An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
Posted on December 17, 2014
by

Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

in

Big Ten football has received plenty of criticism in recent years, much of it well deserved. The conference clearly isn't what it used to be, and Marc Tracy recently identified some of the reasons why in an excellent piece in the New York Times, concentrating on the Rustbelt's economic and demographic decline, which has left it with fewer resources and top players versus other regions, particularly the Sunbelt.1 Tracy missed one very important point, however, one that is vital to understanding both the Big Ten's former preeminence and its long-term slide: the easing of the "color line" in major southern athletics conferences in the 1970s.

The Big Ten's modern heyday in football was in the 1950s and 1960s. The conference's strength, particularly from the mid-1950s on, was due in large part to the fact that its schools recruited talented African American athletes earlier than a number of other power conferences, most notably, of course, those in the South. Before the early 1970s, a minuscule number of African Americans from the South played football in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Southwest Conference (SWC), leaving the best African American high-school players with two options: play at one or another of the region's many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or play outside the region. Thus, the origins of both the terrific teams fielded in the 1950s and 1960s by HBCUs such as Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Alcorn State, and Prairie View A&M (and as late as the mid-1970s by South Carolina State) and the flow of African American talent to the Big Ten. Two cases from the mid-1960s illustrate this point: the recruiting practices of the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University.

Bobby Bell played for the University of Minnesota before turning professional as outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1983, Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photograph by University of Minnesota Football, ca. 1962. © Golden Gopher Gridiron, University of Minnesota Football.
Bobby Bell played for the University of Minnesota before turning professional as outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1983, Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photograph by University of Minnesota Football, ca. 1962. © Golden Gopher Gridiron, University of Minnesota Football.

The case of Bobby Bell, a North Carolina player recruited by the University of Minnesota, sheds light on a state, a region, and a school. Almost every expert in the history of college and professional football would later include Bell among the greatest players ever. A star running back and later quarterback at segregated Cleveland High School in Shelby, North Carolina, in the late 1950s, Bell was essentially unrecruitable by the ACC or the SEC, despite the fact that his off-the chart talent was well known. Six feet-four, about 235 pounds, and exceptionally fast for his size, he played defensive line in college and as outside linebacker during his twelve-year professional career with the Kansas City Chiefs. His coach with the Chiefs, Hank Stram, wasn't kidding when he said that Bell "could play all of the twenty-two positions on the field, and play them well."2 Bell was a two-time All American in college, a winner of the Outland Trophy in 1962—the same year he placed third in the Heisman race—and a perennial All-Pro in the 1960s and early 1970s. He starred on the Chiefs's Super Bowl–winning team in 1969, was voted to the All-Time American Football League (AFL) team and the National Football League (NFL) All-Decade Team for the 1970s, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.

Bell might have been able to play all twenty-two positions on the football field, but coming out of high school, he wasn't going to play any of them at a school in a major conference in the South. He therefore accepted a scholarship to play under Coach Murray Warmath at the University of Minnesota. Warmath, a native of Tennessee, had played football at the University of Tennessee. He came to Minnesota as head coach in 1954 after two seasons as head coach at Mississippi State. He remained at the University of Minnesota through 1971 and is remembered today as one of the first coaches at any major US university to recruit significant numbers of African Americans in a given signing class. Bell enjoyed an illustrious career at Minnesota, winning a national championship in 1960 and the Rose Bowl in 1962.3

Joining Bell on defense was another African American football player from North Carolina: defensive end Carl Eller, who came to Minnesota from Atkins Academic & Technology High School in Winston-Salem. Eller, a year behind Bell in school, was also a two-time All-American at Minnesota and was runner-up for the Outland Trophy in 1963, going on to an outstanding NFL career, making All-Pro numerous times. Like Bell, Eller was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s, to the College Football Hall of Fame, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another talented African American football player from the South—Aaron Brown from Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas—joined Eller in the Minnesota defensive line in 1963 and enjoyed a fine career at Minnesota. A first-round draft pick with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966, Brown started on the team when it won the Super Bowl in 1970, playing in the NFL through the 1974 season.

1965 Michigan State University varsity football team. Photograph reproduced by permission of the MSU Photograph Collection, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1965. © Michigan State University.
1965 Michigan State University varsity football team. Photograph reproduced by permission of the MSU Photograph Collection, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1965. © Michigan State University.

The Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans of the mid-1960s provide a second case study. The Spartan teams of 1965 and 1966 are remembered today for their strong performances. MSU earned a 19-1-1 record over the two seasons, including the 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in the latter year, and had claims to national championships in both years—not least because of the dazzling array of talent on the roster. Some of the most illustrious stars on these teams were African American players from the segregated South, most notably George Webster (Anderson, South Carolina), Charles "Bubba" Smith (Beaumont, Texas), and Gene Washington (La Porte, Texas), all of whom went on to outstanding professional careers. Charles Thornhill (Roanoke, Virginia) was also an outstanding member of the team, but did not go on to the professional leagues. As Adam Rittenberg pointed out in an incisive piece for ESPN.com in 2013, the Spartans's 1965 roster included eighteen African Americans (nine from the South), with seventeen African Americans (ten from the South) on the roster the following year.4 Few of these players could suit up for major schools in their home region in the mid-1960s. Smith wanted to play for the University of Texas, but Coach Darrell Royal could not offer him a scholarship. MSU coach Duffy Daugherty was tipped off about Webster by legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard, who knew all about Webster (from segregated Westside High School in nearby Anderson, South Carolina), but couldn't recruit him. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Thornhill found his way to MSU as a result of a phone call to Daugherty from another big-time southern coach—none other than the University of Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant—who had met Thornhill at the awards dinner of the Roanoke Touchdown Club. (Thornhill had been named the club's player of the year after scoring more than 200 points as a running back his senior year.)

