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Alabama Afternoons

Profiles and Conversations

Roy Hoffman

Publication Year: 2011

Alabama Afternoons is a collection of portraits of many remarkable Alabamians, famous and obscure, profiled by award-winning journalist and novelist Roy Hoffman. Written as Sunday feature stories for the Mobile Press-Register with additional pieces from the New York Times, Preservation, and Garden & Gun, these profiles preserve the individual stories—and the individual voices within the stories—that help to define one of the most distinctive states in the union.
Hoffman recounts his personal visits with writer Mary Ward Brown in her library in Hamburg, with photographer William Christenberry in a field in Newbern, and with storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham and folk artist Charlie “Tin Man” Lucas at their neighboring houses in Selma. Also highlighted are the lives of numerous alumni of The University of Alabama—among them Mel Allen, the “Voice of the Yankees” from 1939 to 1964; Forrest Gump author Winston Groom; and Vivian Malone and James Hood, the two students who entered the schoolhouse door in 1963. Hoffman profiles distinguished Auburn University alumni as well, including Eugene Sledge, renowned World War II veteran and memoirist, and Neil Davis, the outspoken, nationally visible editor of the Lee County Bulletin.
Hoffman also profiles major and minor players in the civil rights movement, from Johnnie Carr, raised in segregated Montgomery and later president of the Montgomery Improvement Association; and George Wallace Jr., son of the four-time governor; to Teresa Burroughs, a Greensboro beautician trampled in the march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge; and Diane McWhorter, whose award- winning book explores the trouble- filled Birmingham civil rights experience. Juxtaposed with these are accounts of lesser-known individuals, such as Sarah Hamm, who attempts to preserve the fading Jewish culture in Eufaula; Edward Carl, who was butler and chauffeur to Bellingrath Gardens founder Walter Bellingrath in Theodore; and cousins William Bolton and Herbert Henson, caretakers of the coon dog cemetery in Russellville.
Hoffman’s compilation of life stories creates an engaging and compelling look into what it means to be from, and shaped by, Alabama. “Alabama Afternoons,” he writes in the introduction, “is a small part of the even bigger question of what it means to be an American.”

Read an article about domestic lives by Roy Hoffman in the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/25/garden/25Domestic.html


Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-xii

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pp. 1-4

Alabama Afternoons is a book of character portraits—from passing visits to full-scale profiles—of some of our state’s remarkable people, famous or obscure. Culled from more than a decade of my roaming the state, present and past, to find people worthy of Sunday feature spreads, Alabama Afternoons is a collective portrait, too. ...

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Part I: The Makers

A camera, a canvas, a sculpture, tales fashioned from ghost stories whispered at night—whatever the means, the tools of the artist are used, in this section, to render up a personal vision. That vision also reflects the time and place, and stays with us long after the artist has moved on. ...

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William Christenberry: Pilgrimage of the Heart

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pp. 7-14

The pavement hot, the air close, the thermometer groaning past 100 degrees, the afternoon unfolds along a Hale County highway a half-hour south of Tuscaloosa where William Christenberry Jr., 63—one of America’s most distinguished visual artists—is driving to his grandparents’ home. ...

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Charles Moore: Witness to Change

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pp. 15-24

Nearly forty years have passed since Charles Moore slung his Nikon camera over his shoulder and headed to Oxford, Mississippi, to chronicle for the nation what would be, by today’s standards, a mundane event—the enrollment, in the University of Mississippi, of a young black man named James Meredith. ...

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Bernice Sims: A Folk Artist’s Stamp on History

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pp. 25-29

On a quiet street lined with gray mailboxes, there’s one mailbox painted with bright colors of a family at a cabin. The signature of the artist, who is also the mail recipient, is printed along the side: “B. Sims.” ...

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Kathryn Tucker Windham and Charlie Lucas: Kathryn and the “Tin Man”

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pp. 30-36

Kathryn Tucker Windham, 85, is short and snow-complexioned with lively blue eyes and a storyteller’s voice as rich and involving as molasses. Charlie Lucas, 52, is tall and black with alert dark eyes and a way of speaking, with references to his folk art, as rhythmic as an afternoon breeze. ...

