Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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26 June 2006

Book Notes (unedited) written for the Journal of Southern History

The Mississippi River in 1953: A Photographic Journey from the Headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Charles Dee Sharp, with essays by John O. Anfinson. (Santa Fe, N.M., and Stauton, Va.: Center for American Places, 2005; distributed by the University of Chicago Press. Pp. x, 222. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 1-930066-27-9.) This sumptuous volume of color and black and white photographs, along with Charles Dee Sharp’s contemporaneous journal entries accompanying the images, captures the feel, the variety, the people, the beauty, and the reality of the many aspects of the Mississippi River of a bygone era. Although the documentary film Sharp intended to make never materialized, his photographs are beautifully reproduced here. In the twenty-three-page conclusion, an essay by John O. Anfinson, an author and historian of America’s greatest river, provides historical background. This volume also includes introductory material explaining the provenance of the pictures, an appendix, which discusses the river’s geology, thirty-two pages of “Notes on the Photographs,” compiled by project director Randall B. Jones, and a selected bibliography. [Carolyn Earle Billingsley, University of Arkansas at Little Rock]

Between Contacts and Colonies: Archaeological Perspectives on the Protohistoric Southeast. Edited by Carmeron B. Wesson and Mark A. Rees. (Tuscaloosa, and London: University of Alabama Press, 2002. Pp. x, 270, 34 illustrations. Paper $29.99, ISBN 0-8173-1167-X; Cloth $55.00, ISBN 0-8173-1253-6.) In this volume of essays, taken from presentations at a 1997 symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Archeological Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ten chapters present perspectives on Native Americans in the Southeast during the time between initial contact with Europeans and the beginning recorded history pertaining to these peoples almost two centuries later—a period referred to as the Protohistoric period (roughly the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries). The authors draw on multidisciplinary approaches, including history, archaeology, ethnohistory, and anthropology, and most of the essays are quite theoretical in style and content. The themes analyzing Native American culture include: “cultural ecology, warfare, architecture, subsistence, disease, trade, the construction of social identities, and political economy” and sites discussed include “data from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia” (p. 9). [Carolyn Earle Billingsley, University of Arkansas at Little Rock]

Malindy’s Freedom: The Story of a Slave Family. Mildred Johnson and Theresa Delsoin; edited by Stuart Symington Jr. and Anne W. Symington. (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2005. Pp. xvi, 215. $22.95, ISBN 1-883982-53-7.) Malindy’s Freedom, beautifully crafted and illustrated, recounts the life of a young Cherokee Indian girl (born circa 1820), who became enslaved illegally in Franklin County, Missouri. As an adult slave, she married a free black man, whose heritage was mostly Irish and Native American, and gave birth to their five children, who were, like their mother, enslaved. Taken directly from the authors’s slave grandmother’s oft-told stories from her own experiences and those of her mother Malindy, this work of fictionalized oral history (actual dialogue is invented) includes well integrated historical context, albeit with only a selected bibliography instead of footnotes. As with much oral history, while containing much factual information, it is a bit marred by the tone, which all too often makes Malindy and her husband Charlie Wilson sound vaguely saint like. For example, “[Malindy’s] children were taught self-control, discipline, forbearance, respect, and honor” (p. 93). However, this is a tale powerfully told with narrative fluidity to introduce readers to a “real” story of slavery and is a good addition to the literature of slave narratives. Malindy’s Freedom is especially effective in conveying the perils of a female slave in a world where she had no control over her own body or the fate of her own children; the section where she and her children are sold is particularly affecting. Emancipation came to Malindy and her family after the Civil War, but she died only five years later, leaving her husband and grown children to complete their journey from slavery to freedom. [Carolyn Earle Billingsley, University of Arkansas at Little Rock]

America’s Trail of Tears: A Story of Love and Betrayal. Dean W. Arnold. (Chattanooga, Tenn.: Chattanooga Historical Foundation Co., 2005. P. 274. Paper, $19.95, plus $3 shipping; available from author: PO Box 2053, Chattanooga, TN 37409. ISBN 0-9749076-0-X.) The author’s intent in writing this book is clear by the time one finishes reading it: he realized that neither the Cherokee people nor non-Native Americans were familiar with this important story of how the Cherokee were removed to present-day Oklahoma and his goal was to tell the story in an accessible way. Dean W. Arnold is a journalist and local historian, who has provided a clear narrative of the events leading up to, surrounding, and immediately after the usurpation of Cherokee lands in the Southeast. (There is very little about the actual Trail or Tears.) All the significant players are fleshed out, including John Ross, the Ridges, Elias Boudinot, Andrew Jackson, and the many clergymen who worked with religious organizations to bring their message and “civilization” to the native people, as well as supporting characters such as Chief Justice John Marshall and John C. Calhoun. Arnold is not breaking any new ground here, but he has produced a readable narrative of what happened and why during this crucial period of American history, along with explanations of South Carolina’s Nullification Act, Jackson’s motivations, the overall political climate, the culture of the times, along with illustrations, source citations, a bibliography, and a robust index. Furthermore, Arnold presents the stories from all sides in the conflict: Did Andrew Jackson have the best interests of Native Americans in mind or did he just want to open up their lands to westward expansion? Did the Ridges sell out and become the villains, or were they acting to ensure what they believed to be their people’s survival? Did Ross close his eyes to the inevitability of removal or was he a great leader for acting on behalf of the majority of his people to the very end? This is an excellent book, historically well grounded, to introduce and explain the topic to anyone who might be unfamiliar with the story in its entirety. [Carolyn Earle Billingsley, University of Arkansas at Little Rock]

Educating the Masses: The Unfolding History of Black School Administrators in Arkansas, 1900–2000. Research Committee of the Retired Educators of Little Rock and Other Public Schools, edited by C. Calvin Smith, contributing editor Linda Walls Joshua. (Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press, 2003. Pp. x, 223. Cloth $29.95, ISBN 1-55728-744-9. Paper $14.95, ISBN 1-55728-806-2.) Arkansas, a poor state, has always been hard-pressed to provide public education for her white students; black students had even less funding, poorer facilities, and teachers who were paid even less than their white counterparts. This book, which begins with the advent of schools for black students during Reconstruction, lists many of the black school administrators of the twentieth century and recounts their individual and collective struggles to improve the situation of their schools and their students. [Carolyn Earle Billingsley, University of Arkansas at Little Rock]