Reflections on Lil

Matthew Teutsch
7 min readApr 24, 2022

As the date approached to unveil the historical marker honoring the life, work, and legacy of Lillian E. Smith I kept stressing over how many people would attend the event. I didn’t think, at any point, about how I’d actually feel during the ceremony itself. However, when the ceremony began on that cloudless spring day, with the birds singing in the trees and the wind blowing, the importance of this historical marker and the ceremony hit me square in the face, and emotions whirled within me. It was unexpected, but as I reflect on it, I realize that I should have expected such a reaction.

When I woke up that morning, I checked my phone, as one usually does when arising from slumber, and saw a text from Keri Leigh Merritt, our scheduled speaker for the unveiling ceremony. She had come done with something and would be unable to speak. She was disappointed, and as I felt for her, praying she would get better soon, the thoughts of dread crept into my head. While it may seem like I’m am optimist most of the time, or even a realist, I am, at my core, a pessimist, always dreading the worse. This may be from past failed events or from years of rejections in various venture or from who knows what. So, my mind began racing, thinking that the event wouldn’t be well attended and end up an utter disaster.

However, as I went about my morning, getting ready to head into work before the ceremony, I began to reflect upon one of Smith’s speeches. In 1956, she wrote “The Right Way is Not A Moderate Way,” and she was scheduled to deliver the speech at First Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change in Montgomery, Alabama, to mark the one year anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. However, due to illness, she could not attend, but someone read the speech for her. In that speech, Smith compares racism and segregation to the cancer she was battling within her own body. She said, “The tragic fact is, neither caner nor segregation will go away while we close our eyes. Both are dangerous diseases that have to be handled quickly and skillfully because they spread, they metastasize throughout the organism.” They take root within our very beings.

Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “Facing the Challenge of a New Age” at the institute. In his speech, King expressed hope in the future and challenged the audience to “rise above the narrow confines of our…

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.