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Excerpts from Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream,

"revised and enlarged," Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1963.
(originally published in 1949)


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While writing my article on the life of Medgar Evers, I came across Lillian Smith's book and was struck by the many similarities (use of imagery, the point of view that the Southern poor white was manipulated by his politicians to the point of becoming only "a pawn in their game") between this book and Dylan's "Only a Pawn in Their Game" (and to a lesser extent, Dylan's "Talkin' Devil" -- that song is just too short to draw any valid conclusions) from 1963 (the same year that Smith's "revised and enlarged" edition was published...).

I leave the answer blowin' in the wind ("It ain't in no book... or discussion group", anyhow), but just ask you to judge for yourselves by comparing the following excerpts from Lillian Smith's book to passages from Dylan's "Only A Pawn In Their Game" and "Talkin' Devil" (inter-linked for your convenience):


Lillian Smith, "Foreword: A Letter to My Publisher", p. 2:

Now, suddenly, shoving out pleasures and games and stinging questions come the TERRORS: the Ku Klux Klan and the lynchings I did not see but recreated from whispers of grownups . . . the gentle back-door cruelties of "nice people" which scared me more than the cross burnings. . . and the singsong voices of politicians who preached their demonic suggestions to us as if elected by Satan to do so: telling us lies about skin color and a culture they were callously ignorant of -- lies made of their own fantasies...

p. 76:

But we clung to the belief... that our white skin made us "better" than all other people. And this belief comforted us, for we felt worthless and weak when confronted with authorities who had cheapened nearly all we held dear, except our skin color. There, in the land of Epidermis, every one of us was a little king.

pp. 143-144:

Distance and darkness and starvation and ignorance and malaria ate like vultures on our rural people not for a few Civil War years but for two centuries.

But worse things happened. We cannot forget that these rural people were not let alone. It would have been far better for them had they been ignored... But the politicians... needed the rural people and used them as ruthlessly as Negroes were used when they were needed. They needed to play voter against voter and all of them against "the Negro" -- and they needed the poor whites' approval of acts which the dominant group's more informed minds could not wholly approve. They needed poor whites to be their yes-men, moral henchmen quieting their leaders' uneasy consciences. Like David playing on his harp to Saul, the rural whites sang the lies the dominant group wanted to hear, but they were lies that not David but Saul had composed, though Saul never more than half believed them. It was only the poor-white Davids who learned to love these lies which they needed sorely to believe were true. To be "superior," to be the "best people on earth" with the best "system" of making a living because your sallow skin was white... made you forget that you were eaten up with malaria and hookworm; made you forget that you lived in a shanty and ate pot-likker and corn bread...


p.169:

It worked for a long time. Each "stood" by the other. When the poor white lynched a Negro, the rich white protected him in court; the preacher protected him in church; the policeman looked away, the sheriff was easily intimidated, the juries rarely convicted, and the newspapers were "reasonable."


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