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Part II: The Tellers

I have profiled many writers over the years and gotten to know many of them personally from participating in conferences like the Alabama Writers Symposium in Monroeville. In writing about writers I have the chance to develop a double-focus—the author him or herself and the author’s subject matter. ...

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Mary Ward Brown: Black Belt Storyteller

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pp. 39-45

Petite, silver haired, and 87 years old, Mary Ward Brown welcomes you to her farmhouse with a big smile, pumpkin pie, and delightful conversation about some of her favorite things: Russian literature, the four Gospels, Greek tragedy, and Bob Dylan. ...

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Sena Jeter Naslund: A Story Deep Inside Her

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pp. 46-52

Her 1999 novel, Ahab’s Wife, a retelling of Melville’s classic through the eyes of the whaling captain’s wife, was a critical and commercial success, named by Time magazine as one of the five best novels of the year and honored as a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection. ...

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Diane McWhorter: Taking Pictures from the Inside

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pp. 53-60

On a chill dusk in her hometown, Diane McWhorter is driving through quiet downtown streets, taking a visitor on what she calls, “my civil rights tour.” By the site of the former Trailways Bus Station where freedom riders long ago rolled into an angry community, by the Gaston Motel, where protesters stayed in the spring of 1963, ...

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Frye Gaillard: Writing His Way

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pp. 61-66

Fresh out of college, the 22-year-old idealist whose hero had been Robert Kennedy watched outside the Mobile Municipal Auditorium as black protesters, many of them affiliated with the group Neighborhood Organized Workers, and a handful of sympathetic whites tried to picket America’s Junior Miss Pageant to publicize demands ....

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Artelia Bendolph: The Girl in the Window

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pp. 67-74

Her crisp hair plaited, her large hands folded in her lap, Artelia Bendolph sits in a wheelchair in front of her red-brick house in Prichard, Alabama, telling a long-ago story. Gone blind in recent years from diabetes—“I got a little grandbaby going on two years old, and I can feel her, but I can’t see her”—she peers into the past. ...

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Eugene Sledge: “With the Old Breed”

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pp. 75-80

in a sunny bedroom on a wooded street, a half hour south of Birmingham, Eugene Sledge—Mobile native, retired biology professor, and author of an extraordinary World War II memoir, With the Old Breed—is fighting his toughest battle. “With prayers, and the Marine spirit,” he says, propping himself up on an elbow, “I’m going to beat this.” ...

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Part III: The Journeyers

There are travels of place—New York to Alabama, Alabama to New York—transits of career, and, of course, journeys of the self. The journeyers of this section have been engaged, in various ways, in movements physical, emotional, or spiritual from one place to another. ...

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Mel Allen: “Voice of the Yankees”

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pp. 83-90

Beyond the left field fence in Yankee Stadium there is a site called Monument Park, with bronze plaques paying tribute to Yankee legends such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Yogi Berra, and Joe DiMaggio. In addition to the great baseball players, other members of the Yankee family are honored, among them an energetic talker with roots in Alabama’s Bibb County. ...

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Gay Talese: Made in Alabama

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pp. 91-98

Gay Talese, who graduated from The University of Alabama in 1953 and went on to become one of his generation’s most-celebrated authors, was once a middling high school student in Ocean City, New Jersey, with dim prospects for college. ...

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Howell Raines: Coming Full Circle

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pp. 99-104

On a breezy afternoon at Rowan Oak, Howell Raines, his wife, Krystyna, at his side, saunters beneath the whispering cedar trees leading to William Faulkner’s historic home. The former executive editor of the New York Times, on book tour for his new memoir, The One That Got Away, has not always moved at such a leisurely pace. ...

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Winston Groom: The House That Gump Built

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pp. 105-110

the objects in Winston Groom’s study in the elegant Point Clear home he shares with his wife, Anne-Clinton, and their young daughter, Carolina, provide insight into the work and sensibilities of the author of Forrest Gump and thirteen other books of fiction, memoir, and narrative history. ...

