Ridding Ourselves of the Giants and Pygmies of the Past

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readNov 11, 2021

On December 5, 1956, the Montgomery Improvement Association hosted the Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change commemorating the one year anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. They asked Lillian Smith to speak; however, she could not attend due to ill health. Rufus Lewis read Lillian’s speech, “The Right Way is Not a Moderate Way,” to the audience. Virginia Durr, who was in the crowd, wrote to Smith, “It was the most wonderful speech and so full of love and truth and at the end when you thanked them for what they were doing to free the South and the white people of the South from their fear and prejudice, you could hear a deep sigh go all over the audience.”

Throughout the speech, Smith points out the ways that racism and hate maim and kill not just the oppressed but the oppressor as well. As she dealt with the cancer that attacked her own body, she drew a metaphor between the deadly disease and the deadly disease of racism: “The tragic fact is, neither cancer 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 seep deep into the body, latching on to every muscle, fiber, and bone, killing from within.

Smith constantly pointed out the damage that racism had on the white psyche, and especially the ways that it causes whites to wall off their selves from others, creating a prison within themselves, stifling their freedom to discover their own true humanity and the humanity of others. Later in the speech, she wrote,

In order to maintain the status quo, to maintain segregation as long as possible, even though the Supreme Court has spoken, in order to drive in the middle of the road, the white people of the South are giving up their freedoms. What freedoms?

Smith continues by saying whites lose the freedom to do right, to obey the law, “to speak out, to write, to teach what one believes is true and just,” and they are “losing [their] freedom from fear.”

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Matthew Teutsch

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