Cover image for Robert Gwathmey : the life and art of a passionate observer
Robert Gwathmey : the life and art of a passionate observer
Kammen, Michael G.
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Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1999]

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240 pages, 48 pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 27 cm
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N6537.G9 K36 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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American artist Robert Gwathmey (1903-1988) was a leading member of the Social Realist movement that flourished from the 1930s through the 1950s. Like his fellow Social Realists, Gwathmey sought to use his art to expose privilege and pretense, demand social justice, and call for major changes in the prevailing socioeconomic system.

Gwathmey was an eighth-generation Virginian of Welsh heritage, and throughout his life his main artistic themes were race relations and his native South. He is perhaps best remembered as the first white American painter to depict African Americans in an unromanticized, respectful manner. Using a unique style that combined a deliberate two-dimensional flatness with deep and vivid colors, Gwathmey illuminated the inherent dignity of the tenant farmers and sharecroppers who were his subjects.

As a lifelong activist against injustice, Gwathmey was kept under surveillance by the FBI for nearly thirty years. Using Gwathmey's FBI file, along with numerous interviews and archival records, Michael Kammen crafts a compelling portrait of an engaging American painter in the midst of dramatic social and political change.

Author Notes

Michael Gedaliah Kammen was born in Rochester, New York on October 25, 1936. He received a bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and master's and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard University. He was a professor of American history and culture at Cornell University since 1965. He wrote numerous books including A Season of Youth, A Machine That Would Go of Itself, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, Visual Shock, and Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials. He received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization. He died on November 29, 2013 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A white, Virginia-born social realist painter, Gwathmey produced marvelous pictures of African-American life, mostly in the agrarian South. His characters are not historical emblems but have their own unsentimentalized humanity and quiet dignity. In Gwathmey's distinctive angular style, these figures seem to be outcasts, despised and exploited by white society, yet imbued nonetheless with perseverance, solidarity and hope rather than despair. In this superbly illustrated monograph, Kammen (American Culture, American Tastes, just out from Knopf; see PW Interview, Aug. 2, Forecasts, June 14), a professor of American history and culture at Cornell, gauges the achievement of a man whom the FBI kept under surveillance for 27 years because of his Communist Party affiliations, his strong support for black culture and his outspoken, courageous stance against racial discrimination. Moving to New York in 1942 with his wife, the photographer Rosalie Hook, Gwathmey went on to explore the ironies of race relations during the 1950s, even as abstract expressionism eclipsed his brand of realist commentary. Kammen captures the evolution of the artist's work as it registered the seismic shifts of the civil rights movement and chronicles the self-destructive streakÄincluding alcoholism and an extramarital affairÄthat may have kept Gwathmey from realizing his full potential. Never quite the equal of his contemporaries Ben Shawn and Jack Levine, Gwathmey (1903-1988) nevertheless proves worthy of this major reappraisal. (Sept.) FYI: An exhibition of Gwathmey's work, co-curated by Kammen and Augustus Freundlich, will travel to five cities beginning in September. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gwathmey (1903-88) was born and raised in the South, grew into artistic maturity during the Great Depression, actively painted into the 1980s, and is now considered one of America's finest Social Realists. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his art was the way that heÄa white SouthernerÄdepicted the lives of African Americans. In a style reminiscent of Rouault's use of heavy lines, the daily lives of black farmers and laborers are shown with a dignity and sympathy akin to Millet's famous representations of French peasants. This biographical study explores the role Gwathmey's upbringing and environment had on his art and explicates the meaning of his subject matter and symbolism. Accompanying the clearly written text are high-quality reproductions of over 40 of his paintings, showing his use of rich, broad areas of color. Recommended for public and academic libraries with interest in American art.