In the Beginning: A Personal View of Southern Exposure's First 10 Years from the People Who Made It Happen
When I joined the staff in the spring of 1976, Southern Exposure was in the process of moving from the kitchen of Bob and Jackie Hall's home to our first office space in Chapel Hill. Since then we've become experts at moving. It seemed that no sooner had we lugged those outrageously awkward, 75-pound boxes of "No More Moanin'" up the narrow and steep stairs of the Columbia Street office than we were tossing them out a second-story window onto a flatbed truck. And no sooner had we swerved the truck into the parking lot of Kroger Plaza — sending filing cabinets flying about — than we were packing up again to move to Durham. We have been at our present location over three years now, and I can sense that our group of restless itinerants is getting edgy again.
I once heard Bernice Reagon talk to a group in Albany, Georgia, about the difference between harmony and dissonance. When there is harmony in singing, you work together maintaining a certain distance in pitch from each other. If you get too close to me, I back away and keep my distance. The object in harmony is to have a smooth running unit; the effect can be very soothing, but often not provocative.
Dissonance, however, describes a situation where the music lines are continually running into one another, backing away and coming back again. The effect is unsettling, disturbing; one can feel the vibration throughout the body. It is the same with people, according to Bernice. When things are too harmonious and peaceful, we can be lulled into a false sense of self-satisfaction. But when there is dissonance, different cultures working together, being tuned in to their differences and their common ground, then there is also the potential for sparks, for energy, for movement. It is this energy and movement that we at the Institute for Southern Studies and Southern Exposure need to thrive in our second decade.
Much of this energy has come through the Institute, brought by the people who have been the staff for our first 10 years. Always when a new staff person joins us, the chemistry of our small group changes, the collective personality takes on a new quality. And when someone leaves, it is like losing a member of the family.
When we began planning this Tenth Anniversary edition, we decided to ask these former editors to share something about their experience in fashioning this magazine with you, our current readers, to tell you how Southern Exposure ruined their careers or saved their souls or nearly put them in the hospital! You can see from the following responses that we are a diverse, energetic — some would say crazy — bunch of people.
One thing we share in common is a disdain for deadlines. "We're a bimonthly now," I pleaded with these former editors. "We can't wait for you forever." Fortunately, all but two (Howard Romaine and Wekesa Madzimoyo) got their responses to us by the absolute final hour.
I have loved having the opportunity to work with all these people and look forward to more years of this madness. Since the following pieces are all by highly trained former staff members, we have put aside the blue pencil, not bothered to double-check the spelling, and left the participles dangling for all to see. You may read them and weep.
For such an advocate of oral history, I'm unfortunately a prime example of its limitations. I cannot recall the exact sequence of events that led to the formation of the Institute for Southern Studies. What I do remember — sometimes vividly, and sometimes through a glass darkly — are some of the experiences, encounters and impulses that set it in motion.
At least one of the early discussions took place sometime around 1965 in the communications office of SNCC. Julian Bond headed that office, and despite its grim task of chronicling civil-rights violations throughout the South, I remember it as a place for talk and laughter.
Our lives, at the time, were all-consumed by "The Movement." Mississippi was the most obvious front, but we were, after all, creating a "new South." Opportunities for changing the world existed on every college campus and in every community. It was never necessary to question the work that had to be done, and more important, it was never necessary to question the "rightness" of what we were doing. There was an easy confidence and arrogance that came from knowing right from wrong, future from past.
The moment was all too brief. Things began to get complicated by Vietnam and the black rebellions in Northern cities. It began to dawn on us that freedom might not come with the hamburger or even with the ballot. Suddenly the New South began to appear more elusive and more complex. Perhaps it would take longer. Perhaps we needed to know more.
We talked that day in Julian's office about our need to "know more." We needed to know more about this new term, "the system." How it worked. Who it helped, and who it hurt. And who, besides us, wanted to change it. We freely imagined how much better — i.e., more informed, more organized and more directed — "The Movement" would be if it just had a research arm that could supply it with this essential information. I don't think we were naive enough to think we would then proceed to go out and change the world. But we had smartened up enough to know that it might help.
Once the idea of a Southern research institute was planted, it hung around. A good idea with no particular plan of action. Still, the idea was occasionally tossed about with the underlying assumption that one day its time would come. In the meantime Julian was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, and then had to fight like hell to be seated because of his outspoken stand on Vietnam. Howard Romaine helped start one of the better underground papers in the country, Atlanta's Great Speckled Bird. I put in some time out of the South, for more reason than rhyme, choosing the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. Like other Southerners who travel north, my plan was to watch carefully, cull whatever was inappropriate and bring the rest back for application on home turf. As far as I was concerned, this could mean either money or ideas!
In 1969 I came back home. IPS had given me $1,000 and the title of Associate Fellow. I cannot recall ever using the title, but the money allowed me to act as point person for beginning the organizational work on the Institute for Southern Studies. Howard, Julian and I picked up our discussions, located a sympathetic lawyer, and a year later the Institute for Southern Studies opened a small office in downtown Atlanta. By some fortuitous circumstance (in truth, Howard's persistence and cunning) our first public seminar was with Gunnar Myrdal, on his first return trip through the South since writing The American Dilemma.