Another great African American football star at MSU from earlier in the 1960s, long-time college and NFL coach Sherman Lewis, captured what was going on in the minds of many elite African American athletes living in the South at the time. Lewis hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, where he had an outstanding record in high school as a running back and track sprinter, but according to a 2007 interview, he knew "blacks couldn't play in the SEC. I had to go somewhere West or North." Claiming he knew about Michigan State long before it knew about him, Lewis elaborated:

When we watched games on TV in the '50s, we were always looking for black athletes. . . . Minnesota had a lot. Iowa was loaded. And Michigan State had a history. It had 'em and played 'em. I remembered that from watching the Rose Bowl.5

In the 1950s, MSU featured outstanding African American running backs such as Clarence Peaks (from Michigan) and Herb Adderley (from Pennsylvania). Other Big Ten schools also played black athletes, including the University of Illinois, where Chicago's Buddy Young played as early as the mid-1940s and J. C. Caroline—from segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina—shined as a sophomore in 1953, leading the nation in rushing. Caroline learned about the Big Ten not from television, but from a white man who operated a grocery store near Booker T. Washington High School. According to Caroline:

From what he [the grocer] had heard, he told me he thought I could play football in the Big Ten. . . . He told me about Buddy Young having a great career at the University of Illinois and how black players were finding a place in the Big Ten. I had always figured I would go play football at a black school in North Carolina, so I let him contact people at Illinois.6

In Rittenberg's article, Lewis provides additional context about the Big Ten:

There's always been great players down [South]. . . . They were all going to Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Texas Southern. But when the Big Ten started recruiting them, instead of Florida A&M, they were going to Michigan State, or instead of Texas Southern or Grambling, they were going to Minnesota.7

Program for the 1966 Rose Bowl featuring Michigan State vs. UCLA. The Michigan State Spartans won the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. However, the Spartans lost the 1966 match up with UCLA. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Duffy Daugherty Papers, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1966. © Michigan State University.
Program for the 1966 Rose Bowl featuring Michigan State vs. UCLA. The Michigan State Spartans won the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. However, the Spartans lost the 1966 match up with UCLA. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Duffy Daugherty Papers, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1966. © Michigan State University.

Instead of going to Kentucky, Lewis attended MSU. There, he became both a sprint champion and a star running back, twice winning All-American honors (1962, 1963). He was named player of the year by the Football News in 1963, when he also finished third in the Heisman balloting. Other talented African Americans followed his lead.

Some journalists and historians of sport have suggested that the "tipping point" for desegregating big-time sports in the South occurred on the night of September 12, 1970 at the University of Alabama's Legion Field, when the USC Trojans—starting an all-African American backfield—destroyed the still all-white Crimson Tide by a score of 42-21.8 The Trojans were led by African American running backs Sam "Bam" Cunningham (135 yards on twelve carries and two touchdowns) and Clarence Davis, a native of Birmingham. This view compresses and, in so doing, almost certainly oversimplifies things. Even before the game, Alabama's Coach Bryant had seen the writing on the wall and already had a highly touted African American running back from Alabama (Wilbur Jackson) playing on the freshman team. Indeed, ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pressure had been mounting on Alabama and other major southern programs to recruit African American athletes.

Clearly, though, by the early 1970s (around the time of the USC game), there was no turning back either for Bryant or Alabama or for other schools in the ACC, SEC, and SWC. Some colleges had already been making tentative moves to integrate. Even the rudest attempts at cost-benefit analysis—whether explicit or implicit, and whether cast in terms of wins and losses on the playing field, social stability, or potential political problems with the Feds—suggested that the dismantling of the color barrier would not only continue but intensify.

College Football Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Claiborne, an assistant at Alabama in 1970, famously remarked, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in sixty minutes than Martin Luther King, Jr. had accomplished in twenty years." This is a great line, but one that surely overstates football's role and understates civil rights activists' accomplishments. A less famous quote seems more on the mark regarding Bear Bryant's role in breaking the SEC football color line. According to sports journalist Don Yaeger, Bryant, when asked in the mid-1960s if he would start recruiting black athletes to play for the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide, replied "I won't be the first. But I won't be third."9

Once big-time southern football programs began to recruit African Americans aggressively in the 1970s, the Big Ten's pipeline to black talent from the South was punctured. The Big Ten continued to recruit players from the South, but seldom the best. Purdue's great running back, Leroy Keyes, who grew up in the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia and was Heisman runner-up to O. J. Simpson in 1968, was one of the last Big Ten All-Americans from the South until Michigan's Anthony Carter, who was from Riviera Beach, Florida, and played for the Wolverines from 1979 to 1982. At the end of the day, there are many reasons for the relative decline of the Big Ten and Marc Tracy has deftly discussed most, but not all of them. The integration of big-team football programs in the South hurt the Big Ten badly, just as it did the former football powerhouses among the South's HBCUs.

About the Author

Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

  • 1. Marc Tracy, "As Big Ten Declines, Homegrown Talent Flees," New York Times, October 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/sports/ncaafootball/as-big-ten-declines-homegrown-talent-fades-and-flees.html.
  • 2. Larry Watts, "The Coachable One," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 2, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020210aab.html.
  • 3. Incidentally, that team, which had also gone to the Rose Bowl in 1961, was led on offense by future College Football Hall-of-Famer Sandy Stephens, the school's first African American quarterback who was from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
  • 4. Adam Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race in 1960s," ESPN.com, February 21, 2013, http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8970293/segregation-led-star-players-michigan-state-spartans-1960s-college-football.
  • 5. Sherman Lewis, "Sherman Lewis: All-America Halfback and Longtime Coach," Michigan State Official Athletic Site, February 17, 2007, http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/021707aaa.html. During the 1950s, MSU played in and won Rose Bowls in 1954 and 1956.
  • 6. Larry Watts, "True to Oneself," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 4, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020410aaa.html.
  • 7. Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race."
  • 8. See, for example, Steven Travers, One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game that Changed a Nation (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007); Mark Wangrin, "The Gradual Arrival of Integration Revolutionized the Sport," in ESPN College Football Encyclopedia (New York: ESPN Books, 2005), 48–51. For more judicious insights, see Charles Martin, Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890–1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 255–258.
  • 9. Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Random House, 2001), 48.
Posted on December 9, 2014
by

Holly Hobbs, Tulane University

in
NOLA Hip-hop and Bounce Archive launch party poster, Holly Hobbs, 2014.
NOLA Hip-hop and Bounce Archive launch party poster, Holly Hobbs, 2014.