ÄEugene C. Burt, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Except for two master's theses from 1971 and 1998 and Paul Robeson's 1946 ACA Gallery catalog essay on Gwathmey (1903-88), the scholarly and other literature on this important yet academically overlooked artist has been inexplicably all but nonexistent. This has been rectified in one magnificent fell swoop by Kammen, already well known for his fine writings on Andrew Wyeth and broader areas of American art (e.g., his 1992 Meadows of Memory: Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture, CH, Dec'92). Researching and writing as passionately as Gwathmey prepared and executed his own works, Kammen has firmly established his subject as an important member among the group of social realists who flourished in the US from the 1930s to the 1950s, artists such as Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden. Utilizing a wide and rich variety of archival and other material, and considering Gwathmey within the context of art history and those he admired, his history and aesthetics are given equal treatment and assessment. The reader is treated to 70 very good quality black-and-white images and nearly 50 excellent color images of the work. Topical and biographical chapters; chronology; notes. Well produced amd moderately priced; highly recommended. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. J. Weidman; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art



Chapter One From Out of the South Owen Gwathmey, a Welshman from the island of Anglesia, near the coast of Wales, emigrated to Virginia during the 1680s and settled in Gloucester County east of the York River in the Tidewater area, where he married Mrs. Cleverious, the widow of a German physician. They produced two children, and their line eventually became prolific. The Gwathmey stem of interest here had settled in King and Queen County north of Gloucester by the 1780s and subsequently established a continuing presence in the Richmond area for more than a century thereafter. By the mid-nineteenth century they had intermarried with Harrisons and Nicolsons, branches of older English families that had neither prospered notably nor achieved particular prominence. A few Gwathmey descendants moved on to Kentucky, favoring Louisville, but most remained in the environs of Richmond.     Robert Gwathmey, the a rtist, an eighth-generation Virginian, was born on January 24, 1903, in Manchester, a community close to Richmond. His father, also Robert, a railroad engineer, had been born in Richmond in 1866 and died on May 27, 1902, eight months before Robert Jr. entered the world. He was killed instantly when his locomotive exploded. Witnesses could never obliterate the memory of seeing him blown forty feet in the air. Burial took place promptly the next day in Hollywood Cemetery. His wife, Eva Mortimer Harrison, two years younger than Robert Sr., had been employed as a public school teacher. She died near Petersburg, Virginia, on June 1, 1941, when a bus skidded into the station wagon in which she occupied the front passenger seat. Her daughter-in-law, Rosalie Hook Gwathmey, who was driving, and her two surviving daughters, Katherine and Ida Carrington, who were riding in the second seat, were severely injured. One of the daughters suffered cruel cuts and was partially scalped. The other lost a number of teeth in this collision. Robert, the artist, and his three-year-old son, Charles, were seated in the rear of the wagon and escaped with bumps and bruises. Eva was buried next to her husband two days after the accident. The sequence of strange tragedies is even longer. Eva and Robert Sr. had four children. The oldest, Mary Louise, died in 1923 at age twenty-six in a horseback riding accident.     Robert Gwathmey rarely mentioned the disastrous circumstances of his father's death. He would, on occasion, say that "I just made it," and his 1951 painting Shanties (fig. 3) features a steam locomotive and its tender in the middle distance. But bitterness about the past was not in his nature. Although he was sent to a Baptist Sunday school, religion did not "take" with him. In the winter of 1949-50 he wrote to a friend from Paris after reading the first short story developed by eleven-year-old Charles, "I lost control and laughed uncontrollably as in church."     People remembered Robert as a spoiled child (see fig. 4), and he was considered a "mischievous boy" at John Marshall High School in Richmond. Despite poor grades, however, he stayed out of trouble and worked for three years on the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad as a "car attendant." While in high school he also had a job with a florist during several summers as well as Easter and Christmas. Learning to arrange flowers while still in his teens may help to explain his brilliance later as a painter of floral still lifes, though his preference would always be to paint field flowers rather than cultivated ones. (See plates 25 and 29.) Looking back in 1968, the year that he retired from teaching at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York, Gwathmey explained why he never used chiaroscuro in his art. "I was raised in Tidewater Virginia there where the land is flat and the roads are wide. That's where I had all of my good times. And there you see everything in silhouette. You see a tree from its roots up to the topmost leaf. Whereas in some other part of the land, the Piedmont or the mountains, you would have, we'll say, a backdrop of landscape, a mountain as it were."     