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Lillian Smith

  • Rich folks always talks hard times.

  • Belief in Some One's right to punish you is the fate of all children in Judaic-Christian culture. But nowhere else, perhaps, have the rich seedbeds of Western homes found such a growing climate for guilt as produced in the South by the combination of warm moist evangelism and racial segregation.

  • The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making.

  • Change means leaving one's memories, one's sins, one's ancient prison, the room where one was born.

  • There is no going alone on a journey. Whether one explores strange lands or Main Street or one's own back yard, always invisible traveling companions are close by: the giants and pygmies of memory, of belief, pulling you this way and that, not letting you see the world life-size but insisting that you measure it by their own height and weight.

  • I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.

  • Questions which cannot be freed by words find it easy to slip into the blood stream, changing the body's chemistry, changing a whole life, sometimes.

  • ... there is nothing more powerful than ignorance, not even intelligence ...

  • Faith and doubt both are needed — not as antagonists but working side by side — to take us around the unknown curve.

  • ... loyalty is a verbal switch-blade used by little and big bosses to force us quickly to accept a questionable situation which our intelligence and conscience should reject.

  • ... courage is a word for others to use about us, not something we can seek for ourselves.

  • There are two kinds of ordeals, of course: those we choose and those that seem to choose us.

  • To believe in something not yet proved and to underwrite it with our lives: it is the only way we can leave the future open.

  • There is no person, no group of people, no nation, that does not make grave mistakes. The test is: can they rectify their mistake?

  • Change in a democracy can be brought about quickly or slowly. The speed depends on its people's honesty of mind, their values, their humility and knowledge and insight; and, above all else, on the will to act, once they realize the need for action.

  • Crises are two edged; they always create possibilities for both evil and good.

  • ... education is a private matter between the person and the world of knowledge and experience and has only a little to do with school or college ...

    • Lillian Smith,
    • "Bridges to Other People" (1959), in Redbook ()
  • Grandma was a kind of first-aid station, or a Red Cross nurse, who took up where the battle ended, accepting us and our little sobbing sins, gathering the whole of us into her lap, restoring us to health and confidence by her amazing faith in life and in a mortal's strength to meet it ...

    • Lillian Smith,
    • in Tillie Olsen, Mother to Daughter, Daughter to Mother ()
  • It is not the physical part of war that sickens me as it is what is happening to our minds and feelings.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1940, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • All the movements in the world, all the laws, the drives, the edicts will never do what personal relationships can do and must do.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1943, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • The harm now is in silence.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1946, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • Sometimes I can scarcely understand how I can postpone the writing of certain letters. Strangely enough they are always the letters I want most to write, and herein lies the little seed of my big sin! It is because I am not willing to write a routine letter to certain persons whom I love and esteem, that I fail to write any at all. I keep believing there will come a quiet day ... when I can quietly say what is in my heart: important things to me simply because I believe them or am troubled by them or want to tell some one who will understand what I am saying. Well, the quiet days are stuff of which only dreams are made.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1948, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • Great story tellers show us an image of themselves, their deepdown selves, but they show us a picture of us, too. Always, like an after-image, a visual echo, we see ourselves as we listen.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1953, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • Words are magic: they can whistle out their evil in a man, but they can also persuade the sleeping angel in him to wake up and speak its wisdom. But silence can never create either excellence or virtue.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1960, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • ... things are breaking and thawing: we must hold on to that. A frozen river is a quiet thing; in thaw it is a roaring monster. We are in thaw in the South: there is bound to be much noise, much individual cruelty, much collective madness. But underneath, change is taking place — not only in streets and places but in human hearts.

    • Lillian Smith,
    • 1962, in Margaret Rose Gladney, ed., How Am I to Be Heard? Letters of Lillian Smith ()
  • Man, surrounded by facts, permitting himself no surprise, no intuitive flash, no great hypothesis, no risk, is in a locked cell.

    • Lillian Smith
  • When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.

    • Lillian Smith
  • Like sex, knowledge is good if used in the service of life and love.

    • Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith, U.S. writer, civil rights worker, social critic, educator

(1897 - 1966)

Full name: Lillian Eugenia Smith.