The NOLA Hip-hop and Bounce Archive, the first university-affiliated southern rap archive in the Deep South, is now online. The archive features over forty videotaped oral history interviews with pioneers of New Orleans rap and bounce music, including Mannie Fresh, Mystikal, KLC, DJ Jubilee, Ms. Tee, 5th Ward Weebie, Nicky da B (1990–2014), and many more. The archive also includes materials from Alison Fensterstock and Aubrey Edwards's Where They At exhibit, which screened at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2010 and includes over fifty photographic portraits and audio interviews with New Orleans rappers, DJs, producers, photographers, label owners, promoters, record store personnel, journalists, and other parties involved in the New Orleans hip-hop and bounce scene from the late 1980s through Hurricane Katrina.

The NOLA Hip-hop Archive is the culmination of over two years of oral history interview work documenting the stories of the pioneers and legends who helped to create New Orleans rap and bounce. Housed by the Amistad Research Center and the Tulane University Digital Library, the archive mission has been made possible through additional support from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Music Rising, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, and a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Fiend at Inner Recess studio, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph by Holly Hobbs, 2014.
Fiend at Inner Recess studio, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph by Holly Hobbs, 2014.
Holly Hobbs at the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2014. Photograph by Jason Saul.
Holly Hobbs at the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2014. Photograph by Jason Saul.

The oral histories in the NOLA Hip-hop Archive all engage with the specifics of local geographies, many of which are now forever altered post-Katrina. Former No Limit recording artist Fiend describes growing up near the intersection of Edinburgh and Eagle streets in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans in his archive interview, where his family owned a bar frequented by jazz, blues, soul and rhythm and blues artists. The family bar was directly across the street from Ghost Town, a now defunct venue often referred to as "the place where bounce began." T. T. Tucker, co-creator of the seminal bounce track, "Where Dey At," famously performed at Ghost Town, an experience he describes in his own rare archive interview. Throughout the archive videos, other artists reference Ghost Town, T. T. Tucker, and other defining people and places in the New Orleans hip-hop canon. Streets and neighborhoods serve as important touchstones in the narratives of many New Orleans hip-hop and bounce artists, and these continuities of time and space are told here through the artists' own words.

The site goes live formally on December 11, 2014, with a launch party from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Cafe Instanbul in New Orleans. The evening will feature Nesby Phips DJing, with a performance by Truth Universal. Please visit the archive at nolahiphoparchive.com and join us on the 11th.

About the Author

Holly Hobbs is currently completing her PhD at Tulane University where she is writing her dissertation on post-Katrina hip-hop and recovery in New Orleans. She has worked as a promoter, artist manager, and musician within the New Orleans hip-hop community since 2008. She is a writer for the popular music website, The Smoking Section, and the Knowla Encyclopedia of Louisiana History, Culture, and Community.

Posted on October 7, 2014
by

Eric Solomon, Emory University

in

Flannery O'Connor's place in American literature is undisputed. A master of the short story, her The Complete Stories (1971) was voted the "favorite" of the sixty fiction winners of the National Book Award in 2009. August 3, 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of O'Connor's death. Had she not succumbed to complications related to lupus in 1964, she would have been eighty-nine years old today. O'Connor's legacy is unique among southern writers. Unlike contemporaries Eudora Welty or Carson McCullers, O'Connor primarily wrote short stories that drew upon her bleak, dark, and deeply religious worldview.

Whittled down to a two-word sound bite appropriate to the age of Twitter, O'Connor's work might be described as peacock grotesque or grotesque peacockian, if one has the three extra characters to spare. (O'Connor's work and image have long been associated with the image of the peafowl she raised at her Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, and the grotesque southern Gothicism of her written work.) And yet, far from being reduced to a convenient sound bite, O'Connor's sensibilities have infiltrated society in far-reaching ways: what might O'Connor make of True Blood and the consistent vamipirization of the South?1 What would O'Connor say about Savannah residents Jim Williams and the Lady Chablis, the carnivalesque at the heart of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? What would O'Connor think of so-called "reality" television where a real housewife of New York detaches and throws her prosthetic leg during a fight, à la Joy/Hulga in perhaps O'Connor's most famous short story "Good Country People"? What would O'Connor's take be on what I call "Flannery on Film," the numerous in-the-works film adaptations of her texts?2 What would O'Connor have to say about the continual othering of southern space (the land of "freaks" made visible for the world's gaze) in television shows like Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? Fifty years after her death, it is these types of questions that emerge when I think about O'Connor's legacy.

Brooke Hatfield experimented with several iterations of FLANnery O'Connor. Pictured above is version 1. Photograph by Brooke Hatfield. Courtesy of Brooke Hatfield. Brooke Hatfield experimented with several iterations of FLANnery O'Connor. Pictured above is version 2. Photograph by Brooke Hatfield. Courtesy of Brooke Hatfield.
Brooke Hatfield experimented with several iterations of FLANnery O'Connor. Photographs by Brooke Hatfield. Courtesy of Brooke Hatfield. Pictured above are versions 1 and 2.

Recently, Brooke Hatfield, an avid O'Connor fan, designer, and artist, described O'Connor's legacy as "zine-inspiring." Released at the June 2014 Atlanta Zine Fest, one of Hatfield's passion projects, Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Portraits of Flannery O'Connor, asks fourteen artists, utilizing a variety of mediums, to imagine their versions of O'Connor's iconic image.3 Some artists chose more traditional methods of portraiture, while others, as in Yoonhwa Jang's portrait of O'Connor as a dog, chose more radical methods and images to represent her. Hatfield states that she was attracted to the happenstance mix of "reverent, more traditional portraiture with something a little more untethered to legend."4 While Dan Murdoch and Ashley Anderson painted "mind-blowing beautiful" portraits, "Yoonhwa Jang's [portrait of O'Connor as animal] uses a couple of notable elements of O'Connor's appearance (Those glasses! Those pearls!) to tell a very different story."5 Hatfield herself has previously made a portrait of another of her favorite southern women, Harper Lee's Scout Finch dressed as a ham made out of a piece of ham. "I love food and puns in pretty equal measure," Hatfield states. Hatfield's portrait of O'Connor is in this food-pun vein. The piece is titled "FLANnery O'Connor," which as the capitalization suggests, is a portrait of O'Connor drawn on regular print paper, cut out with a "scalpel" (a surgical tool utilized by Hatfield in true O'Connor fashion), and then laid on top of a baking dish of Flan, or what Hatfield calls her "flanvas," which she made herself.6

Travis Ekmark's art for the zine. Portrait by Travis Ekmark. Courtesy of Travis Ekmark and Brooke Hatfield.
Travis Ekmark's art for the zine. Portrait by Travis Ekmark. Courtesy of Travis Ekmark and Brooke Hatfield.