Other legacies from Gwathmey's youth also influenced his art in critical ways. The Museum of the Confederacy, for example, is located in Richmond. There and elsewhere in town young Robert saw a surfeit of portraits of Confederate generals, so many of whom appeared pompous despite defeat. Those proud images provided Gwathmey with models to caricature when he wished to satirize southern politicians and puffed-up patricians excessively arrogant about their ancestors. (See plate 2, Ancestor Worship .)     Robert also retained vivid memories of store signs--for fishmongers, tailors, barbers, and the like--that he would later incorporate into his paintings along with logo-laden seed bags and weathered posters, which he saw plastered all over barns in the countryside, for events such as the circus. Turning to influences that must have been more overtly political, he read Edward Bellamy's utopian novel, Looking Backward (1888), and attended speeches given by Socialist Norman Thomas when he passed through Richmond on the summer lecture circuit. Those talks provided Gwathmey's introduction to impassioned political criticism from the left.     At age nineteen Gwathmey took business courses at North Carolina State College in Raleigh (1922-23). When that seemed a dead end, he worked on a freighter that visited ports in Europe and the Americas. Following a preparatory year of study at the Maryland Institute of Design in Baltimore, he enrolled in 1926 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and studied there for four years, winning the prestigious Cresson scholarships that enabled him to travel in Europe during the summers of 1929 and 1930. Modest sums sent by his sisters could not begin to cover tuition and living expenses, so Gwathmey cobbled together an array of jobs during his student years. He did filing for the Philadelphia Inquirer three nights a week, worked as a handyman at the Philadelphia settlement house for $70 per month, modeled for artists, and even cleaned the brushes of his teachers.     One of those teachers, a muralist named George Harding, talked with enthusiasm about Daumier and Degas, and consequently they became two of Gwathmey's favorite painters. Daniel Garber, another of his teachers, was a latter-day impressionist of the New Hope school who liked to compose serene rural scenes with old buildings--pleasant and attractive but neither distinctive nor innovative. He always remained a cheerful traditionalist, hostile to "modern" art. Franklin C. Watkins was the best-known artist among Gwathmey's teachers and therefore the one whose influence he would ultimately reject most emphatically in search of his own distinctive style and subject matter. Watkins painted a few Daumier-like caricatures, such as Soliloquy (1932) and Solitaire (1937), but primarily he did highly prized social portraits (including dogs, cats, and even monkeys) and still lifes of fruits and flowers. Most of these canvases lack any sort of social commentary or criticism, and some are rather cloying. But Negro Spiritual (ca. 1932), a figure of an ecstatic black man with very large hands in an open field, may well have remained in Gwathmey's mind; Crucifixion , painted in 1931, almost seems to anticipate Gwathmey's Unfinished Business (1941), in which a Klan outfit in the foreground is draped over a cruciform fence post surrounded by barbed wire, while a black soldier, his mother, and a white landowner walk away in the middle distance. Gwathmey commented about this picture, "The Negro soldier goes to war.... Prejudices are alleviated for the moment. But there is still unfinished business ... the Klan, the poll-taxer, the `Posted' areas."     Although a typical still life of flowers by Gwathmey--extraordinarily tight and precise--bears no resemblance to a loose and leafy Watkins still life, the teacher's emphasis on the importance of doing floral still lifes at all had a very clear impact. Moreover, one of Watkins's favorite maxims as a teacher seems extraordinarily applicable to Gwathmey during the decade following 1926, when he searched for his own artistic identity: "What students know ... they already know, but don't know they know. It is a question of bringing what they know up to the level of their awareness."     On October 6, 1926, Gwathmey completed the application form for the Academy of Fine Arts. At the very end it asked, "Why are you studying art and what use do you expect to make of it? Give your aims and aspirations." The hopeful twenty-three year old answered with the following: I am studying art because it has always interested me to the fullest degree. Even as a child I remember discarding all books that were not illustrated and enjoying the pictures, rather than the text, of those that were. From this interest in pictures I developed a desire to draw such pictures myself and today that same desire is stronger than ever. Of course everyone who is interested in art would like to accomplish the finest in fine arts, but due to the circumstances, I shall devote my efforts to illustration which I think is the nearest approach to fine arts in the commercial field.     Gwathmey was admitted, and his mother paid the tuition fees. He did sufficiently well in all of his classes to receive a full scholarship in subsequent years. During the first two summers he lived at a construction camp in Maryland where a powerhouse was being built. Gwathmey worked there as a railroad brakeman, which surely helped to develop his fine physique. Once again, however, he had to complete the same application form. His response repeated what he had written almost eleven months earlier, but he added a new closing paragraph. "Everyone, sooner or later has to consider a means of livelihood and this livelihood always carries its share of work. But if we enjoy our work there are most certainly better results in the work we do and the life we live."     