But the pizzazz and prestige bestowed by an international visitor did not change the fact that the Movement we thought of ourselves as serving was breaking into many tiny pieces. We found ourselves in the odd position of trying to produce information that would help people get organized. There was a growing anti-war movement in the South, and we began to focus some of our work on the disproportionate share of military dollars flowing into the region.
For a while we maintained loose ties with the Institute for Policy Studies and the other two new "satellites," the Bay Area Institute (later to become Pacific News Service) and the Cambridge Institute (later the publisher of Working Papers). But we were always the poor cousins, and as our work began to center more and more around regional issues, institutional ties reverted to personal friendships. (To this day I am convinced that I am the mental image conjured up by Mark Raskin when he hears "The South.")
I can't recall a time along the way when any of us thought we should hang it up, have our heads examined or even seek gainful employment. Paychecks were occasionally missed, but no more often than in other social change organizations. Internally we managed to maintain mutual respect and a sense of humor, without depriving ourselves of the usual screaming matches, frosty silences and bruised egos. We never even came close to sainthood in that regard, but we did remain friends and believed enough in each other and what we were doing to keep moving ahead.
Around us, things were going to hell in a handbasket. The progressive left had taken a decisive turn toward sectarianism, and we watched several friends march off to a shrill cadence that seemed utterly unreal. Divisions between black and white were often distant, if not downright strained. And the war in Southeast Asia had come home to campuses at Kent State, Ohio, and Jackson State, Mississippi.
For some reason we persisted. Raising money was always hard, but feeling confident about the value of the work was always harder. New staff helped. First Bob Hall, and later Reber Boult and Leah Wise. We kept at the military research; Bob began to develop a corporate research project, and Leah and I, along with Jacquelyn Hall, began to pursue oral history as a means of discovering the hidden history of the South.
The turning point came when Bob decided it was time for us to start a magazine, a research report of sorts, from the Institute. Skeptical of the time, energy and money it would take, I was also mindful that we desperately needed some way to disseminate our work. And, secretly, I was happy for any opportunity for more writing and editing.
In retrospect, I think that without Southern Exposure the Institute would not have been able to remain a viable institution. The journal helped give us substance, direction, discipline and, most hated of all, deadlines. It also made us reach out for help. Well-known journalists such as Kirkpatrick Sale, Robert Sherrill, Derek Shearer and Jim Ridgeway all came to our aid that first year with investigative pieces for which they were paid our usual $50 "honorarium."
The first three issues were a pent-up fury of publishing what had been accumulating in our heads and our filing cabinets for the preceding three years — defense spending, energy and utilities, and Southern oral history. Number five was our first "what do we do now" issue and the first indication that we could lighten up and have some fun with this project.
We took turns editing that first year. Leah and I got number three and four. "No More Moanin'" nearly killed us. I have no idea how many months it took to deliver to the printer; I simply know that it took forever. It was our first book-length issue, the first with perfect binding and the first with a slick cover. It was also our first issue without a prominent date ("We can control the numbers; we cannot control the seasons," said Bob.)
But the real importance of "No More Moanin'' 'was its reflection of our growing consciousness and acknowledgment that "people's words" were research tools as important as the charts, graphs and hard data of earlier issues. Southern "voices" — of struggle, history and culture have continued to be a part of SE's research report on the region, and fortunately in that issue we had the foresight to acknowledge that it was only a beginning:
The pages that follow are bits and pieces of Southern history — determined in part by our own interest and by our access to people and information . . . this issue is . . . a beginning born out of stubborn insistence that there is more to Southern history than its mystique and magnolias.
When "No More Moanin'" finally got put to bed, I took off for Nashville. I wanted to do something completely different for a while. Five to six column-inches for the Great Speckled Bird was all I had in mind when I did a few interviews on country music. A few months later I was back at the typewriter sweating out (past deadline, of course) the lead article for our next issue, "America's Best Music." We learned to use what we had.
Ten years later Southern Exposure is still demonstrating its stubborn insistence that there is more to the South. Its pages have offered up eloquent testimonials about the right and wrong of the region, its future and its past.
When we started the Institute for Southern Studies in 1970, the easy arrogance of earlier years was gone. But we did retain the confidence — the confidence that people who believed enough in something could make it happen. The current staff of Southern Exposure has that same confidence — in themselves and their work. That's why it's still here. Lord knows there couldn't possibly be any other reason!
Sue continues her interest in oral history as a staff member of the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee. The other co-founder of the Institute, Howard Romaine, is now an attorney in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
It is with pride, peppered with many chuckles, that I fondly recall my days at the Institute and the beginnings of Southern Exposure. I am almost surprised that those feelings dominate my memories because we also functioned under the not insignificant tension that typically accompanies life/work of struggle. The pride comes from recognition of our clear accomplishments, enhanced certainly by hindsight. It does not simply come from having been on the ground floor of the development of an institute, the beginning of a key regional journal, the tackling of then untouchable issues (such as the military in the South), or the legitimating of oral history, which we understood as the presence of ordinary peoples' voices and struggles in the historical record; it comes also from the fact that we did a lot of work, good work, while facing formidable odds.