During a July 29 event to promote the zine's release, writer Johnny Drago read a short fictional piece, "The Name of This is a Sacred Relic," inspired by Travis Ekmark's art for the zine. Drago describes his story as "about two friends, two writers who go down to Milledgeville, Georgia looking for inspiration. Of course, they come back with something completely different. The story is essentially based on the Instagram feeds of some friends of mine who visited Andalusia and the Central State mental hospital recently, and the parallel, vicarious visit I had in my head as I scrolled down."7 Whereas some of the portraits for the Zine explore the more eccentric sides of O'Connor, Ekmark's portrait on which Drago's story is based is startling in its simplicity—a solid background with a black-ink drawing in the foreground—and as such, Drago's story follows an age old plot: two friends go on a journey from which they return changed.

As a writer of fiction and drama, Drago describes O'Connor's influence: "[Her] work has absolutely influenced my fiction, in much the same way that the writing of Tennessee Williams impacted my plays."8 For Drago, O'Connor addressed "reality in a detailed and truthful way."9 Elsewhere, Drago has commented on the "meditative qualities" of O'Connor's work. Drago's focus on the details and the meditative qualities of O'Connor's work points to a way of approaching O'Connor that elides the whole and ruminates on the fragment.

A symbolic representation of the more than 25,000 patients buried in unmarked graves on the Central State Hospital grounds in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by John Kloepper. Creative Commons Liscense CC-BY-3.0.
A symbolic representation of the more than 25,000 patients buried in unmarked graves on the Central State Hospital grounds in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by John Kloepper. Creative Commons Liscense CC-BY-3.0.

For all the cleverness and cuteness of many of the zine's portraits, what are (were) the details and truths of O'Connor's reality? What types of things did O'Connor meditate on, ruminate over, and why do they matter today? Fans, readers, and critics often interpret the "truth" of Flannery O'Connor's work as grotesque, as gothic, as haunting. How do words haunt, and what does it mean to be haunted by Flannery O'Connor's words? In "Ghosts and Shattered Bodies, or What Does it Mean to Still be Haunted by Southern Literature?" the late Patricia Yaeger writes, "We live in a world that is haunted, knows it's haunted, and denies its own hauntedness. What do we do when we see a ghost?"10 What do we do when we see, when we encounter, Flannery O'Connor? O'Connor's ghost no doubt resides in Hatfield's flanvas, in the pearls and glasses of Jang's portrait, in the rough lines of Ekmark's sketch, in Drago's words, in Christine Ernest's pixelated and distorted needlework portrait, in O'Connor's words that remain in print and are read by countless students and fans. As the recent Bitter Southerner publication on Hatfield's zine declared, O'Connor indeed "walks among us still."11 And yet, focusing on the entirety of O'Connor's legacy—the full portrait—ignores the ways in which she actually moved through the world. Nearly all of the images in the zine present O'Connor's ghost in various illustrations of her face and upper body. Only two images, Dan Murdoch's and Alvin Diec's, portray the crutch with which O'Connor literally walked for many years of her life. When we encounter a ghost, even one like O'Connor's, we inevitably make choices as to what to see, witness, and represent.

Dan Murdoch's portrait for the zine, featuring O'Connor holding her crutch. Portrait by Dan Murdoch. Courtesy of Dan Murdoch and Brooke Hatfield.
Dan Murdoch's portrait for the zine, featuring O'Connor holding her crutch. Portrait by Dan Murdoch. Courtesy of Dan Murdoch and Brooke Hatfield.
The cover of the 2007 paperback edition of O'Connor's second and final novel, The Violent Bear it Away.
The cover of the 2007 paperback edition of O'Connor's second and final novel, The Violent Bear it Away.

A portrait by definition is only part of the whole picture, only a fragment of what can be known or seen. Returning to O'Connor's works helps us to shift focus from the whole picture to the haunting fragment in interpreting O'Connor. The most recent paperback edition of O'Connor's second and final novel, The Violent Bear it Away (1960), features an extinguished matchstick haloed by a veil of smoke. It seems a fitting image to approach an understanding of O'Connor's work and legacy. Yaeger asks that we look beyond the "operatic" grotesque and excess of the southern gothic so often associated with O'Connor's work and view the fragments: "A focus on scraps or remnants changes received notions of the southern gothic. Excess, monstrosity, perversion, nightmares, rattling machinery: these rhetorical structures give way to less operatic forms in which fragments, residues, or traces of trauma fashion a regime of haunting."12 What haunts more is the residue; the "vestige, the scrap, the remainder" is "the force that's most frightening."13 The extinguished match haloed by smoke. Or the lavender handkerchief.

Towards the end of The Violent Bear it Away, a nameless stranger with a car picks up the protagonist-hitchhiker, Francis Marion Tarwater: "The person who had picked him up was a pale, lean, old-looking young man with deep hollows under his cheekbones. He had on a lavender shirt and a thick black suit and a panama hat. . . . His eyes were the same color as his shirt . . . he turned . . . and gave the boy a long personal look."14 After "the boy," Tarwater, passes out in the car, "the man pick[s] him up and carrie[s] him into the woods."15 A break in the narration occurs. Next, the man emerges from the woods, his skin "a faint pink," as "if he had refreshed himself on blood."16 (Note the vampiric South resonance of this simile.) When Tarwater awakens, "his hands were loosely tied with a lavender handkerchief . . . his clothes were neatly piled by his side. Only his shoes were on him . . . [his] mouth twisted open to the side as if it were going to displace itself permanently . . . he began to tear savagely at the lavender handkerchief until he had shredded it off."17 The monstrosity and perversion of this closing scene is the act of forced sodomy Tarwater experiences at the hands of this "friendly" man passing through. Yet, the less operatic scrap, the lavender handkerchief, becomes the focused detail that haunts the reader long after the novel's close.18

