Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tennessee Valley Author (ity)

The cotton is being picked in Alabama.  There were fields full of it when I drove through the Tennessee Valley in North Alabama to do some research and readings.

Cotton fields outside of Decatur
I found time for some good barbecue first.

Then hoofed it down to Decatur, Alabama, for some great events.  First, I spent time with the amazing Suzie Wiley of WYAM TV-51 in Decatur.  I got to appear on Valley Talk and then on Talk of the Town with her and co-host Derrick Shull.  WYAM is going to be a regular stop, I hope.  They are absolutely wonderful people.

Eric, Suzie and Derrick in the studio
Me, Suzie and Derrick right after Talk of the Town.  What a great time!

I read at the Decatur Public Library and was met by this wonderful group of ladies.  It was a great evening!

My wonderful welcoming committee at the Decatur Library
Clovis and I spent time in the beautiful cypress forests along the Tennessee.

The Wheeler Wildlife Refuge
Clovis loved walking along the river.

The Tennessee River at Wheeler Dam.
I wandered around beautiful and historic downtown Decatur.

The Old Bank
The depot-Decatur was an important river and rail hub through the 19th and early 20th centuries
Downtown Decatur.  Calm now compared to its wild riverboat days.
And I got to do a lot of research about life in the area in the early 20th century, particularly the 1930s.  I went to Oakwood University in Huntsville, where I researched academic life at the historically black Seventh Day Adventist college, founded in 1896.

Moran Hall, c. 1938
East Hall, c. 1909 
In Decatur, I spent time with John Allison and Libby at the incredible Morgan County Archives.  Decatur in the early 20th century had an important African American community.  Churches were important centers of community.  With little support from the state, black communities often supported their own schools.  Black leaders in Decatur were part of an important and politically active professional class.  Some of the Scottsboro trials were held in Decatur, and these black professionals testified regarding their jury participation (that there was none).  This led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision (based on the 14th Amendment) that required due process and equal protection for all, regardless of race.  In 1935, the first African American since Reconstruction served on a Huntsville jury.

The First Missionary Baptist Church on Vine Street in Decatur, completed in 1921, designed by African American architect W.A. Rayfield.
In 1935, an integrated audience, a rarity in Alabama at this time, came to the Princess Theater to hear Dr. George Washington Carver, head of the Agriculture Department at the Tuskegee Institute, give the graduation address for Decatur's African American High School.  Carver's address was entitled "Great Creator, What is the Peanut and Why Did You Make It?", the Decatur Daily noted, and said, "the somewhat homely subject provided a medium for one of the most astonishing and revealing addresses every heard by a Decatur audience.

The gorgeous Princess Theater in downtown Decatur, illuminated.
 Here's a car from the period sitting by a "meat and three" in Huntsville, as if to help the mood.


 Here's a great ad from the Decatur newspapers of the 1930s.


And then it was back to Nashville to hear Mom give a great history tour of downtown Nashville.  A passion for history runs in the family!

And a lovely view of the Tennessee state capitol across the bicentennial mall.  I learned that this was a William Strickland building, Philadelphia architect and designer of the Athenaeum and the Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island!

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