Of course, our ignorance and inexperience helped shape those odds. The chuckles are inspired particularly by memories of our self-view which often contrasted sharply with the view others had of us. We were green, serious; pioneers, we imagined. Upstarts, others termed us. Visionaries? I don't think that notion fit our self-concept. We were so serious about the work we thought had to be done, we were simply setting out to do it. The work never assumed for us the quality of a vision. Daring? Yes. But typically, I suppose, we charged ahead without realizing what we were taking on. And because there was always so much more to do than we did, I don't think we recognized our achievements for what they were. But our egos were boosted sufficiently by what I remember us celebrating as little coups.
We were ever conscious of a need to establish our legitimacy in a number of circles. We were small in number (a core of three), in finances, in office space, and we were located right around the corner from the Southern Regional Council — the established castle of reform-oriented social research and the arbiter and conduit of Northern foundation monies for social change projects in the South. So our desire for dignity and respect led to such things as having my very first article co-signed or later my leaving to get "credentialed."
It was not only among funding sources and the more established educational and research organizations (which I must admit we erringly regarded in general as adversaries) that we sought respect, but from the movement community and from one another as well. Though an alternative institution, our budding institute was not free of sexism; more than once Sue Thrasher and I had to contend with an expression of surprise at how good our work was. Nor was I free of the pressure of having to establish and demonstrate how it was principled for me to be working in an integrated context in an era of nationalist and pan-Africanist fervor.
What were some of the coups? Holding the first Institute seminar with Gunnar Myrdal; having the Georgia Power Company lawyers attempt to woo Bob Hall to their side because he so brilliantly managed to become an aggravating thorn in their sides during the rate hearings before the Public Service Commission; receiving an offer from a more reputable institute (and a former boss) to co-publish something after the appearance of "No More Moanin'"; and making an almost flippant plea in the very last moment of an interview with one of the "big foundations" about giving us a small grant to "help get your toe in the door" and actually receiving more than twice our request.
For me, and I suspect for Sue also, "No More Moanin'" loomed the most brilliant feather in our cap. We had succeeded in producing a quality publication that exemplified the kind of history we were trying to explore and often had difficulty explaining to people. (This in a nutshell was the motivation for starting Southern Exposure in the first place. We needed a vehicle to disseminate our work, to physically show people what we were talking about, and to be credible.)
"No More Moanin'" was our statement of oral history, a statement of process as much as of content, and it represented a very personal search for us as well. We were quite upfront about our work involving a personal quest. From different perspectives we both were seeking to uncover links to a tradition of struggle that we knew existed but was unfamiliar to us. Discover we did. Links we established.
We experienced some of our most delightful moments in engaging people and their memories, often reviving old hostilities and emotional fervor. Sometimes we felt we were performing a delicate balancing act. In general we developed a fond regard for the folk who shared their lives with us. Because we approached people with eagerness and respect, and because we were inquiring about moments that they remembered as the most meaningful in their lives, we were able to relatively easily establish trust and openness in our interviews.
Of course, our concept of oral history was not widely shared. We were so full of ourselves, of our purpose, of our correctness, that reminders of this reality often struck us quite abruptly. The Oral History Association meetings never failed to give us a stinging jolt. At the very first one I attended, held in Texas, a blonde, teased-haired, mini-skirted anthropologist boasted of her success in getting a Navajo man to talk to her by getting him drunk first. At another, we found ourselves at a reception bumping shoulders with Dean Rusk. These were our colleagues? We were horrified!
The popularity of oral history soared rapidly in the years to follow, and Ted Rosengarten's All God's Dangers insured that our view at least received national exposure. Last month I was surprised to see a copy of "No More Moanin'" displayed in a small library/auditorium during a Black History Month program in a Nashville public school. It sat on the shelf alongside books on Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King and Harriet Tubman.
The lasting relationships that developed in our work on Southern Exposure for me have been its most positive legacy. Southern Exposure was very much a collective effort. We relied heavily on friends, out of principle and necessity. We didn't know the term networking then, but from the outset we thought of Southern Exposure as a vehicle for informing and connecting those in the region interested in one issue or another. We had a peculiar style of work that on the surface appeared anti-elitist, anti-specialization, pro-self-development and pro-equality. This is because we did everything, from transcribing and janitorial work to editing, lay-out, fundraising and research. We did this partly out of principle (we didn't believe ourselves above menial tasks), partly out of necessity, and partly because we never examined our operation from the perspective of management and efficiency concerns.
At one point, we did ask ourselves what was the Institute's view on the South, of the current issues and trends in the development of the region. We began a study group to try to forge an answer, but abandoned it quickly because some feared the process would lead us down a sectarian road. But, despite the fact that as an Institute we never articulated a cohesive set of theoretical principles and goals, we did operate out of shared assumptions and values that I imagine our movement experience afforded us.
Today? Our working relationships are still active and close. Many of the Atlanta-based Institute crowd find ourselves here in North Carolina, brandishing various organizational titles, but a nucleus nonetheless.
Leah is now the executive director of Southerners for Economic Justice, which began as an Institute off-shoot in 1978.