The lavender handkerchief. The extinguished match. The veil of smoke. The barbed-wire heart.19 The prosthetic leg. The peacock's feather. The pointy-rimmed glasses. The pearl necklace. The imperfect flanvas. The hobbled body. The crutch. However we interpret O'Connor, her ghost remains in these fragments and remnants she leaves behind as much as the "whole" portraits artists and writers continue to imagine. Fifty years after her death, her legacy seems cemented. Master of the southern gothic, champion of the grotesque, a meditative writer whose truth is found in the details, O'Connor's image and words continue to haunt, inspire, and generate robust conversation. As O’Connor’s cousin and a trustee of her estate, Louise Florencourt, said in a recent announcement of materials donated to Emory University’s Manuscript Archive and Rare Books Library, "Flannery should be seen as whole as could be made possible."20 As we all continue to interpret O'Connor, we would do well to heed the advice of the master herself: Remember, "an identity is not to be found on the surface . . . it lies very deep,"21 and "'if there's no bottom in your eyes, they hold more.'"22

Flannery O'Connor's bedroom at Andalusia, her home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen. The porch at Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen.
Flannery O'Connor's bedroom at Andalusia, her home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen. The porch at Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen.

For more information and to purchase Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Portraits of Flannery O'Connor, visit Brooke Hatfield's website and shop. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Flannery O'Connor – Andalusia Foundation, Inc. Hatfield describes this decision as one based on the importance of place to O'Connor's work: "O'Connor wrote the majority of her published work at Andalusia. It's a literary landmark. And O'Connor's work was so informed by the specifics of place, so Andalusia is sort of uniquely valuable to her fans. Also there's a huge screened-in porch with lots of rocking chairs, and it's a perfect place to eat a Publix Cuban sub."23 In a related Southern Spaces publication, photographer Nancy Marshall echoes Hatfield's evocation of the importance of place to O'Connor's work. Like Hatfield and the characters of Drago's story, Marshall journeys to Andalusia three times a year to trace or commune with O'Connor's ghost; she writes, "my interest is in trying to photograph the landscape as O'Connor saw it in her time and to allow the traces of her presence there to reveal themselves."24

About the Author

Eric Solomon is an editorial associate at Southern Spaces and a PhD student in the department of English at Emory University. He received his BA in English and Spanish from the University of Mississippi and the University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • 1. In addition to the HBO series True Blood and the series of novels that inspired the show, Charlaine Harris's The Southern Vampire Mysteries, see A Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin's early novel Fevre Dream (1982), set on a Mississippi Riverboat in 1857; Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, largely set in-and-around New Orleans; Seth Grahame-Smith's 2010 novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and the 2012 film of the same name, which reimagines slaves as food for vampires and the roots of Lincoln's antislavery crusade following his realization of this in New Orleans; and the television series The Vampire Diaries, set in Virginia and largely filmed in Georgia, among many others.
  • 2. O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, was memorably brought to the screen in 1980 by filmmaker John Huston. Atlanta's Good Country Pictures has acquired the film rights to many of O'Connor's texts, planning to mount a production of The Violent Bear It Away and a television series based on her short stories. Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh has also recently stated that he plans to complete his so-called "glorified suicide trilogy"—which currently combines the films The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2014)—with a film that takes its title from O'Connor's story "The Lame Shall Enter First" to star Brendan Gleeson.
  • 3. The "esteemed zine artists" include: Ashley Anderson, Rebecca Bowen, Jenifer Carter, Alvin Diec, Travis Ekmark, Christine Ernest, Brooke Hatfield, Yoonhwa Jang, Tori LaConsay, Elizabeth McNair, Dan Murdoch, Natalie Nelson, Emily Wallace, and Lydia Walls.
  • 4. Brooke Hatfield in discussion with the author, September 2014.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid.
  • 7. Johnny Drago in discussion with the author, September 2014.
  • 8. Ibid.
  • 9. Ibid.
  • 10. Patricia Yaeger, "Ghosts and Shattered Bodies, or What Does it Mean To Still Be Haunted by Southern Literature?," South Central Review 2, no.1 (Spring 2005): 87.
  • 11. "A Talented Group of Writers and Artists Prove that Flannery O'Connor Walks Among Us Still," The Bitter Southerner, August 2014, http://bittersoutherner.com/flannery-oconnor-walks-among-us-still.
  • 12. Yaeger, 90.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1955), 227, emphasis added.
  • 15. Ibid., 231.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid, 232.
  • 18. It will be lost on few that "lavender" has long been associated with homosexuality. The so-called "lavender scare" of the 1950s would have been on people's minds upon the novel's publication in 1960. The lavender scare paralleled Joe McCarthy's Red Scare, with McCarthy stating that gays and lesbians were perhaps "even more dangerous than Reds." On April 27, 1953, as O'Connor was preparing to publish "You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead," a short story which serves as chapter one in The Violent Bear It Away, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which made it legal to hunt down and fire gay and lesbian government employees. The policy lasted until President Clinton officially rescinded it in 1995. What exactly O'Connor is doing with this image and this grotesque act of violence at the novel's close is a question for another forum. Tison Pugh gives an insightful reading of homosexuality in O'Connor's work and this novel in particular in his recent Queer Chivalry: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013).
  • 19. The 1999 thirty-fifth printing of O'Connor's first novel Wise Blood features a barbed-wire heart on the cover. Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949).
  • 20. Richard Fausset, "Emory Receives Archive of Work by O’Connor," The New York Times, October 7, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/books/university-acquires-flannery-oconnors-papers-and-effects.html?_r=0.
  • 21. Flannery O'Connor, "The Regional Writer" in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969), 58.
  • 22. O'Connor, Wise Blood, 222.
  • 23. Brooke Hatfield in discussion with the author, September 2014.
  • 24. Nancy Marshall, "Andalusia: Photographs of Flannery O'Connor's Farm," Southern Spaces, April 28, 2008, http://southernspaces.org/2008/andalusia-photographs-flannery-oconnors-farm.
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Remnants of Flannery

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Posted on July 30, 2014
by

Michael Camp, Emory University 

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Southern Spaces is pairing with Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) to publish short features on MARBL collections, events, and exhibits that tell the history of spaces and places in the US South. These posts investigate the geographical, historical, and cultural study of real and imagined southern spaces through the lens of archival sources and materials and are featured on both the Southern Spaces and MARBL blogs.

