp from 1925 to 1948, and during that time, she worked tirelessly to educate the campers who attended. At Laurel Falls, campers would participate in athletic activities such as horseback riding, swimming, and tennis, and they would also partake in drama, dance, and metal work. Along with these activities, Smith would engage with the campers in frank discussions about the world, speaking with them on a wide range of topics from racism and war to psychology and sex.   

Buss Eye was a haint who lived on Screamer Mountain with his wife and their triplets. He would come down from the mountain to play pranks on the campers, and Smith would tell campers stories about his exploits. One story involved Buss Eye trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and he decided to become a poet. He played a large role at the camp and in the campers’ imaginations.

As the letter indicates, Smith had in depth discussions with her campers about race. Writing to William Haygood in 1941, Smith mentioned that they “worked on many genuinely interesting projects with [the campers] in racial relationships, and there is always up here much discussion of the South and its problems.” In the newsletter, she writes about the conversations they had regarding the lynching of two married couples in Monroe, GA. Later, in 1959, Smith wrote to Wesley S. Hartley about the importance of the camp and the campers in her own life: “But I learned more from the campers themselves because I tried not to put barriers between me and them and we talked together about everything.”     

Possible Activities

  1. In the newsletter, Smith references the lynchings of George W. and Mae Murray Dorsey, and Roger and Dorothy Malcom that occurred in Monroe, Georgia, in 1946. Research either Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and the NAACP’s 1935 exhibit An Art Commentary on Lynching. Based on what you find, present the ways that individuals and organizations used art to combat the racial terror of lynching. 
  2. Imagine you are one of the counselors at Laurel Falls Camp. Do some research about Laurel Falls and camps in the South during this period. As well, take a look at the Laurel Falls Camp brochure. Based off of this research, plan a week’s worth of activities for the campers. Provide descriptions of the activities and what each activity will financially cost the camp.
  3. Throughout the newsletter, Smith talks about the exploits of Buss Eye. Come up with your own mythological creature for campers. Write a short story, poem, or play that describes the creature.     

"Miss Lil's Camp" Trailer

Questions

  1. Buss Eye was one of the mythical creatures that visited and played pranks on the campers at Laurel Falls Camp. Why do we use these types of stories with our children? What role do fairy tales and mythological figures play in a child’s education?
  2. Smith begins the third paragraph on the second page with this sentence: “Every once in a while, we look up from our magic Mountain where everything is so happy and gay, and suddenly realize that everything is not so happy and gay for other children in other places.” Rhetorically, what is Smith doing with this sentence? How does it work with the organization of the newsletter?
  3. Smith asked campers what “personality” means to them, and she provides some of their responses. What does “personality” mean to you?
  4. After telling the parents about the discussions her and the campers had about the victims of the Moore’s Ford lynching, Smith states, “we all, camp directors and parents, must try to find a real answer” for the children to all of these big questions that they ask. What role and responsibilities do teachers, parents, or other authority figures have in educating and talking to adolescents about difficult subjects?
  5. Smith states, “I want to make life easier for all colored people; but I want to make it easier for us white people to live with our own consciences, and easier for our children to grow as human beings.” What does Smith mean with this statement? What effects does racism and segregation have on the oppressor?