When I came to the Institute for Southern Studies in Atlanta during September, 1972, I was a turned-on student radical cutting loose from my yankee suburban past and on the run from my corporate professional future. I had been deeply touched by "the Sixties" and had been moved to sing folk songs, to work with black folks, go to jail for the cause and agitate whenever and wherever. During the summer of '72, picking watermelons at New Communities near Albany, Georgia, had convinced me of the righteousness of the Southern struggle — the internal colony where the contradictions were more clear and the enemy more overt and dastardly. In October of that year, Nixon paraded triumphantly down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. As we stood sullen amidst the screaming masses, I could feel Nixon and his cronies trying their best to erase the Sixties, just as they erased the incriminating Watergate tapes. They wanted to make us seem like anachronisms of an alien culture and irrelevant to the country that we too deeply cared for and passionately wanted to save.
The next spring, Southern Exposure painfully emerged as a direct affront to the diabolical schemes of Tricky Dick and his corporate comrades. They could not continue to rob people of their culture, their past, their values and beliefs — especially not Southerners. They could not instantly rewrite the history books 1984-style. We weren't gonna let them.
It was scary to think that we could write our own history, define the burning social issues of our day, and even begin to make history ourselves. No one really knew how to put out a quarterly magazine. We were just driven by the vision of presenting an alternative perception of the South to its people. We knew it was the one that lived on in the sharecroppers' shacks, coal miners' shanties and cotton mill workers' villages.
I'll never forget the day the first issue came out. There was my name up under Bob Hall's on the masthead. I was shocked. I had always perceived of an editor as an aloof, red-pencil heavy who spit out writers and copy with a heartless growl. To Bob, it was a passion, a challenge and an enjoyment. An editor, as Bob and the rest of the staff lived it and came to define it, had to do it all — from the shit work to paste-up to peddling bookstores to losing nights and nights of sleep and normalcy.
Well, eventually I moved on, while Bob and others are downstairs in our building in Durham still pouring out the never-ending special issues of Southern Exposure. I fell in love and wanted to make babies and have a family like normal people are supposed to. I was still driven by the marxist visions of my youth — of workers' struggles and movements of the downtrodden for social justice. The search for an indigenous American Revolution has taken me to Harlan County, Kentucky, with the striking miners, to Erwin and Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where angry millworkers battle to clean up the mills — and these days to Belle Glade, Florida, and Newton Grove, North Carolina, where freeing the slaves of the plantations of the New South and building a movement among Haitian, Hispanic and black farmworkers have become my current consuming passion.
From the day in August, 1972, when I saw an ad in Atlanta's Great Speckled Bird ("Low pay, long hours, hard work — call Sue Thrasher and Bob Hall"), while getting high and savoring the watermelon harvest in Albany, Georgia, my life has been changed. The sweat and blood and tears and smiles that flow from the neatly typeset pages of Southern Exposure have always been a reflection of the love and caring of the people who put it together. I'm proud to have been a part of it and hope that it will continue to renew itself and the people who cherish it for many decades to come.
Chip is the staff person for the new North Carolina Farmworkers Network, which coordinates the interests of 15 farmworker organizations whose members come to the state annually to work in the fields.
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall
My memories of Southern Exposure come in flashes. Years run together, then moments stand out in bright relief. Those images begin with a drizzly day in upstate New York, when Bob Hall and I got married, threw our belongings in the back of a van, and headed south toward home. We chose Atlanta by instinct, the way we did things in those days, because we had family there, had gone to school with Howard Romaine, had kept up with the Southern movement through the Great Speckled Bird. Soon Chip Hughes was sleeping on our couch on his way to — or from — the Southwest Georgia Project; then Howard, living in the basement, was pounding out an article on Bob Dylan, or militarism, or both; then came the first marathon struggle to put out an issue of a journal we had decided to call Southern Exposure.
Meanwhile I wrestled happily with a classic female dilemma. Related to the Institute by marriage, I wanted to make a contribution, but also to get on with my own work. Sue Thrasher, Leah Wise and I — all historians by training or predilection — launched an oral history project recording the stories of Southern radicals of earlier times.
The scene shifts suddenly to Chapel Hill, where I started teaching women's history at the University of North Carolina and directing the Southern Oral History Program. Southern Exposure was based in our living room in those days, a household industry, no separation whatsoever between life and work. It seemed perfectly natural to labor away in my study, writing my first book, while the front of the house buzzed with the purposeful chaos of putting out a journal four times a year. I kept my hand in — editing, cajoling, socializing. I took my turn at a special issue: "Generations," which still gives me pleasure, still expresses a sensibility that guides my work.
Since 1979, my ties to Southern Exposure have faded. But they haven't broken. Like so many others, I've pursued life projects begun at the Institute. Next year the Oral History Program will publish a book on the rise of industrial capitalism in the twentieth-century South; I'm still writing and teaching about women, about the past from which the present has come.
The Institute, it seems to me, became an institution, in the best, if sometimes problematic, sense of the word. It has provided a stream of individuals with a way station, a place to learn and test their skills, a means for channeling political conviction into action. In turn, the Institute has been able to harness tremendous energy, put it to use and survive, as individuals move on. Like the present staff, I feel chastened by experience, but proud of the past and excited about the future.