John Biggers paints House of the Turtle, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1990. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
John Biggers paints House of the Turtle, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1990. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

In July 1957, Houston-based artist John Biggers traveled on a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fellowship to Ghana, Nigeria, and Dahomey (now part of Benin) to investigate multiple strands of cultural heritage on the African continent.1 Visiting both rural villages and burgeoning cities, Biggers was particularly struck by Oku Ampofo, a medical doctor and talented artist based near the Ghanaian capital of Accra. In his handwritten travel notes, now located in Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), Biggers described Ampofo as a "true intellectual" who believed "in the building of Africa, in the development of people, in that which is true and good." Biggers believed Ampofo embodied "the New Africa," linking the continent's past with its future through his artwork, which included ebony and mahogany carvings along with cement statues.2 Noting that the "strong and exuberant character, and personality of the African" endured despite "influences from other peoples," Biggers contended in a typed summary of his travels that the "original values of the old African cultures still have profound meaning today."3

Cotton Pickers, 1947. Sketch by John Biggers, depicting his early realist style. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
Cotton Pickers, 1947. Sketch by John Biggers, depicting his early realist style. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Throughout his long career, Biggers struggled to create works that would, like Ampofo's, both honor the legacies of the past and look hopefully toward the future. Biggers's own art engaged the experiences of African Americans in the US South. Much like West Africans who were grappling with the inheritances of colonialism, African Americans lived daily with the reality of being both African and American. Over the course of a multi-decade career, Biggers struggled to adequately express this tension.4 While his early pieces adhered to European styles of realism, Biggers's later work began to incorporate more stylized and symbolic elements drawn from African traditions, creating a hybrid style of realistic and abstract forms. Biggers also collected African sculptures, studying each piece in his home until its meaning revealed itself to him. Biggers worked (sometimes to the point of exhaustion) to meld African images with the iconography of the US South to create works that could provide African Americans with a sense of artistic identity.5

As part of his mission to illuminate African American experiences, Biggers helped found the Art Department at Houston's Texas Southern University (TSU) and served as its first head.6 Students responded enthusiastically to his direction. In March 1978, as part of a celebration of Biggers's thirtieth anniversary at TSU, a number of former students wrote to express gratitude to their teacher. "Thanks for being a guiding light for young black artists," wrote one, adding thanks for "inspiring blackness as a true meaning towards creative expression."7 A long-time colleague remembered, "the Joy of those kids who sat at your feet and learned the Beauty of their race and a measure of self-pride, myself included."8

House of the Turtle, pre-installation, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1992. Mural by John Biggers. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
House of the Turtle, pre-installation, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1992. Mural by John Biggers. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Biggers's blending of different symbols and traditions came to its most mature form in a pair of murals, Tree House and House of the Turtle, begun in 1990 at Virginia’s Hampton University and painted with the help of the artist's nephew James.9 Both murals include abstract and symbolic images, but House of the Turtle in particular engages Hampton's origins as a school for the children of slaves (and for the children of Native Americans). The top of the mural depicts two students of African descent holding a lamp and a flower, symbols of growth and illumination. Though stylized African forms appear throughout House of the Turtle, the triangular shape at the top of the mural evokes the "shotgun houses" of Biggers's North Carolina youth, a motif that appears throughout his works.10

Though John Biggers passed away in 2001, his first-hand account of the 1957 trip to West Africa offers researchers a perspective from which to understand Biggers’s artistic motivations. In addition to diaries and accounts from the trip, the John Biggers papers in MARBL also contain correspondence, writings, photographs, and other materials illuminating Biggers's lengthy career as an artist, educator, university administrator, and community activist. Reflecting MARBL's commitment to collecting and preserving the work of important African American artists, Biggers's papers join the collections of other notable artists of his generation, including those of Benny Andrews and Mildred S. Thompson.

About the Author

Michael Camp is a graduate processing assistant in MARBL and a PhD student in the department of History at Emory University. He received his BA in History from the University of Tennessee and his MA in social sciences from the University of Chicago.

  • 1. Biggers published a book after his trip titled Ananse: the Web of Life in Africa, three copies of which are available in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, including two that were Biggers's personal copies and one that belonged to African American composer William Levi Dawson.
  • 2. John Biggers, typescript draft of travel diary, July 4, 1957, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
  • 3. John Biggers, typescript draft of travel diary, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
  • 4. W.E.B, Du Bois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote passionately about this "double consciousness" of African American identity. MARBL and Woodruff Library contain extensive holdings of The Crisis, the NAACP's official journal.
  • 5. Olive Jensen Theisen, Walls that Speak: The Murals of John Biggers (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010), 70-73.
  • 6. TSU, a historically black university (HBCU), was established in 1927 as the private Houston Colored Junior College. It was converted into a public institution and renamed Texas State University for Negroes in 1947, and in 1951 was renamed again as Texas Southern University.
  • 7. Curtis Watson, Jr. to John Biggers, March 1978, and Al Blair to John Biggers, March 1978, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
  • 8. Al Blair, letter to John Biggers, March 1978, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
  • 9. Hampton Institute, also an HBCU, was founded in 1868 by members the American Missionary Association to provide education to former slaves. It established a program for teaching Native Americans in 1878, a project that lasted until 1923. With the addition of several academic programs, the Institute became Hampton University in 1984.
  • 10. Theisen, Walls that Speak, 100-03.
Posted on July 17, 2014
by

Maureen McGavin, Emory University

in
Confederate fort near Atlanta, Georgia, part of the city's inner ring of fortification, 1864. Photographic print by George H. Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Confederate fort near Atlanta, Georgia, part of the city's inner ring of fortification, 1864. Photographic print by George H. Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Library continues to celebrate the launch of the Battle of Atlanta mobile tour website and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle with a presentation and exhibit of materials on Thursday, July 17, at 6:30 p.m. in the Joseph W. Jones Room.