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Tommy Tarrants and Stan Chassin: Deliver Us from Evil

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pp. 111-122

Walking slowly across the grounds of Murphy High School, Stan Chassin looks for the spot where “the most violent thing I’d dealt with in my life” happened. “Here’s where it took place,” he says, coming to a covered walkway by the auditorium. He touches his chest. “I can feel my heart racing again.” ...

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Part IV: Witnesses to the Movement

You could fill whole libraries with the literature of the civil rights movement—memoirs written by participants, works of journalism and art inspired by the heroic efforts of participants, documents of the tumultuous era. Indeed, one of the through-lines of this collection is the shaping influence of the movement, ...

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Neil Davis: Tough, Sweet Voice of Reason

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pp. 125-132

“He was in business downtown,” Davis recalls. “I told the man, ‘I feel sorry for you and the way you let your family down. I knew some of your antecedents. Good, decent, upstanding people. They would have been so embarrassed if they’d heard what you said last night.’ ” ...

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Vivian Malone and James Hood: The Stand In the Schoolhouse Door

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pp. 133-140

On a sweltering day forty years ago this week, Vivian Malone of Mobile and James Hood of Gadsden set out to enroll for classes at The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. With U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy orchestrating the event from Washington under the watch of President John F. Kennedy, ...

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George Wallace Jr.: The Loyal Son

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pp. 141-147

In his office high up in a stately, red government building downtown, George C. Wallace Jr., a public service commissioner for the state of Alabama, is remembering the man he calls “truly my best friend.” He has just returned from a hunt in Africa, where he shot an impala and read Hemingway, ...

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Johnnie Carr: Sustaining the Dream

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pp. 148-155

oak Park, across the street from Johnnie Carr’s house in Montgomery, is a pleasing refuge of winding walks and inviting benches, a place full of light and innocence. When Johnnie and her husband, Arlam Carr, moved into their house in 1943, however, Oak Park might as well have been a thousand miles away. ...

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Theresa Burroughs: In Beauty’s Care

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pp. 156-162

If you were to meet Theresa Burroughs, 75, at her beauty shop in this serene Hale County town, you would hardly guess she had been deemed an agitator during the 1960s, gotten hauled off to jail a few blocks from her house, and been knocked down and trampled on crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge in the Selma-to-Montgomery march. ...

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Part V: Down Back Roads

One of the great joys for me of journalism about people is discovery—whether in what a person has to say, is thinking and feeling, or the physical discovery of what’s down a country road. That road may lead to a place of historical interest, like the rural crossroads near Demopolis, ...

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Sara Hamm: Keeping the Faith

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pp. 165-169

Facing east toward Jerusalem as religious tradition prescribes, the old Jewish cemetery, scored by weather and battered by vandals, sits high on a bluff over Lake Eufaula. The headstones—the ones still standing—look toward the peaceful water below and the pinetops of Georgia beyond. ...

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Restoring Rosenwald: The Oak Grove School

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pp. 170-175

Almost eight decades have passed since Charles S. Foreman Sr. entered the first grade in Gallion, Alabama, a Black Belt farm community in Hale County, about a half hour east of Demopolis. At first, he went to school in a church—Oak Grove Baptist, where his great-grandfather, a former slave, had been the first minister ...

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Bessie Papas: A Malbis Life

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pp. 176-184

Tucked away off noisy Baldwin County 181 and U.S. 90 is a pale-pink plantation house with ironwork balconies, where Bessie Papas, 95, lives in a world that whispers of another time. Although the jazzy new shops of the Eastern Shore Centre are only five minutes away, here, at the nearly century-old Malbis home, ...

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Edward Carl and Walter Bellingrath: Driving Mr. Bellingrath

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pp. 185-191

Tall, deep voiced, and elegant of manner, Edward Carl, 80, was certainly not to the manor born. Although he learned early on to set a formal table with china and crystal, serve a four-course meal, and navigate a Packard limousine, he grew up down a dirt road in the south Mobile County community of East Fowl River. ...