Jacquelyn may also be credited with adding the name Southern Exposure to an original list of two dozen candidates for this magazine's title. The name, borrowed from a muckraking book written by Stetson Kennedy in 1946, won immediate acclaim.
My memories of the early days of Southern Exposure are hazy now, consisting chiefly of one or a dozen nights scrambling to meet a deadline or desperately searching for an as yet untapped source of funding. But one person stands out in all my recollections, a figure as imposing as Charlton Heston playing Moses. Indeed I have to resort to religious parallel to adequately describe Southern Exposure's first editor, Bob Hall.
Bob Hall combines the innocent guilelessness of a Jesuit with the easy-going laziness of John Calvin. As talkative as a Trappist monk, as tolerant as Torquemada, Bob strove to provide all of us with a work atmosphere that captured the best aspects of the sweat shop and the Spanish Inquisition.
He also strikes me as the single person most responsible for Southern Exposure's success. I honestly don't think there would be a magazine without him, and that would be an enormous shame. Everytime I see a new professionally produced and edited issue I feel more than a spark of personal pride that I was there. I was in the way, perhaps, but I was there, and I hope to be writing more scurrilous libel about Bob Hall for the twentieth anniversary issue. I am currently a licensed investigator for Pan American Investigations, Inc.
With the first issue of Southern Exposure, I was given the opportunity to define a graphics look and a graphics policy for the layout of the magazine. I can't take singular credit for what emerged in those first issues, because I brought to the magazine a consensus that arose out of an earlier graphic experience on The Great Speckled Bird. The Bird was a famous underground weekly from Atlanta, Georgia, which thrived during the late 1960s and early '70s, but is no more. The years of lively, often bitter, struggle over the "graphics question" produced principles and understandings which supported the politics of the paper and insured a visual consistency with the content of the paper. It also earned the Bird a national reputation for quality photography and layout design.
The Bird's perspective carried over to Southern Exposure. Local and regional artists and photographers must be sought out and their work used, even if in some instances other graphics might be superior. As Southern publications, the Bird and Southern Exposure had a responsibility to display talent from the South, to give Southern artists their first exposure.
Secondly, to be consistent with the progressive views expressed in the magazine, graphics should emphasize the real producers of wealth in this society — the secretaries, farmers, hard hats and other working people. The visual image of people in their natural surroundings or work environments was seen as a weapon against the image of "beautiful people" used to advertise products, the hegemonic image of American culture. The idea was to strengthen the images of our everyday life and to place them in a positive context — to enlarge our visual commonality.
We hoped in addition to expand the concept of illustration, to portray a mood or theme, not necessarily to link a graphic directly to an article, but to feature a visual image independent of any printed word. The image itself was a statement. Finally, we projected a high ratio of graphics-to-print, aiming for a 40/60 ratio. This visual emphasis gave depth and spatial quality to the magazine.
Southern Exposure has had many other graphic directors since the first issues that I worked on. Often they have shown an individual's style, and the issues certainly have varied over the last 10 years. Yet I believe that a consistency with the original graphics policy has been maintained and enhanced. Southern Exposure continues to be a pleasure to look at as well as to read.
I have many memories of being at Southern Exposure . . . mostly very rich ones. Sue and Leah hassling each other over country vs. soul on Sue's portable radio. (When one left the room, the other would change the station.) Writing some of the purplest prose seen in Southern Exposure to this day at four a.m. to fill a hole in the book review section. Digging up news distributors in Huntsville and Shreveport and I-can't-remember-where-all-else who were willing to take a chance on this Southern What? Oh . . . Is it anything like Southern Living?"
Driving my Datsun pick-up back from a lake outside Chapel Hill after putting the '74 land issue to bed on a gorgeous October-in-North-Carolina-day. Bob, exhausted, wordless and motionless, stretched out in the back staring up at the sky all the way back into town. Bob on the phone giving me two days to get to Marion, North Carolina, to work on the Harlan County strike. Proofing on the Coffins' front porch on Atlanta summer afternoons, backed by Willie Nelson as plaintive adult . . . and Simon Coffin as plaintive infant.
But mostly I remember three people, Sue, Bob and Leah, who taught me — probably without knowing it — some things. Things that gave me tools for understanding the history of me and my family. By asking me to coordinate an energy conference the Institute was co-sponsoring in the spring of '73, Sue gave me a chance to learn to see the world from an even clearer class perspective.
From the three of them I learned the importance of uncovering our own true history, and not buying the history of "lies agreed upon." I began to learn how much we as Southerners have been lied about (something my Northern friends can still be slow to understand). I began to understand just how much the poorer we as whites are because of the use of racism to keep us divided white from black . . . the battles not fought, the culture not experienced, the friends denied.
Through and with these people, 1 began to understand that "good politics" means at heart simply caring very much about some people, enjoying being with them, and wanting some very specific things to change for them.
In short, 1 got to be proud of being a working-class Southerner. I came to understand that "Southern" and "radical" do fit together . . . as wellworn shoes fit.
