Lillian Smith

A documentary, 'Breaking the Silence: Lillian Smith,' about Lillian Smith, a Jasper native, will air Oct. 10 at the Jasper Public Library at 6 p.m.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

— The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, we live in a world where, for many people, the “truth,” as they know it, is not more than one screen or screen shot away on social media. I will not begin to express my disappointment at this current high-tech convenience. I would always much rather be astonished than disappointed, and, sadly, at my age, and I will be three score and one on Oct. 7, 2019, not much astonishes me, not any more.

Johnny Bullard mug

Johnny Bullard

On Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, my mother and I made our way over to Live Oak, Florida, to “buy groceries.” This weekly trip usually involves making stops at no less than three stores, and with happy anticipation and “coming appetites,” enjoying lunch at one of the Live Oak’s fine restaurants. Last Saturday, not touting one of Live Oak’s restaurants over the others, because we like them all, we enjoyed lunching at:

All Decked out Café, “Mm mm good.” The thoughtful proprietor of that establishment gifted me with some historic newspaper clippings she purchased at an estate sale. The newspapers were dated in late November 1963; the time of the assassination of the late President John F. Kennedy.

What caught my attention more than the clippings from the Florida Times Union’s detailed and well-written articles, was a well preserved copy of that week’s “Suwannee Democrat.” Masterfully written and professionally reported in the “Suwannee Democrat” that week, entire articles dedicated not only to the fateful news from Dallas and Washington DC, but also detailed news accounts written about a variety of community “happenings” and areas of interest: the Woman’s and Garden Clubs, and social occasions, news from Pine Level Community, as well as photos from the Suwannee High Homecoming with Suwannee High’s Homecoming Queen of 1963, the late Phyllis Sperring Houston reigning as queen over her homecoming court. “Colored,” now “African American,” news included an account of a Memorial Service for the late President John F. Kennedy conducted at historic Ebenezer AME Church. A great snap shot of our home here “Around the Banks of the Suwannee,” before computers, before satellite TV, before social network, before cell phones, before racial desegregation, before many things and, yet, well after the publication of “Strange Fruit,” written by Jasper, Florida, native Lillian Smith in 1944.

In the words of the late Lillian Smith, renowned writer, civil rights activist, and Jasper native: “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.’’

On Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, Lillian Smith, native daughter of Jasper, Florida, is coming home to the town of her birth: Jasper, Florida. She comes to us in a film documentary about her life and works: “Breaking the Silence: Lillian Smith,” a documentary made by Henry and Hal Jacobs, which makes its Florida premiere at the Virginia B. Chandler Public Library at 6 p.m. In the 75 years, since the publication of Smith’s most widely acclaimed novel, “Strange Fruit,” which may have been set in Jasper, Florida, a novel banned south of the Mason-Dixon line, banned from being sent through the United States Postal Service until then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt influenced her husband, the late Franklin D. Roosevelt, to lift that ban, a novel FORCED many Americans to look at the system of racial segregation. A light was displayed on a system that disenfranchised millions of Americans, and, once it was shone, it was kind of like wanting to pull your head away from the carnage of a car accident, you want to look away, but you can’t. In that three quarters of a century since “Strange Fruit” sold over a million copies in a little over a month after its release it will be interesting to note if some of us choose to, in the lyrics of “Dixie”, to: “Look away, look away” AGAIN, or NOT.

Lillian Smith could not “look away”, “look away”, even though she, as an upper middle class, educated SOUTHERN born and bred white woman was ridiculed and silenced by her beliefs, she refused to look away from a system she considered unjust, and she never gave up.

I am very proud of our area, north central Florida. As an area, we have many bumps and warts: What area of the nation doesn’t? But, for each one of those imperfections, we have many areas of our regional identity that are blemish free and beautiful and, that includes, some of the most important to me, the hearts and the spirits of many of our people. Our part of the world is endowed with great natural beauty, and thought we have a history more dark to some than to others, we continue, as a people, each in our own way, to “soldier on” with high hopes in our hearts, those warm, wonderful hearts for a better future; never forgetting our rich and storied past, extolling the good of that past, and learning from the mistakes of it.

Join us on Thursday, Oct., 10, at 6 p.m. at the Jasper Public Library, 311 Hatley Street, Jasper, Florida, 386-792-2285, I pray that we, as a collective people, will display to our area and to the world, the beauty of who we “are” as a people by supporting this “homecoming” of “our” native daughter, Lillian Eugenia Smith, who was born in Jasper, Florida, in 1897 and who wrote and published many outstanding works including :”Strange Fruit,” “Killers of the Dream,” “A Memory of a Large Christmas” and “Now is the Time,” and who was considered by the late Civil Rights Leader, the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, as the MOST influential white person to champion the cause of the Civil Rights Movement EVER in the United States of America.

From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.

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