Freedom’s Birthday, Fourth of July

Next week is my favorite holiday. The Fourth of July, America’s birthday! I have terrific memories of living in rural NC and having a big Fourth of July parade in which we rode decorated bicycles or trikes, depending upon age. My brother, three years old at the time, won first prize in the trikes division for his red, white, and blue festooned tricycle! On the night of the third many men would gather together, build a big pit from cinder blocks, and then cook pigs over coals while they told lies and drank beer. Later in Myrtle Beach we would be inundated by company as everyone wanted to come to the beach for the Fourth. All of the mills in the Carolinas shut down for the Fourth of July week, and all who could came to the beach. I worked on the beach first as beach boy and then later as life guard. It was our busiest time. When in the Air Force there were always picnics, demonstrations, fly overs and such to mark the day. Once I saw the Thunderbirds, the USAF aerial flight team. It was thrilling. In the mid 90s I drove an old Ford model A cabriolet in the Great North American Race. We got up early in Wilmington, Delaware and drove to the Mall in downtown Washington DC. All of the 150 antique cars parked in rows and we were a car show for the Fourth of July. We were featured on the Today show, our host was Willard Scott!

Ted Barron put some freedom music on his blog, Boogie Woogie Flu last 4th of July. I look forward to his post next week. He is an interesting photographer, musicologist, and social pundit whose blog is always terrific. I like the music and the stories. Everyone should pass through there and see what goodies he has posted there in Fluville. I wish he was a neighbor, he seems to be a really interesting man.

I am not much of a flag waver I must admit. Flags, national anthems, and and flag decals are too nationalistic for me. Also, they just make it too easy to declare one’s patriotism while remaining seated. I agree with John Prine: “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore…” The picture accompanying this post was made a few years back in Habana Vieja, Old Havana. This young woman, almost certainly a young jinetera is most likely setting out to meet an American sex tourist in Havana. Either ways the flag around her waist makes a striking counterpoint to “wrapping oneself in the flag.”

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North Carolina, Tobacco, and Marion Post Wolcott

Looking at other photos of tobacco barns I came across an image by Marion Post Wolcott. She was one of the later FSA photographers working in the late 1930’s with John Vachon, Jack Delano, and John Collier. According to Jack Hurley she was handicapped in her photography by her youth and beauty.

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Apparently she was one of those unusual people that most all fall in love with upon simply meeting them. Roy Stryker who was the director of the photographic or “Research” division of the FSA was a friend of Dr. Howard Odum at UNC Chapel Hill and had supplied him with two photographers to assist in his sociological research. Dorothea Lange came to Chapel Hill in the summer 1939. She started a project working for Howard Odum and his associate Harriet Herring. She had immersed herself in the bright leaf tobacco culture.
This was the project Wolcott decided to further pursue when she arrived in October the same year. She and Herring went out into the countryside of Chatham County and encountered, in Wolcott’s words. “came across a very interesting settlement of Negro owners with well equipped large farms, some of the ‘grown’ children going to college, etc.”

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Tobacco barns. Negro owner living in Mebane in prosperous Negro settlement between Carr and Cedar Grove, Orange County, North Carolina.

I was motivated to go to the Library of Congress website and look at Wolcott’s photographs from North Carolina. There are 1259 images in the files. Most have been digitized and can be viewed, all are in the public domain since they are US Govt property. I did not look at all except as thumbnails. Moving through, them stopping periodically to enlarge and study an image took up most of my afternoon. It is an amazing collection of images varying from the traffic at a Duke-UNC football game to black farm workers working to hang tobacco in the barns of Caswell County.

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There are many pictures of the auction barns in Durham showing what a festive time was had by most.

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There is a wonderful essay on tobacco and its production by former Organization of American Historians President Pete Daniel that discusses Wolcott’s time in North Carolina in great detail.
In his book, Marion Post Wolcott, A Photographic Journey, (University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, 1989), F. Jack Hurley points out that photographic art was not Marion’s goal. She was far more interested in what the photograph could do to further educate and influence people in the subject or issue at hand. She thought the photographic image was most important in what it could say about our world. In her speech to the Women in Photography conference she made this very clear. “My principal concern,” she said, “is to challenge photographers to document, in mixed media if they wish, or even just record, in still photographs as well as film or video, our present quality of life, the causes of malaise in society,and the world- and the evidence of it.”
Marion Post Wolcott was an important person in photography. Although perhaps less well known than some of the other FSA photographers she had considerable impact. Photographically her goal was the influential image. Much of her work aimed to use photography as a serious documentary means to support and strengthen written and oral research. She had the the help of a master propagandist, planner, and liberal in Roy Stryker who was always her advocate. Her work in Chapel Hill delighted Howard Odum and the photographs greatly supplemented the work done in his thirteen county regional sociological study.

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Tobacco Barns in Caswell County North Carolina

Spent a cloudy and sometimes rainy day up in Caswell County Monday with Roger Blanchard driving about and photographing tobacco barns. I recently learned that this part of North Carolina has many old tobacco barns as well as slave cabins that date back to the early and mid portion of the 19th century. Some of the barns are just too far gone to bother with but several are  interesting and demonstrate the notched log cabin construction that was used then, have been kept in reasonable report, and are attractive subject matter. At he junction of Highway 62 and Bertha Wilson Road is a highway marker stating that  a slave, Stephen Slade, had accidentally discovered the process for flue curing tobacco that resulted in the milder bright leaf tobacco ideal for cigarettes. While today there is a lot of tobacco growing in the area, I think most of it is burley, which is a harsher tobacco used for wrappers and things like that. In this photo the sides of the barn are covered with what is tin although it has a coppery color. One can see the old logs where the metal sheathing has come loose. Other barns are more typical log and chinking construction with tin roofs. Some have bright colors where they were covered with metal siding that had been used previously in other buildings. A nice discussion of this and commentary on remembering tobacco, an integral aspect of North Carolina history and economic development can be found at

Tobacco Barn Caswell County, NC

Tobacco Barn Caswell County, NC

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Notched Corner

 

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Twins

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Hangng Out, Plaza Vieja

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