Back in mid-December I wrote a column in which I asked readers about books they’d like to see on a “recommended reading” list about Wilcox County.
One book that people mentioned over and over again was “Down Home” by author and photographer Bob Adelman. A week or so ago, a friend loaned me a copy of this fascinating book, and I read it from cover to cover the following day. I can now see why it is so highly regarded.
Originally published in 1972 by McGraw-Hill, this 166-page book presents a “brilliant photographic portrait” of Camden, a “small Southern town in transition.” By my count, this book contains 130 high-quality, black and white photos that were taken throughout Wilcox County over a five-year period prior to the book’s publication. Interspersed among these vivid, captivating photos is text from tape-recorded interviews conducted by editor Susan Hall.
I painstakingly went through this book and made a note of the many names mentioned between its covers, most of which are in photo captions. I think many of you will recognize some of these names, and some of you may even find yourself listed among their number. No doubt, many of the individuals listed below have passed on, but I suspect that they still have many, many relatives living in Wilcox County today.
Individuals photographed or quoted in the book include Camden police officer L.C. Albritton, Camden mayor Reg Albritton, Joseph Lee Anderson, Parnell Bennett, Frank Blackmun, Probate Judge Josiah Robins Bonner, Josephine Boykin, Louise Boykin, Mr. and Mrs. Mose Boykin, Matthew Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Peyton Burford Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Elmore Covington, newspaper editor Hollis Curl, E.C. Dowell, Josh Evans, Angus Gardner, Robert George, Judge Hall, Raymond Hall, James Harvey, Lucy B. Irby, Sheriff P.C. “Lummie” Jenkins, Julia Johnson, Lucille Johnson, Mrs. Erskine Kennedy and children, Les King, the Rev. Martin Luther King (at the Antioch Baptist Church), Arthur Knight, Arthur Logue, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Lowe, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McCarthy, Mr. and Mrs. James R. McCoy, John McCoy, the Rev. and Mrs. Sol T. McNeil, Audrey Nelson, Martha Nettles, Mr. and Mrs. Pat Nettles, Lucien Peek, Angela Pettway, Maggie Lee Pettway, Buster Powell, Rosanelle Powell, Willis Powell, Dolores “Lois” Ray, Mr. and Mrs. Marsh Richardson, Nathaniel “Skeeter” Robinson, Mattie Ross, teacher Tommy Sadler, Mr. and Mrs. Lev Sheffield, Clarence Simmons, Ronny Simpkins, Pauline Smith, Tobe Spencer, Leon Spurlin, Sam “Skee” Stanford, Lois Starr (who is featured on the book’s cover), Mr. and Mrs. Marsh Tait, Dave Thomas, Rev. Thomas T. Threadgill, “Cousin” Lee Watson, J.D. Watts, Liza Jane Williams, Mr. and Mrs. John Williams, Pattie Lee Williams, Eugene Witherspoon, Estelle Witherspoon, Gordon Wright and Joyce Young. The book also includes photos of dozens of unidentified individuals.
In addition to numerous portraits, photos in the book also include pictures of downtown Camden, old houses, the J.R. Harvey Store at Coy, “The Columns” at Possum Bend, carnival scenes, squaring dancing, drag racing at Miller’s Ferry, basketball and baseball scenes, folks fishing, old schools, several churches, funerals, weddings, farming, logging, factories, restaurants, quilters, the Camden jail, old post offices and stores, wagons, other vehicles and various animals. Many of these photos are gripping, and the more you look at them, the more you’re likely to see.
It should come as no surprise that these photos are so powerful. Adelman, who died last March in Florida, was already an acclaimed, award-winning photojournalist before the publication of “Down Home.” His work had been featured in numerous national and international publications, including cover stories for Fortune, Harper’s, Look, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review.
I highly recommend this book to anyone in the reading audience who has an interest in Wilcox County’s colorful history, culture and people. Without a doubt, this is one of the finest photobooks I’ve read, and it left me with a sobering, but better, understanding of the county and its people. It’s hard to look at these moving photos and not come away changed in some way.