Since leaving the Institute as a graduate of the Bob Hall School of Corporate Research, I've studied Southern history and economics at the Goddard graduate program in social change. I have worked to bring U.S.-produced goods to some Third World countries which need them. I am a trainer in leadership development for community organizations and labor unions. As key elements of this work I also lead workshops on classism, sexism, anti-semitism and racism. Plus I'm now a graduate student in occupational health at Boston University's School of Public Health.
In the fall of 1973, I was living in Washington, DC, unemployed and unsure of my next step. Determined to keep an intellectual, if not physical connection with the South, I plunged into two projects, not sure where either would lead but certain that I would learn from both. I spent mornings at the Library of Congress, researching the life and recordings of the Appalachian folk musician Bascom Lamar Lunsford. To get a taste of another side of Washington, I volunteered my afternoons to the National Sharecroppers Fund.
Early in 1974, I returned South, to a new job at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with a Lunsford manuscript in hand. Beginning its second year of publication with a new base of operations in Chapel Hill, Southern Exposure attracted my attention. I saw it as a place that might publish my Lunsford story and that might help me understand my Southern heritage. Both hunches panned out beyond my wildest expectations. The Lunsford article made it into Vol. II, No. 1 — my first published article — and a piece on the National Sharecroppers Fund appeared in the next issue. My writing career had begun. For that alone, I am grateful and somewhat astonished. But the underpinnings of this beginning seem even more important to me.
During my three-year stint at Southern Exposure, as one of a small band of editors/writers/volunteers, we focused on research skills and conceptual thinking — around the Halls' dining-room table and at the University of North Carolina's business administration/social sciences library. From painstaking study of census records to the painful attendance at a Brookside miner's funeral in Harlan County, Kentucky, the research required of a Southern Exposure editor proved of lasting value. The research experience shaped the editorial milieu more than did the craft. I remember only one brief word on the craft itself from Editor Hall, a casual mention as we drove across town to the typesetter of my tendency to dangle clauses. The content informed the style, not the other way around. I am forever grateful for such a fundamental approach to writing — rare within the editorial profession.
Today, I continue my writing and editing career, thinking content first and then style. That approach has helped to shape my freelance writing and also N.C. Insight, the quarterly magazine which I edit for the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. Ten years ago, my instincts took me to the Library of Congress and to the National Sharecroppers Fund. But it was Southern Exposure that provided an outlet for these instincts, not only by publishing my work but also by providing a framework through which I could understand my past and shape my future.
Editor's note: We received this note complete with a set of beads.
Dear Institooters, Here is your share of the wealth. Everybody in New Orleans, except the shut-ins, got some of the booty this Mardi Gras.
They had to work for it, though. Hours of raised arms, children on shoulders, screaming top of lungs: "Throw me something, mister!" to the endless masked men on their expensive floats in their endless parades. In the good days they threw glass beads but I doubt they threw as many as they do now.
Most amazing about Carnival is not the interminable parades and the people's insatiable appetite for beads from Hong Kong; most amazing are the individual expressions, the creativity, of the costumes walking the streets on Fat Tuesday. Folk work for months preparing, stitching and chuckling. The costumes are not worn, they are swallowed whole and sweated out through pores and one can only wonder about the persona of the second half of that giraffe on St. Charles. No can of dogfood or red crayon or flamingo on Tchoupitoulas can hold a flame, though, to the Queens of the Quarter. The Queen contest among the gays is an extravaganza of art and glitter; with some, it took one person to fill the costume and a handful of others to support it –
arches, bridges, tunnels, rainbows; heavy stuff. The winners pirouetted on a grandstand above a crush of thousands in one small block and tourists paid to have their pictures taken beside such royalty.
Pictures, in fact, could express all you ever need to know about Mardi Gras here, at least the part of' it I was unfortunate enough to spend a full day caught up in. (I hear it's best in neighborhoods, when you see all your lifelong friends at their best.)
I'm doing passing well in investigations; Nicholas is at his peak as a private nose; and Hubba the Cat runs a neighborhood organization of flea-gatherers. We're here to serve should you come this way. Is it soup yet?
Jennifer was the first editor of Facing South and an editor for Southern Exposure. She hosted our infamous volleyball games. Nicholas is a collie.
My association with the Institute began as the third issue of Southern Exposure ("No More Moanin'") was being mailed to subscribers. Returning to North Carolina from a year of graduate studies in Sweden, I found that the journal had moved from Atlanta to Chapel Hill. I sought it out and found it — in the kitchen of Bob and Jackie Hall's home. As a volunteer I spent many hours in that kitchen. Stuffing, sorting and stamping envelopes, editing book reviews and talking politics were the main fare. And it was there at the kitchen table that Jackie gave me my first painful lessons in writing. Together with Bill Finger, Chip Hughes and the Atlanta staff of Sue Thrasher and Leah Wise, we produced some issues of the journal I am still proud of today. And on the weekends, the Chapel Hill crew teamed up to produce one nasty volleyball team.
I spent my youth involved in politics in Memphis. But my heart was with my grandmother and her farm near Jackson, Tennessee. It never occurred to me that politics and agriculture could mix until we began work on Southern Exposure's "Our Promised Land" issue. By the time it went to press, I had found a calling that felt intellectually, emotionally and politically comfortable. I have worked on agricultural politics ever since.
