Killers of the Dream

Finalist, National Book Awards 1950 for Nonfiction

first edition cover of killers of the dream by lillian smith
ISBN 9780393008845
W. W. Norton | W. W. Norton
Photo of author Lillian Smith
Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith was an outspoken southern liberal whose work focused on dismantling the racist, segregationist policies of the United States at a time when it was extremely unpopular and even dangerous to do so. More about this author >

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A Southern white writer, educator, and activist, Lillian Smith (1897–1966) spoke out all her life against injustice. In Killers of the Dream (1949), her most influential book, she draws on memories of her childhood to describe the psychological and moral cost of the powerful, contradictory rules about sin, sex, and segregation—the intricate system of taboos—that undergirded Southern society.

Published to wide controversy, it became the source (acknowledged or unacknowledged) of much of our thinking about race relations and was for many a catalyst for the civil rights movement. It remains the most courageous, insightful, and eloquent critique of the pre-1960s South.

“I began to see racism and its rituals of segregation as a symptom of a grave illness,” Smith wrote. “When people think more of their skin color than of their souls, something has happened to them.” Today, readers are rediscovering in Smith’s writings a forceful analysis of the dynamics of racism, as well as her prophetic understanding of the connections between racial and sexual oppression. [via W. W. Norton]