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William Bolton and Herbert Henson: Visiting Old Pals

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pp. 192-196

With 154 years of rural living between them—and most of those in the company of their beloved dogs—cousins William O. Bolton and Herbert Henson wander through the Key Underwood Memorial Coon Dog Cemetery, saying hello to old friends. “You love your dogs just like you do your kids,” says Bolton. ...

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Scoop, Red, Moon, and Shorty: The Oak Tree Social Club

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pp. 197-202

In the cool shade next to a sweltering parking lot, the members of the Oak Tree Social Club lean over a small table as Sylvester “Scoop” Brown shuffles the domino tiles and parcels them out to the others. ...

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Part VI: Different Windows on Dixie

Whatever sets one apart from the mainstream can make for an unusual angle of vision on home. In a way, many of the people I’ve profiled in Alabama Afternoons look through different windows on the Dixie they inhabit. Their views are distinctive, idiosyncratic, passionate, and creative. ...

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Yolande “Bebe” Betbeze: Cinderella in Charge

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pp. 205-216

In a grand old townhouse in the elegant Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, there lives a woman from Mobile once known as “America’s Own Cinderella.” Ravishing during her youth—with compelling brown eyes, lustrous dark hair, and a smile that ignited the room—Yolande Betbeze Fox, now 71, ...

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Alex Alvarez: Voices from the Past

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pp. 217-222

Growing up in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Alex Alvarez knew little at first of his family’s American Indian heritage. Creek on his mother’s side, Alvarez went to a powwow when he was 8 years old and was captivated by the stories of the elders. ...

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Abby Fisher: “What Miss Fisher Knows About Old Home Cooking”

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pp. 223-230

Hess bases her sketch of Fisher on scant information available, mostly garnered in San Francisco, where Fisher set down her recipes. The esteemed culinary historian is the first to acknowledge—indeed, hope—that the mysteries of Fisher’s shadowed life will be unraveled in Mobile, perhaps by the reporter visiting her this day. ...

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Part VII: Personal Sojourns

In a way, ironically, all of the pieces in Alabama Afternoons have involved personal sojourns. Although I appear in these profiles and conversations rarely as “I,” I, of course, am there. As the great nature photographer Ansel Adams said even of images with no human, presumably, present: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” ...

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Greetings from Brooklyn, Alabama

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pp. 233-237

You might think it’s in the middle of nowhere—down a two-lane Alabama highway lined with pine trees, farmhouses, and mobile homes—but to Janice Matthews and a hundred or so other residents of this crossroads with one general store and a gas pump, it’s Brooklyn. ...

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Joe Bear: Ice Cream Man

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pp. 238-245

I will never hear the clang-clang of an ice cream truck bell come our first hot weather without remembering the truck I drove for Bear Ice Cream the summer I turned 17, and the owner of the enterprise, a Polish Jewish immigrant to Mobile. ...

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Windows: A Son Remembers

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pp. 246-252

Sitting at my dad’s old walnut desk, my elbows on the leather desk pad cracked dry with time, I gaze out his twenty-fourth-floor law office window. Past his now-silent Dictaphone, over the two dozen black bindings of the Code of Alabama lined up on his windowsill, over the snapshots of my mom, ...

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pp. 253-254

I owe thanks to many people who have helped in my creating the works and bringing them to life that make up Alabama Afternoons, from direct editorial input, to the dialogue among friends, colleagues, and family: ...


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pp. 255-257

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About the Author

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pp. 258-273

Roy Hoffman, a journalist and novelist, is a staff writer for the Press-Register in Mobile whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Southern Living, Fortune, and Esquire. He is the author of the nonfiction collection Back Home: Journeys Though Mobile and the novels Almost Family, winner of the Lillian Smith Award for fiction, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385606
E-ISBN-10: 0817385606
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317393
Print-ISBN-10: 0817317392

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 39 illustrations
Publication Year: 2011