First, I took a leave of absence from the Institute to co-author Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity with Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins. Then in 1978, I joined the staff of the National Sharecroppers Fund/Rural Advancement Fund. I now direct that organization's programs. We are involved in organizing farmers to fight farm foreclosures and in lobbying efforts in Washington and North Carolina on behalf of family farmers. In addition, I am in the final stages of writing a book on the takeover of the seed industry by multinational petrochemical corporations and the danger to agriculture posed by the loss of crop genetic resources.
My leave of absence from the Institute has now lasted eight years with no end in sight. But I wish it well and congratulate it on 10 important and worthwhile years of struggle.
One thing has not changed since February, 1978, when I left the Southern Exposure staff: I'm still working long hours for low pay. During my two-and-a-half-year tenure I learned to do corporate research, develop educational programs for unions, do bookstore accounts, interviews, a little writing, a lot of general research, typesetting and other skills I've probably forgotten. But from that rich range of experience I blew it all and ended up owning a typesetting/graphic arts company.
After two-and-a-half stormy years of rank-and-file organizing in Birmingham — marked by run-ins with the Klan, fights with corrupt union leaders, arrests for union organizing, being red-baited and fined — I lost my job as a welder at Pullman Standard when the plant closed. My wife, Jennifer Gunn, and I purchased a Comp IV phototypesetting unit and set up shop in the back of our house. We bought the equipment to continue publishing anti-Klan and rank-and-file newsletters we had recently started. (Both are published today. And we still do the typesetting).
To pay for the equipment we picked up some commercial accounts. News of our great service and low prices quickly spread, and we've had to move three times in the past two years to accommodate our growth.
Of course, if I had never learned to operate the IBM composer, I wouldn't be working at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday in a vain attempt to meet 40 impossible deadlines. Every night, usually between midnight and two a.m., as I slowly sink to the floor in exhaustion, I take the name of Southern Exposure in vain and mutter a special epithet for Joe Pfister, the man who taught me how to typeset. When I get up at five in the morning to face more of the same, my days at Southern Exposure are remembered in the same manner.
But the true legacy of days in North Carolina lies elsewhere. My work at Southern Exposure gave me an appreciation of the peculiar culture, history and political dynamics of the South, and my exposure to union organizing in the J.P. Stevens campaign still drives me to be involved in rank-and-file movements. These emotions, understandings and commitments are built upon the experimental foundation I formed up "north," working with the Institute. Those two-and-a-half years were exciting, fun and one helluva challenge. The impact they had on the direction my life has taken since then is enormous.
So there it is. Quit writing letters and quit calling me — I wrote it. I've even enclosed $20 for a one-year subscription. Just a small contribution to show I believe in what I did then and support what y'all are doing now.
Images flourish when I hear the name Southern Exposure. Constructing the new office in Chapel Hill that was soon without heat. Typesetting late into the night. Volleyball on Sunday at Jennifer's [Miller]. Hot lunches at the Carolina Cafe. The red truck.
Seven years ago, the Institute for Southern Studies was in a transitional stage, where first and second generation staff members re-evaluated our direction. For many of us, understanding how the Institute had begun was an important agenda item. Deciding what the journal should be, what the priorities of the Institute were, and how we would relate to one another were important questions to each of us. We were at the point of translating our individual ideas into a shared, spoken vision that would bind us. As awkward and occasionally painful as this translation was, I think we were straining to grow personally and as a group; we were trying to improve. At the same time, we all enjoyed each other's company and felt a commitment to each other as people.
Since leaving the Institute in 1978, I have completed law school, and have worked on First Amendment cases and done research for the McNeil/Lehrer television news show. My main interest is in contributing skills to the defense of civil rights. I hope that everyone says that no one ever really leaves Southern Exposure. Sharing that experience keeps one close even after a long absence. I feel we can still count on each other. That trust and affection also keeps me in touch with the present staff in spirit, something which makes me quite glad.
I left Southern Exposure in May, 1976, for Charleston, South Carolina, thinking it would be the perfect place to greet the Bicentennial. It wasn't bad, and it beats those brutal Durham winters, so I've stayed. Susan Dunn, now an attorney here, and I were married in '76, and had a daughter, Anna Dunn Hoffius, in June, 1981. The best parts of my days are filled with Anna. With two friends, we bought a house in downtown Charleston in 1981.
I've worked at a bookstore and a Johns Island azalea farm. For a year, I worked as a consultant for the Palmetto Alliance, Inc., an anti-nuclear group here, writing their newsletter, fact sheets and helping with funding proposals. I've periodically tried my hand at freelance writing and have regularly run away screaming. I've toyed with various book projects, and am now finishing a novel for 10-to-l2-yearolds, a ghost/adventure tale that takes place near here. The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium now has hold of some of my time, involving various writing, editing and design tasks.
I am proud to announce that I still possess the pen that was presented to me by the staff of Southern Exposure at a teary farewell luncheon in 1976. It's the only pen I haven't lost within an hour and a half. It still writes beautifully.
By the time I signed on, late in 1976, Southern Exposure had already charged into its fourth year with here-come-a-wind audacity, bearing a special double issue on Labor in the South, while threatening the hard-to-impress with soon-to-be-published closeups on (gasp) Women and (omigod) Religion.