In December 1927, when Gwathmey applied for a special summer program in 1928, his ultimate statement indicated that he had moved a step closer to contemplating the kind of artist he would actually become a dozen years later. "Thus far I have been studying illustration because of the fact that a commercial artist is usually scheduled to arrive before a fine artist. Recently, due to still life painting, I have become interested in color and Mr. Breckenridge has advised me to really use color, as there is quite a large field commercially for color men. There is always the desire to do the finest in fine art, and after gaining a foot hold financially I really want to paint and I realize what an excellent opportunity Chester Springs offers."     Once again his application met with success. The Cresson scholarship that he won for travel in 1929 took him to Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Munich, and London. The provincial young man may or may not have become more cosmopolitan, but his mental comprehension of Western art expanded enormously that summer. A second Cresson scholarship in 1930 brought his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy to completion. His accomplished oils and sketches from 1929, published in the school catalog of 1929-30, are engaging and diverse, ranging from what appears to be a gathering of gangsters to male and female nudes (see fig. 5). They bear no relationship to his mature efforts, but they were good enough to win him the prestigious Cresson and are indicative of the work he did as a magazine illustrator while he was still an art student. Two summers in Europe provided abundant exposure to an immense range of remarkable art, from Giotto and Piero della Francesca to El Greco, Goya, and Picasso. Decades later he would also recall his enthusiasm for medieval sculpture: "The Gothic excites me no end," he declared, "whereas the Baroque I do not enjoy.... Gothic is for me."     During Gwathmey's last full year at the Pennsylvania Academy he met another art student from the South, Rosalie Hook of Charlotte, North Carolina, the daughter of a successful architect and a progressive woman active early in the century on behalf of voting rights and racial toleration. Petite, lovely, and five and a half years younger than her beau, Rosalie "kept company" with Robert for more than six years. (See fig. 6.) Finally, in 1935, their income still too meager to make marriage possible, they went to her parents to explain their plight. Ida MacDonald Hook said to her future son-in-law, "I know that you are a bad boy and a communist, but you are the most Christ-like man I have ever met." Her husband, Charles C. Hook, gave the couple $5,000, a substantial sum at that time, and they were married in Alexandria, Virginia, on November 2, 1935. (The ceremony took place there rather than in Charlotte because the couple did not want a large, formal wedding; just their immediate families and a few friends attended.) That nest egg lasted for much of the decade, and when their son, Charles, was born in Charlotte in 1938, Rosalie's parents paid for that, too. Having the baby cost $150. Thereafter they were largely on their own except for an occasional Christmas gift of cash.     Gwathmey laughed in 1968 when he told Studs Terkel that 1930 "was the proper time for any artist to get out of school. Everybody was unemployed, and the artist didn't seem strange any more." While briefly teaching drawing at Temple University in Philadelphia from 1930 until 1932, Gwathmey also got a regular job at a girls' school, Beaver College, in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside. His salary was $1,100 a year. He taught "everything" (that is, painting and drawing) two days a week so that he would have time for his own art and for trips to New York City, where the heart of the American art world pulsed at that time. In the spring of 1937 Gwathmey took a group of advanced students to the city to look over schools and art in the major museums. At the end of the day Gwathmey and the girls went to a restaurant where they had "alcoholic beverages" with dinner. When the president of Beaver College learned about this behavioral aberration, he discharged Gwathmey. The narrative of this episode in his own words is engaging. I lost my job at Beaver College. I used to discuss articles out of The Nation at lunch time, where the teachers gathered. They didn't say this was the reason. I'd done simply this. Four girls were graduating. They wanted to come to New York to do some grad work. I drove them up and we went to see some of the schools. Also, we saw Marc Blitzstein's Cradle Will Rock . Then we went to an Italian Restaurant, and we had a cocktail and ate and returned to Pennsylvania. The president wrote me a letter ...: "It has come to my attention that you have been in a drinking establishment with your students. You have been unfaithful to your president and your institution...." The president of Beaver College was a Presbyterian minister, but he acted like a traveling salesman. He lost his job because he ordered furniture from the purchasing agent for his married daughter and didn't reimburse the college. The guy that fired me.     