In 1939, Melanie Morrison’s mother, Eleanor, at age eighteen spent a winter weekend at the home of Lillian Smith on Old Screamer Mountain in North Georgia. Smith was a white Southern author who wrote scathing critiques of white supremacy. That weekend on Old Screamer Mountain was an unforgettable turning point in Eleanor’s young life as she and her college friends stayed up late listening to Lillian read from her manuscripts and talk about the shriveled-up heart of whiteness.
Seven decades later, in 2012, Melanie made a pilgrimage to the Lillian Smith Center on Old Screamer Mountain to write about the intergenerational legacies of lynching and how that reign of terror remains largely unacknowledged by the descendants of its white perpetrators.
From the mountain, Melanie wrote letters to her mother describing the avalanche of emotions and epiphanies she was experiencing. She did not send those letters because Eleanor was living with significant dementia, but she intended to read excerpts to Eleanor when she returned home, hoping to retrieve pieces of her mother’s history that dementia had erased.
Letters from Old Screamer Mountain is an intimate testimony to the power of intergenerational legacies and the urgency to write what must not be forgotten.
With infinite tenderness, passion, and compassion, Melanie Morrison tells a multilayered story linking generations of strong women doing the work of racial justice. Family history, the role of community, the legacy of Lillian Smith’s anti-racist activism, and the profound grief (and eventual acceptance) that accompany loss and change are woven together in these unsent letters, written from Old Screamer Mountain in North Georgia. Morrison’s skill in working these strands loosely, and with great love, makes this a model of epistolary storytelling.
—Laura Apol, author of A Fine Yellow Dust
About the author
Melanie S. Morrison is a racial justice educator, writer, and speaker with thirty years of experience designing and facilitating transformational group process. She is the author of four books, including Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham. More: melaniemorrison.net.