An archive of photos from the Jim Crow South

A young black “servant” from a white family, who called him “Humpy” because of a back deformity. A Ku Klux Klan parades down Main Stree...


A young black “servant” from a white family, who called him “Humpy” because of a back deformity. A Ku Klux Klan parades down Main Street circa 1922. Men in overalls at the construction site of the Magnolia Bowl football stadium in 1933. Minstrel shows, baptisms, carnivals and lynchings. In his portrait studio and around the world, Otis Noel Pruitt used his camera to document the soul and soullessness of Columbus, Mississippi in the first half of the 20th century.

Organized from the 88,000 negatives that author Berkley Hudson rescued “from the dustbin of history”, ON THE POSSUM TOWN OF PRUITT (University of North Carolina, $49.95) is a “photobiography” of a time and a place: a southern town, east of the Tombigbee River and west of the US border. ‘Alabama, eroded by Jim Crow and the Depression. Locals called Columbus “Possum Town,” a nickname given by Choctaw and Chickasaw residents who thought an early white settler looked like a marsupial.

Pruitt spent most of his life in Columbus, where his white skin allowed him to move freely through white and black spaces: homes, churches, rivers, fields. Many images, especially those of black subjects, lack identification or context. Are those the parents of the injured boy next to him on the porch? What is the old woman suffering from in bed, cared for by an anonymous guardian? “Either way,” writes Hudson, “the visual record is powerful, allowing readers to provide their own captions.” With the ethnographic rigor and intimacy of a local, Pruitt’s eye factually wanders between scenes of gilded refinement – ​​the artisanal splendor of privilege – and the gruesome violence that makes that privilege possible.

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Newsrust - US Top News: An archive of photos from the Jim Crow South
An archive of photos from the Jim Crow South
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