Thank you to the Southern Foodways Alliance for allowing us to share “She Spoke, and I Listened” as told to oral historian Sara Wood by Haylene Green.
From Gravy Issue #50:
The evening I met Haylene Green, an urban farmer in Atlanta, Georgia, rain mercilessly poured on midtown Atlanta—and on me. I squeaked across the lobby of Ms. Green’s apartment building and followed her to a small room in the basement. There, she opened a thick photo album with pages of fruits and vegetables from her West End community garden. And she started talking. I put the recording equipment together as fast as I’ve ever assembled it. My job was simple: She spoke, and I listened. All of her answers were stories.
Speaking of his book The Storied South on a radio program, folklorist Bill Ferris recently said something that stopped me in my kitchen: “When you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story. And embedded in that story is the information that they feel is the answer to the question.”
Oral history, like the most satisfying literature, relies on listening and observation. The way people speak, how they tell stories, where they choose to pause and scratch their nose, to me, is the greatest part of listening. Being an oral historian or a writer requires you to listen as though your life depends on it. What seems like a simple act is actually the heart of the work. To that end, I share an excerpt from my interview with a farmer who also happens to be a storyteller.
In case you aren’t familiar, St. Paul and The Broken Bones is a band packed full of make-you-feel-good soul. Their recent single, “Call Me”, is on constant rotation here at the studio. Although based in Birmingham, Alabama, the group has ties to the Shoals – lead guitarist Browan Lollar is a Shoals native, and the band’s upcoming debut album, Half the City, was produced by Ben Tanner and is being released by Single Lock Records on February 18. The playlist below, curated by “St. Paul” himself, displays a playful knowledge and enjoyment of soul-rooted music.
Name: Paul Janeway
Band: St. Paul and The Broken Bones
Instrument(s) you play: Holler in a microphone
Hometown: Chelsea, AL
Presently residing: Birmingham, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
PJ: When I was 4 years old, I started singing in church. I think my first song was “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. I started playing guitar as a freshman in high school. I am a pretty lousy guitar player though.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
PJ: The first time we sold out a show at Bottletree Café here in Birmingham was a great moment. Also, the time I sang at the Muscle Shoals documentary premiere up in Muscle Shoals. I got to sing “When A Man Loves a Woman” and Spooner Oldham was playing keys to my right. It doesn’t get much bigger than that in my book.
It’s hard to believe January is almost over. It has been an incredible month here at The Factory (and beyond), and I am looking forward to what the rest of 2014 brings…
My love of books is no secret. I still have a decades-old public library card, probably obtained when I was about 8 or 9, printed on card stock and housed in a small, paper envelope. It was one of my most prized possessions as a child. Today’s library cards can be scanned and swiped, but obtaining one is still an important rite of passage for so many.
In the past, we’ve explored the emotional responses that a love for books and for libraries can elicit from anyone who shares that same admiration. Our local library, the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, is a wonderful example of how a brick and mortar building can grow into a community of sorts, adapting to meet the needs of the public at-large, and embracing new technologies while reinforcing the importance of learning. This library, like many modern public libraries, has special initiatives geared toward younger children and teens, but also has a strong local history and genealogical research team. They are creating interactive experiences for the community through classes, meet-ups, and year-round programs. I am proud to see what an important part of our community the public library remains.
Lance and Evelyn Massengill
In 2008, Maxine Payne, an Arkansas-based artist, self-published a book of photographs titled Making Pictures: Three For A Dime. She catalogued the work of the Massengill family who worked from 1937 to 1941 as itinerant photographers in rural Arkansas documenting farmers, young couples, babies, and anyone else who had a few minutes and an extra dime to spend. The Massengills’ photos provided candid snapshots of the rural South just before the Second World War. Through her efforts, Maxine Payne has given new life to these old photographs by coordinating exhibitions and projects, including a forthcoming book by the Atlanta-based publisher Dust-to-Digital and a collaboration with Alabama Chanin on our new collection. We asked Maxine to describe her connection to the Massengill family and her involvement with Three For A Dime:
The Civil Rights Movement gained national attention in the early 1960s. The many protests, marches, and stands for equality were sustained by freedom songs and music from musicians-turned-activists. The setbacks, hardships, failures, and successes of the movement for racial equality can be told through song.
We curated a playlist highlighting some of the songs that delivered powerful messages during that time period, namely “We Shall Overcome,” an old African American hymn that gained popularity in the 1950s. The song became the unofficial anthem of the movement, bringing strength, support, and hope to activists—during protest marches, in the face of violence, and in jail cells.
It was over 50 years ago when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the march on Washington D.C. It was a moment that changed America, and the world. But, the line was almost excluded from the speech. One of King’s aides encouraged him not to use the line, stating it was cliché and that he had used it too many times already. After receiving several conflicting suggestions the night before the march, King put the final touches on the speech in solitude in his hotel room.
There was an array of speakers at the march that day, and he was sixteenth in line. The podium was crowded with microphones and speakers, and when he approached the platform he heard a voice from behind shout “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” It was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had heard King refer to his dream on a previous occasion. She prompted him again. King then launched into his speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking over the National Mall. He delivered his message more like a sermon, laying his prepared notes to the side, letting spontaneity and emotion preside. The utopian-like speech was not just about what was going on in the world that day in time, it was about what was going on in the world every day. We have come a long way as a nation, but we still have a long way to go. In fact, there were decades of struggle and complications involved to get the observance Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday passed into federal law.
This week on the Journal we are dedicating a series of posts to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his philosophy, and legacy. Today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, is the only federal holiday also recognized as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.” So, throughout your day, in the spirit of King’s Beloved Community, take time to recognize the needs of those around you. Even the smallest gesture can make a big impact. We are encouraging our staff to leave a little early this afternoon to complete a service project of their choice that gives back to our community.
As Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”
*You can learn more about Dr. King and his philosophy and teachings at The King Center’s website.
Photo of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama courtesy of The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
Musician, author, and dear friend Rosanne Cash was born in Tennessee to a family soon to become Southern music royalty, but has lived for over 20 years in New York City. Still, her Southern heritage played and continues to play a role in shaping who she is as an artist, a traveler, and a citizen of the world. She deeply explores her relationship with the South and with Southern culture in her newest album, The River and the Thread. Listening to these songs, you hear a songwriter investigating how where she came from helped shape who she is today. The tracks are heartfelt, touching, and, by turns, rocking.
A sweet friend to Alabama Chanin, Rosanne curated a playlist for us that includes some of her favorite songs from and about the South. These songs capture the sometimes-elusive nature of our homeland and the people we call family. I’ve been cooking and dancing (and, yes, singing) to these tracks for a week…
Come sing along.
Photo of Rosanne courtesy of Clay Patrick McBride.
Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.
Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.