Developed by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), the smartphone-friendly tour provides GPS directions and mapping, historical information about each of its twelve stops, and multimedia content including video and historical images. It is accessible via a web link, BattleATL.org, and requires no download.

The event will include a talk about the context and legacy of the July 22, 1864, battle by Daniel Pollock, project lead and Civil War scholar; a demonstration of the mobile tour by Brian Croxall, project manager and ECDS digital humanities strategist; and a presentation on the Civil War collections at Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). Randy Gue, MARBL curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections, will discuss stories and perspectives on the Battle that emerge from MARBL's Union, Confederate, and civilian collections.

"MARBL has a range of materials that document the Civil War, and statistically they represent some of our highest-use collections," Gue said. "It is exciting to see the library and ECDS develop tools that transform historical items and data from archives with digital technology. The Battle of Atlanta mobile tour website represents a new, interactive way to learn."

Erica Bruchko, US history and African American studies librarian at the Woodruff library said that the exhibit, "Mobilizing the Battle of Atlanta," chronicles how the tour application was created and the research that went into it. Bruchko, Croxall, Pollock, and ECDS Andrew W. Mellon graduate fellow Chris Sawula curated the exhibit, which will remain on view through October 19, 2014.

Dolly Lunt Burge, whose diary is in the exhibit, wrote about the Battle sounds she could hear from her home in Covington, Georgia. Courtesy Civil War collections, MARBL, Emory University.
Dolly Lunt Burge, whose diary is in the exhibit, wrote about the Battle sounds she could hear from her home in Covington, Georgia. Courtesy Civil War collections, MARBL, Emory University.

Among the historical materials on display will be photographs, letters, lithographs, newspaper clippings, postcards, maps, and the diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, who described hearing the Battle of Atlanta—one of the biggest in the final months of the Civil War—from as far away as Covington, Georgia. The exhibit will also include some items that do not appear on the digital tour.

Team members compare the stops along the mobile tour to a kind of twenty-first century historical marker—one that can hold an unlimited amount of text, accommodate images and video, and can be updated as new research comes to light.

Project members drew on Pollock's research to pinpoint twelve significant areas—most now unrecognizable due to the city's growth—and created a GPS-guided tour enhanced with information and images gathered from various institutions' archives during months of research. When the ECDS team could not find an application with the precise features they needed, they created their own open-source software.

"While many people in Atlanta know there was a Civil War battle here, very few of them could show you where it happened. Our digital tour takes you to the exact location of twelve significant moments in the Battle of Atlanta," Croxall said. "To learn that the first shots were fired near a local high school or to realize that its most ferocious fighting took place along your commute at what's now the intersection of Interstate 20 and Moreland Avenue, helps you see the city in a new, historical context."

The exhibit will be on display outside ECDS on level three, near the Joseph W. Jones Room where the presentation and demonstration will be held. Light refreshments will be served.

The Robert W. Woodruff Library is located at 540 Asbury Circle in Atlanta, Georgia 30322. Parking is available in the Fishburne parking deck.

Posted on July 16, 2014
by

Maureen McGavin, Emory University

in
Confederate and Union troops in close combat, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.
Confederate and Union troops in close combat, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.

As the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta approaches, the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) at Emory University has launched a self-guided mobile tour of Battle-related sites throughout the city, complete with maps, historical information, photos and videos, and even parking suggestions for those who drive the route.

The app launched with a celebration and demonstration held Wednesday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum. Another event, planned for Thursday July 17 at Emory's Robert W. Woodruff Library, will include a small exhibit of historical photos and materials from its Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL) related to the Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta, which took place July 22, 1864.

Designed to enrich people's understanding of Atlanta and its history, the smartphone-friendly tour provides GPS directions and mapping, historical information about each of its twelve stops, and multimedia content including video and historical images. It requires no download and is accessible via a web link, BattleAtl.org.

The mobile tour is part of an ECDS team project that includes Daniel Pollock, a physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Battle of Atlanta scholar; Allen Tullos, ECDS co-director and Emory history professor; Brian Croxall, project coordinator and ECDS digital humanities strategist; Jay Varner, chief software developer for the project; Kevin Glover, Emory web developer; Chris Sawula, history graduate student, ECDS fellow, and photo researcher; and Erica Bruchko, a U.S. history and African American studies librarian at the Woodruff library.

Digital mapping that matched each historical spot with its modern-day location was done by geospatial librarian Michael Page, another member of the project team.

The Troup Hurt House and the four-gun DeGress Battery, which were temporarily captured by Confederate infantry on the afternoon of July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.
The Troup Hurt House and the four-gun DeGress Battery, which were temporarily captured by Confederate infantry on the afternoon of July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.

The stops are set up in chronological order of the Battle's events, but the tour can be stopped or started at any point. It concludes at the Atlanta Cyclorama, where an enormous circular painting of the Battle of Atlanta is displayed.

"Atlanta played a significant role in the Civil War," Pollock says. "The Battle of Atlanta was a turning point in a very important campaign that began in early May 1864 and culminated with the fall of Atlanta on September 2. It was the biggest battle in that campaign and the most consequential, and it took place in our midst."

The mobile tour gives visitors a chance to remember the Battle's significant moments in the areas where they happened: Union General William Sherman's headquarters during the Battle, on the campus of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library; Confederate General John B. Hood's vantage point for the Battle, within what is now Oakland Cemetery; Fort Walker, marked by an earthen mound in Grant Park that was part of the Confederate defense that encircled the city; the area where the Battle of Atlanta began, now occupied by Alonzo Crim High School; the spot where Union General James McPherson was killed, marked by an upright cannon monument at McPherson and Monument avenues; and Leggett's Hill, where the Battle's most ferocious fighting took place, now the intersection of Moreland Avenue and I-20, to name just a few.

Many important Battle of Atlanta sites have been replaced by service stations, interstates, buildings, and other signs of urban growth. Still, there are surviving topographical features of the sprawling battlefield and many reminders of key events, recorded on historical markers placed just prior to the Civil War centennial in the 1950s, Pollock says.

"This application is the 21st century version of a historical marker," Croxall adds. "Markers only fit so much text, and you don't know they're there until you come across them." Another benefit is that ECDS licensed the tour software as open-source and will make it available to others who want to create their own tours, Croxall says.

