|Viola Jefferson Goode Liddell|
The latest issue of Alabama Heritage magazine contains a great feature article related to Wilcox County that many readers of The Progressive Era will find very interesting.
Titled “Viola Jefferson Goode Liddell and the Wilcox Round Table,” this 10-page article by history professor Tennant McWilliams describes the impact of dinner meetings of “smart people” held at the home of Liddell and her husband, William “Will” Lithgow Liddell. The vast majority of these gatherings took place on Saturday nights between 1936 and the early 1970s at their home, the Bagby-Liddell House on Broad Street in Camden. During these sophisticated dinner parties, which were held eight or nine times a year, the group discussed a wide variety of topics, including literature, politics, the changing South and the future of Alabama’s Black Belt.
Members of Viola Liddell’s family and other Wilcox County residents mentioned in the article, most of whom are now deceased, include her brother Robert Goode of Gastonburg, her first husband Oxford Stroud, her sons Oxford Stroud Jr. and Will Liddell Jr., her daughter Laura Liddell, Lena Miller Albritton, Latin teacher Annie Brice Miller Bonner, J. Miller Bonner, Sarah Bonner, Hugh Ervin, Stanley and Mary Harris Godbold of Camden, county social worker Mary Emma Harris, former Wilcox County superintendent of education Bill Jones, Robert and Helen Burford Lambert, Edith Morgan, preacher Ren Kennedy, literature professor Emmett Kilpatrick, planter and Confederate veteran John Kilpatrick of Camden, John and Clyde Purifoy Miller, restaurant owner Laurine Stroud and Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams of Oak Hill.
Others in the article said to have taken part in the “Wilcox Round Table” meetings include journalist Philip Cabel, writer Carl Carmer, historian Charles Davis, social scientists John Gillin and Alfred M. Hero Jr., photographer Arthur Rothstein, social scientist Morton Rubin, writer Archibald Rutledge, social scientists Robert Sonkin and Olive Stone, and other unnamed “Hollywood types.”
The article also explored Viola Liddell’s impressive literary career. Liddell, who died in 1998, is best known for her nonfiction memoirs “With a Southern Accent” (1948), “A Place of Springs” (1979) and “Grass Widow: Making My Way in the Great Depression” (2004). Most of these books are based on her life in Wilcox County, including her younger years at Gastonburg as well as her life during the Great Depression and during the Civil Rights era. Her books of poetry included “Recollections in Rhyme” (1944), and you can also purchase “The Collected Works of Viola Jefferson Goode Liddell,” which was published posthumously in 2003.
The Alabama Heritage article provides a lot more information about Viola Liddell and the individuals mentioned above, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in local history take the time to find a copy of the Fall 2016 issue and read the entire article. You won’t be disappointed because Tennant McWilliams does an excellent job of providing a lot of information in the relatively short space of 10 pages. The article also includes a number of outstanding photographs, including pictures of Will and Viola Liddell; Viola Liddell with her cat, Whitey; Arthur Rothstein; Emmett Kilpatrick; the Bagby-Liddell House as it looked in 1936; and several others.
In the end, the Alabama Heritage article left me wondering if Viola Liddell should be considered Wilcox County’s most accomplished writer. Based on the information in this recent article, I think you can make a strong argument that she is the county’s top all-time author. I’d like to hear from anyone out there in the reading audience with thoughts on this subject, so please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.