By then, it had already acquired a name either as "a place to go to see and feel and hear real Southerners in all their variety and complexity," or as "the office above the stereo store and behind the sandle-maker," depending on whether you were Robert Coles watching from Harvard Yard, or one of the many who trod those stairs to the offices under the eaves, drawn by the scent of burnt coffee. Back in those days, "nobody was writing about the South the way we did" — a grand and ever-changing crew of irregulars lurching relentlessly from special issue to special issue in search of the big ones — Health, Folklife, Prison, you name it — we covered the waterfront. And we aimed to write the book on it four times a year, counting the double issues. (You were supposed to count the double issues.) More than enough, we promised, and the effort took its toll in staff and guest editors. The magazine continued — even grew — and employees got major medical.
Time passed. The magazine took on new visual confidence with each new designer and is now lovely to look at, a sight for sore eyes, a pleasure to behold. And easier to read. This magazine has always had heart, but it wears its humor more openly and easily nowadays, and that's good. Good humor is hard to come by even in the best of times, yet the magazine has always had more than enough of that rare commodity to share.
I signed on initially to pitch in on the religion issue; I stayed on through seven more issues, until I left to cover the religion beat more regularly as editor of the monthly newspaper published by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Now I work in Raleigh, and Southern Exposure has moved to a two-story brick building in Durham. I don't miss the old offices; I do miss working together. Happy Birthday to us.
Editor's note: We received this note from the Japanese countryside where Kathleen Zobel Ball and her husband and two-year-old daughter are now traveling. They are living in Tokyo for a year.
Today we rode a bus way up into the mountains to visit an ancient (restored) town of incredible beauty. The drive through forests of Japanese cedar and bamboo was such a delight after the constant noise and crowding of Tokyo.
As usual, the people have been so generous it is almost shocking. On the train today a lady saw Daisy eyeing her snacks so treated us to one good thing after another. All we could do was bow and thank her repeatedly. But this kind of spontaneous (extravagant, sometimes) generosity occurs almost daily. And, it seems catching. Several American, German and Canadian new acquaintances back in Tokyo have amazed us with their openness and warmth.
Meanwhile, language study is going very badly — I despair of ever really being able to converse. And reading is even worse. It's really a weird sensation being in a city plastered with signs and understanding nothing. (Restful, in a way, I suppose, until I plunge into a man-hole or pick up a live electrical cable because I didn't read the sign saying, "Warning! Danger!")
Daisy's surviving the chaos quite well — at home she has carved out her little world of play in the park, nursery school two mornings a week, riding her tricycle in the driveway of the university building next door. She's been talking a lot in nonsense syllables — preparation, we think, for Japanese. Travel (sightseeing) is hard on her, though. Why all the fuss over a shrine, ocean, tree or mountain? She glances with cold blue eyes, then turns back to more interesting things, like pebbles in the pathway, or ice cream for sale nearby.
Kathleen was editor of Facing South and an editor of Southern Exposure.
I visited Chapel Hill in the spring of 1976, mainly to see Duke and the University of North Carolina, where I was trying to get into law school. One evening I attended a meeting of the Institute, which formed my lasting impression of its style: soft voices, long pauses, easy laughter, a laidbackness, the unstated collective ideal.
From time to time over the next two years, I picnicked and partied with my Institute friends, read an occasional article, stuffed an occasional envelope. Shortly before graduation, a job prospect I was counting on fell through. I asked Bob Hall for a job from May until August. He agreed if I would extend it to September; I finally made it back to New Orleans in December.
That brief stint taught me this: little people can do it all. With a shoestring budget and no prior experience, a small bunch of people put out a classy magazine that inspired and encouraged readers, gave them ideas and made waves.
It was an enjoyable time, too. I took long walks, drove through beautiful countryside, met fascinating people and did more fun-reading than ever before. But Chapel Hill was not home; it was in fact a little bit unreal.
Now I'm a lawyer with a small firm in New Orleans handling a varied civil practice. I love it, but I feel I don't really fit in the combative stress-filled world of trial lawyers. The Institute is partly the reason, and I am grateful.
I am currently a field editor for Southern Exposure and a staff member of the Southeast Project on Human Needs and Peace. The Southeast Project is currently assisting leaders of the resurgent tenant movement. The work includes bi-monthly peer-group workshops and individual counseling with tenant leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, and in cities between Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana.
We have begun a process which we hope will help build and make stronger a new movement for justice in the South. That movement would support changing the nation's priorities from racism and militarism to a commitment in housing, health care, full employment, nutrition, education, and other human needs for all.
Our work developing these housing activists and strengthening their network is designed to make them ready for leadership in a new peace movement which is multi-racial. Our work begins partly out of the realization that the U.S. peace movement is not broad enough to force changes in our nation's military priorities. That must come from the kind of movement we called the "Freedom Movement" of the '50s and '60s.
This work started from a project initiated by the Institute when it updated its first issue of Southern Exposure on militarism in the South with the publication of "Waging Peace." I enjoyed my full-time work on the staff and my hair started to gray in the final stages of production of "Stayed on Freedom." But I'm still singing!