The white southern writer Lillian Smith (1897-1966) explored potent codes of class, race, and gender in the American South and the forms of violence and repression they nurtured. Smith's dissident views on American racial custom and her contestation of the segregation and oppression of African Americans contributed to growing calls for civic and legal transformations of the racist social order during the 1940s, when she gained national recognition for her fiction, essays, and editorials. This article explores Smith's experiences in China in the 1920s. Witnessing forms of colonial domination in China influenced Smith's decision to depict racialism and racism in the United States as social and psychological harms. Her time in the Far East also brought Smith into contact with the writings of Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, and Gandhi's ideas in particular would affect the way she envisioned social change. Writing at a time when the concept of human rights was increasingly invoked on the international stage, Smith created a vernacular form of human rights thinking through her prose. Smith's humanism bears the traces of her immersion in the work of writers, especially Tagore and Gandhi, who sought to meet the challenges of colonial modernity, much as she would respond to the reach of racial oppression on the American scene.

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