Atlanta was a thriving Southern urban area prior to the Battle. Wet plate negative by George Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
Atlanta was a thriving Southern urban area prior to the Battle. Wet plate negative by George Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Pollock had been studying the Battle of Atlanta for more than twenty years and giving periodic tours when his friend, Tullos, suggested that his tour could be turned into a self-guided, GPS-driven mobile app with ECDS's help. Work on the project began in August 2012.

The mobile tour is a companion piece to Daniel Pollock's article "The Battle of Atlanta: History and Remembrance," published on May 30 in Southern Spaces, an Emory-based digital, peer-reviewed journal now in its tenth year. The article, written by Pollock, provides expanded information about the Battle of Atlanta and the twelve tour stops.

"It's been exciting to work on, and it's been a very collaborative project," says Tullos, who also serves as senior editor of Southern Spaces. He adds the project was particularly rewarding for Pollock, who not only has been able to share his knowledge of the Battle of Atlanta with a wider audience, but also acquired a great collection of images from reunion events that occurred for decades after the Civil War. Those images will be accessible via the Southern Spaces article.

Posted on June 18, 2014
by

Claire Ittner, Emory University

in

Southern Spaces is pairing with Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) to publish short features on MARBL collections, events, and exhibits that tell the history of spaces and places in the US South. These posts investigate the geographical, historical, and cultural study of real and imagined southern spaces through the lens of archival sources and materials and are featured on both the Southern Spaces and MARBL blogs.

Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. prints, Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. prints, Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Printmaker Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.'s posters and artists' books memorialize and celebrate African American history and culture. His work, housed in the Kennedy & Sons Collection in Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), tells complex, personal, and painful stories that contribute to a new vernacular in the depiction and description of African American experience in the United States. In describing his work, Kennedy writes, "I am a SOCIAL PRINTER! Whatever I print—because my work is dedicated to the documentation of Negro culture—whatever I print is political."1 Kennedy's posters, on which he literally spells out his messages, are the most blatant example of the political nature of his work. The two posters that bear the text "Equality is a Privilege Reserved for Blacks" and "Coffee Makes You Black" demonstrate that Kennedy's voice is both witty and insistent, challenging the viewer to reconsider perceptions of black culture, history, and art.

A self-described "humble negro printer," Kennedy creates many of his letterpress posters and postcards on commission. In the 2008 documentary Proceed and Be Bold!, which explores Kennedy's life and artistic output, Kennedy stated, "I don't believe in the thing called art . . . I think people just make stuff."2 Following this artistic vision, many of Kennedy's prints function as both advertisements and art, emerging from and responding to the idiosyncratic needs of the communities they illustrate and inhabit. As an artist, Kennedy has lived and worked in the rural towns of Gordo and York, Alabama, as well as the urban center of Detroit, Michigan, where he currently resides.

Print from The Children Don't Count Exhibit, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.
Print from The Children Don't Count Exhibit, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Kennedy relies less on traditional locales for exhibiting his art, such as galleries or museum spaces, and instead prefers more direct and democratic communication with the public. He sells prints online for $25 and in-person at local fairs. When he exhibits his work in museum spaces, Kennedy utilizes the space in both creative and political ways. For example, viewing the gallery exhibition of Kennedy's The Children Don't Count, a multiyear project dedicated to children killed in Chicago in the early 1990s, required visitors to walk over a series of prints bearing the name of a child and how his or her death occurred. Sample prints from the first instance of The Children Don't Count in MARBL's Kennedy & Sons collection remembers Chicago children who died in 1992.

The activist motivations that undergird much of Kennedy's work inflect his artist's book sculpture of a burned church included in MARBL's Kennedy and Sons collection. This piece takes its inspiration from the series of arsons of African American churches that swept the southern United States in the 1990s, echoing similar church burnings that took place during the civil rights movement. These incidents, which occurred at predominantly black rural churches from Arkansas to Virginia, targeted the very places that writer Amiri Baraka has described as the "social focal points" of black life.3 Kennedy's "Burnt Church" is part of a series he is creating to commemorate these recent burnings; "One . . . for every church," Kennedy writes about the project that is at once art, protest, and community rebuilding.4

Burned church artist's book, exterior, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library. Burned church artist's book, interior, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.
Burned church artist's book, exterior, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library. Burned church artist's book, interior, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Kennedy and Sons Collection, Emory University Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.

Kennedy's artists' books combine the written word he privileges in his posters with the provocative space of a church building decorated with long strips of bible pages that leap almost flame-like across the model building and onto its roof. The words of varying size and font wrap the building with flowing ribbons of text. While some of the text is legible, its function here is not to represent a literal, scriptural message, but rather to emphasize the power of the biblical words that survived the church burnings. The building itself, despite the ruin and decline suggested by the ashes scattered below it, emanates an otherworldly power. Upon close examination of the model building, it is apparent that the roof of the church can be lifted, revealing a charred Bible nestled in its core. The experience of opening the church sculpture is akin to that of opening a treasure chest: awe, disbelief and a certain reverence. In addition to highlighting the power of the violence that resulted in the series of fires the model church commemorates, Kennedy's sculpture emphasizes the imminent power of the communities and their sacred texts that have survived.

MARBL's collecting strength in black print culture also includes the papers of Carter G. Woodson and Kelly Miller, both notable African American artists and intellectuals. Kennedy's addition of this living memorial to MARBL joins the numerous collections in the archives documenting African American history and culture, all of which are available for further reexamination, interpretation, and study by researchers, scholars, and the general public.

About the Author

Claire Ittner graduated from Davidson College with a degree in English and Art History. She worked as a project researcher at MARBL until May 2014, and is now working in the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University.

  • 1. Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., "Social Book Binding," in Talking the Boundless Book: Art, Language, and the Book Arts, ed. Charles Alexander (Minneapolis: Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1995), 47.
  • 2. Proceed and be Bold!, directed by Laura Zinger (Chicago: Brown Finch Films, 2008), DVD.
  • 3. LeRoi Jones, Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1963), 40-41.
  • 4. Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., letter to author, March 14, 2014, Kennedy and Sons Collection, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University Archives.