Monday, February 25, 2008

A Grand Lady and Some Famous Men

On Saturday, March 1st, the Marion Public Library will launch the “Big Read,” a month-long study of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee of Monroeville, Alabama. The Big Read Kickoff will be at 5 PM at the Perry County Courthouse in Marion.

Considered an American literary classic, To Kill a Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s only book. Of course, she and Truman Capote grew up together in Monroeville and remained friends and cooperative writers for life. Her book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It has been translated into some forty languages and has sold well over 30 million copies to date worldwide. Nelle (as her friends and family call her) Harper Lee was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for her contributions to literature. Finally, librarians across the country have named To Kill a Mockingbird the best novel of the twentieth century!

Here is a hand-written letter from Ms. Lee declining an invitation to attend our “Big Read” due to her present health situation.

In 1936, writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans, both working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), visited Hale County, Alabama, where they zeroed in on three poor white sharecropper families as subjects for a magazine article. They recorded their daily lives and struggle for survival in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the onslaught of the New Deal era. The resulting book with accompanying photographs, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), eventually established the reputations of Agee and Evans, but did nothing to improve the plight of the three Alabama families. Three of Walker Evans’ most famous photographs from the book included three members of the Gudger family, George and Annie Mae and their ten year-old daughter, Maggie Louise. Changed for the book to protect their actual identities, their names were really Floyd, Allie Mae, and Lucile Burroughs.

Here are Walker Evans’ images of the Burroughs and here are their graves today in Oak Hill Cemetery in Moundville, Alabama. Later in life, Lucile, who always wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, killed herself by drinking rat poison. (Credit: Walker Evans from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1941; modern images by Terry Barkley.)

The three sharecropper families lived up this dirt road on Hobe’s Hill (actually Mills Hill) between Moundville and Havana.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men has also become something of an American classic and is taught in colleges and universities nationwide. When I was a graduate student at Harvard University, I learned that the book was required reading for freshmen students in Harvard College.

This book has also done much to stereotype Alabama and her people in the eyes of the rest of the nation and the world, and it has been roundly criticized and/or praised ever since its publication in 1941.

Fifty years after the publication of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the writer/photographer team of Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson returned to Hale County to document the remaining original members and their descendents from the three sharecropper families. They discovered that little had changed for the families despite the fame of Famous Men. Their ground-breaking book, And Their Children After Them, a masterpiece of research, writing and photography, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1990.

By the way, the sites of the three sharecropper farms are just north of the village of Havana in Hale County, while the site of Henry and Julia Tutwiler’s Green Springs School is just southwest of Havana.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Some Interesting Images

An old postcard drawing of the MMI Chapel.

An excellent view of the MMI Chapel from the 1960s or 1970s.

The graves of James Thomas Murfee (1833-1912), founder and first president of MMI, and his wife, Laura Owen (1841-1920), in the Marion city cemetery.

To the right of the Murfee marker are three smaller graves of their children who died early. (I believe there are three graves and not six!)

The back of the Murfee marker: The Bible verse reads “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Hebrews 4.9 (thanks COL Stanley Bamberg!).

An announcement for a Concert Band and Cadet Chorus concert in the MMI Chapel on December 14, 1967: “A Feast of Carols.”

An unidentified but dapper young cadet, circa 1920.

The official invitation to the Inauguration of George Bush and Dan Quayle on January 20, 1989, in Washington, D. C.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Of Soldiers and Scholars: Lieutenant General Edward M. Almond and Dr. Thomas P. Abernethy

In addition to our distinguished graduates and former cadets, a good number of MMI faculty and staff have made their marks in a variety of endeavors. Two are highlighted here, contemporaries on the MMI faculty/staff in the 1920s.

A Virginian and a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1915, Edward Mallory Almond (1892-1979) taught at MMI before World War I and returned thereafter as Professor of Military Science and Tactics from 1919-1923. A troop commander in World War I, he had been wounded in the Aisne-Marne offensive. During World War II he commanded the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy. Assigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo staff in 1946, he was selected as his Chief of Staff in 1949. General Almond led the successful Inchon invasion of Korea in 1950, and commanded the famed X Corps throughout the Korean conflict. He later served as commandant of the Army War College, rising to the rank of lieutenant general. His military decorations from three wars included the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with “V,” and the Purple Heart.

Both his son and son-in-law were killed in World War II. General Almond died in 1979 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The General met his wife while on duty at Marion Military Institute: the former Margaret Crook of Anniston, Alabama, then a student at Judson College.

A personal note: My father served with General Almond in the X Corps in Korea. I was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1950, while my family were stationed there and my Dad was in Korea. I had the honor of meeting General Almond in 1971 in his office in Anniston, Alabama, (in retirement, he served as spokesperson for an insurance company) where he and his wife had retired to be near her family.

Born in Collirene, Alabama, Thomas Perkins Abernethy (1890-1975) was a member of the Marion Military Institute Class of 1908 (he was a cadet sergeant and played on the football team), and a 1912 graduate of the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He also taught at MMI for a number of years (1912-1914, 1919-1921) while completing his graduate work (M.A., 1915; Ph.D., 1922) in history at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Dr. Abernethy married Ida Robertson, the secretary to the president of Marion Military Institute, in 1917.

Upon completion of his graduate studies at Harvard, Dr. Abernethy embarked upon a distinguished career as a Southern historian and professor which culminated in his serving as chair of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, one of the premier departments of history in the country. He retired from UVA in 1961.

The Abernethy Collection, the select private library of Dr. Thomas Perkins Abernethy, was donated by Abernethy to Marion Military Institute, circa 1970. The collection consists of some 950 volumes including many first editions and rare books, the oldest being published in 1779. Seven books written by Dr. Abernethy are also part of the collection.

Here is Dr. Abernethy talking with Ms. Woody.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Colin P. Kelly, Sr., Jr., III

Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., MMI ’33, was the first American hero of World War II. He was also the first West Point graduate (Class of 1937) to die in the war. Kelly posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest award for heroism, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart. (Credit: Painting by Deane Keller, Air Power Gallery, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio)

On December 10, 1941, three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Captain Kelly and his crew aboard their B-17 Flying Fortress bombed the Japanese cruiser Ashigara (then mistakenly thought to be the battleship Haruna). On their return flight, Japanese Zeros attacked the B-17 badly damaging it. Kelly stayed at the controls so that his surviving crew could bail out. After the last crew member exited the plane, the B-17 exploded killing Kelly.

Early reports - like this announcement from West Point - had Kelly and his crew attacking the Haruna with Kelly, sans his crew, finally crashing his plane into the smokestack of the Haruna, sinking it. It was reported that for his heroic action and personal sacrifice in saving his crew, Captain Kelly was awarded the Medal of Honor. While this was untrue, the real facts in the case certainly support similar heroic actions on the part of Captain Kelly, making him the first publicly-recognized American hero of World War II.

Captain Kelly’s father, Colin P. Kelly, Sr., was an honor graduate of the MMI Class of 1902. Captain Kelly’s grandfather had been a Confederate war hero. (Credit: 1902 MMI Assembly)

Kelly, Sr., had been a top cadet at MMI serving as a cadet captain and as adjutant of the Corps of Cadets. (Credit: 1902 MMI Assembly)

Captain Kelly’s son, Colin P. Kelly, III, would also graduate from West Point (Class of 1963). Kelly III would later become an Episcopal priest who served as the Assistant Chaplain at West Point.