Robert and Rosalie returned from Philadelphia to her family home in Charlotte during the last stage of her pregnancy, and Charles was born there in June 1938. Coming back to the South for a spell had immense consequences for Robert's sense of place and its implications for his art. He later recalled the initial shock of returning to Richmond following his first year at the academy: "Suddenly, I saw with terrible clarity how it was, especially how it was for the Negro in the South. Things I had always taken for granted. That's when my politics changed, long before the Depression came along." Recalling another return visit a decade later, he remarked in a different interview: "I never quite realized the Negro was so omnipresent as when I returned. In Philadelphia you get a little bit removed.... You return home and never realized exactly."     In a follow-up interview on March 19, 1968, however, Gwathmey acknowledged that he did not come home an ideological innocent. He had become an activist in Philadelphia--vice-president of the Artists Union--protested on behalf of the Loyalists in Spain, participated in radical May Day parades, and read Karl Marx. Considerations of dialectical materialism received serious reflection. In 1938 Gwathmey went with a delegation to the eccentric Dr. Albert C. Barnes of Philadelphia, a wealthy art collector and creator of the Barnes Foundation, to ask for enough money to complete a fund-raising campaign that would pay for two ambulances sorely needed by Spanish War Relief during the civil war there. Barnes consented.     Looking back to his southern visits in 1938-39, Gwathmey later reflected, "I was a little more adjusted to looking for people and for conflict. Almost as a novelist I had to have conflict. I was looking for the thing that was conflict. And I dare say that within this conflict there was a business of conflict in colors, conflict in values. All these conflicts. They're so involved in the psyche that if I'm looking at conflict, we'll say, in the social scene, then even in my painting itself, the formal elements in painting, there'd be more conflict. I think it becomes that involved. I really do."     Gwathmey liked to remind his interviewers that he was as much a product of the Depression as he was of the South. When asked whether one of his earliest surviving paintings, The Hitchhiker (fig. 2), might be viewed as a forerunner of pop or billboard art, he bridled. "Now here we have the Depression and have these several billboards," he replied, and they have several smiling handsome girls and this Pepsodent smile, and the handsome girl and these hitchhikers who are in the depths of Depression seems so much like a contradiction. And so, you use these certain, what are now called pop symbols ... but not as an isolated thing, not like a series of 25 or 30 or 45 or 50 cans of a given soup ... but these things have an interrelation with, I'll say, a social comment.... Now I would say this ... you can integrate [advertising symbols] into the total scene and show the shallowness we'll say of this opulent society as opposed to the poor guy who's unemployed.     The Hitchhiker is one of perhaps half a dozen or eight works done by Gwathmey prior to 1940 that have survived, and one of only two or three oil paintings from that period. The others are a pencil drawing, two watercolors, a serigraph (silkscreen), and a large mural. In 1938 (and possibly 1939) he destroyed virtually all of his earlier work, declaring that "it takes about ten years to wash yourself of academic dogma." Looking back at the contrast between his art before and after 1940, he explained in 1966, "The earlier paintings I would say were rather brushy, free-hand application, where I think ... my later work ... was more defined, more defined, I would say color against color, shape against shape rather than expressionistic areas against expressionistic areas."     Before turning to Gwathmey's art during the 1940s, the work for which he is best known, we must take into account patterns of social change in the South during the interwar years, and especially the rich body of writing about the South, fiction as well as nonfiction, that proliferated. It is unlikely that he read large amounts of it, but he clearly read some and had to be aware that a burst of southern soul-searching took place, most notably during the 1930s. However much Gwathmey did or did not read, a remarkable proportion of this material explicitly anticipated his own visual responses and documentation from the 1940s. His art may well have been far more innovative in style than in substance. Although his message was only acceptable to a small minority "at home," the message had indeed been clearly posted on the boards by the close of the 1930s.     Gwathmey might have grown up in what H. L. Mencken disparagingly called the Sahara of the Bozart, but by 1925 native voices began to be heard as harbingers of change. Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945), whose ancestors settled in the Shenandoah Valley during the 1760s, was born in Richmond and lived most of her life at 1 West Main St., where she did almost all of her writing. Early in the century she became the lover of a married man, assumed that the aristocratic tradition had outlived its usefulness, and subsequently asserted that the South needed "blood and irony." Gradually she decided that her true subject would be the social history of Virginia in fictionalized form. Glasgow was determined to portray the retreat of an agrarian culture in the face of industrial change: hence Barren Ground , for example, a rural novel that appeared in 1925. Glasgow's became the first southern voice raised in loving anger against the falseness and sentimentality of accepted traditions in the region.     James Branch Cabell (1879-1958), a novelist, essayist, and historian, was also born in Richmond to a prominent family. In 1913 he settled into his wife's home at Dumbarton Grange, and she became a Richmond socialite. Cabell, however, wrote skeptical and sardonic novels about the South, received plaudits in the 1920s for rejecting orthodox American pieties, and eventually produced more than fifty books. Ellen Glasgow insisted that Cabell alone had "survived the blighting frustration of every artist in the South."     Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) moved to the mountains of southwestern Virginia in 1925, just after publishing Dark Laughter , his only financially successful novel and one in which he explicitly described the lives of poor blacks in terms of vivid colors that could supply an attractive challenge to any artist. Like Robert Gwathmey, Anderson disdained middle-class conventionality and disliked sexual repression. (He married four times.) In 1929 he began reporting on the lives of southern mill workers, and his novel Beyond Desire (1932), while uneven in quality, was partially based on the southern textile strikes of 1929-30. Although Anderson supported left-wing causes throughout the 1930s, his admiration for communist opposition to socioeconomic injustice was offset by his skepticism toward all ideological causes and commitments.     Most important in providing a literary backdrop for Gwathmey's art, however, was Erskine Caldwell (1903-87), his exact contemporary and a man determined to "tell the truth about Dixie." Caldwell's first job as a journalist in Atlanta exposed him to the harshness of racial segregation and discrimination, unreported lynchings, and the plight of the white underclass. His earliest stories about racial violence and exploitative labor practices were rejected by genteel editors. Meanwhile, a book about black folklore attracted this young man whose father had taught him racial toleration in rural Georgia. His Kneel to the Rising Sun and Other Stories became a best-seller in 1934. The lead story is a tragic tale of a biracial friendship between two sharecroppers. Caldwell's description of "a rising sun running blood" instantly brings to mind several of Gwathmey's most striking pictures, such as Sun-Up (ca. 1948) (fig. 7), Boughs and Bags for Shade (n.d.), and Cotton Picker (1950).     By 1929-30 Erskine Caldwell had become involved in anticapitalist politics, and Lewis Mumford's praise for Caldwell's promising early prose might easily have been written about Gwathmey less than a decade later. Mumford recognized Caldwell's commitment to exposing the tough realities of the rural poor. "Caldwell has a thorough familiarity with materials and modes of life that are outside the scope of the more urbane middle-class novelist," Mumford wrote. "If a picture of proletarian life, without sentimentality, without false idealization or simplification is to come out of American letters," he predicted, "it will come, as like as not, through Caldwell himself." Caldwell's Tobacco Road (1932) and God's Little Acre (1933) eventually sold many millions of copies, and the Broadway adaptation of Tobacco Road became the longest-running hit in American theatrical history, with 3, 180 performances from 1934 to 1941. It also toured the country, so that by the end of the 1930s people in the United States believed that they knew all about southern sharecroppers, rural poverty, and degeneracy. At the very least, they had some awareness of these problems.     In the homely language of southern farmers during the early decades of the twentieth century, their region was "still sucking hind tit on the national hog" and still responding like the runt of the litter as well. During the mid-1930s the South alone had nearly 2 million tenant families totaling some 9 million people. Those figures do not include the tens of thousands of day-wage laborers who moved from one firm to the next, or the very considerable numbers of migrant agricultural workers who simply followed the harvesting seasons. In addition, there were displaced coal miners and still other rural laborers left stranded by the Depression, which intensified a sense of crisis in the southern backcountry. Ironically, the cigarette industry remained quite profitable during the 1930s even though the men and women who harvested tobacco earned very little--which perhaps helped to keep the industry in the black. As late as 1944-46, which may well have been Gwathmey's apogee in producing images of African American workers in the rural South, per capita income in the region remained less than $400 per year. For blacks it was closer to $200. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 From Out of the South
Chapter 2 Poll Tax Country
Chapter 3 Bread and Circuses
Chapter 4 Painting of a Smile
Chapter 5 City Scape
Chapter 6 The Observer
Chapter 7 Homo Sapiens, Late Twentieth Century
Chapter 8 End of the Season Chronology