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Jelly Roll

A Black Neighborhood in a Southern Mill Town

Charles Thomas

Publication Year: 2012

Jelly Roll, a small community of African Americans living in company housing outside the Calion Lumber Company in Calion, Arkansas, is the subject of this ethnographic study written by Charles E. Thomas, an anthropologist whose family owned the mill. Originally published in 1986, Jelly Roll combines Thomas’s unique perspective as both an academician and the grandson of the sawmill’s founder. Thomas conducted extensive interviews covering three generations among the eighty-four households forming this community, illuminating the residents’ lives in an unusually thorough fashion. Now back in print and enhanced with later interviews revealing attitudes of growing restlessness over the slow movement toward racial equality and opportunity, Jelly Roll will be a welcome reference for anyone interested in African American studies, the South, or the history of sawmill towns.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The centerpiece of this book is a reissue, a third publication of my 1986 study: Jelly Roll: A Black Neighborhood in a Southern Mill Town, heretofore out of print but still in demand for its explicit historical narratives that mirror life’s challenges. ...

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1. History, Methodology, and Bias: A Background to Research in the Black Community of Calion, Arkansas

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pp. 1-9

This is an account of how Blacks live and think in the small (population 638) sawmill town of Calion in the piney woods of South Arkansas. Eighty-four black households comprise the study group and live together in a compact area consisting of two long blocks at right angles to each other near the entrance to the sawmill. ...

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2. Mill Town: A Small Industrial Community

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pp. 10-22

Interlacing the vast pine forest of the Deep South are many great rivers and meandering streams that carry off the heavy, subtropical rains that have shaped the topography below the Mason-Dixon Line. Unlike the wide, silt-laden rivers to the east that have produced the deep, rich soils that characterize the Mississippi Delta, ...

Part I: The Old Timers: Folk Ways and Traditional Culture Under Siege

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pp. 23

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3. Sylvester Malone: Living Memories Back on the Farm

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pp. 24-32

Sylvester and Eartha Malone are in their seventies, but neither has the slightest intention of retiring any time soon to become "porch sitters." Sylvester went to work at the mill in 1950. He was a fireman stoking the sawmill boilers until he retired from the "heavy job" just a few years ago when he became a night watchman, ...

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4. Hattie Jenkins: A Missionary of the Gospel

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pp. 33-36

She is quite old, eighty-six, and she lives alone, an elderly widow; but her age is the only thing old about Hattie Jenkins. She is a tall woman, still erect, wears wire spectacles on an only slightly wrinkled face with high forehead and cheekbones. When she begins to speak, her age vanishes, so alert, curious, ...

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5. Willie and Babe Cole: Coping with Poverty

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pp. 37-46

The residence of Willie Cole stands out from the row of vintage prefabs only by virtue of its relative neglect. "That house shows all the signs of disinterest," says a neighbor. During an extended period of prosperity and labor shortages in the mid-Fifties the company built this block-long model of middle-class suburbia, ...

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6. Erma and Jefferson Bates: Pillars of the Church

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pp. 47-50

Just across the tracks from Mill Street, which is the "Main Street" of Jelly Roll, is the quiet pine tree glade where black-topped lanes wind past a dozen houses isolated from the rest of the black community. This area affords a cozy retreat from the hurly-burly of Mill Street, an alternative life-style for those ...

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7. Odelia Jackson: Alone in the Neighborhood

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pp. 51-56

The Jackson house is painted a vivid pink and stands alone on a spacious lot facing the main highway through Calion. Although it is no more than 200 feet from the row of houses on Thomas Street, it is widely viewed as isolated, unnaturally positioned ("like white folks houses"), and far too big for a widow. ...

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8. Deacon Clark: The Children of His Labor

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pp. 57-62

James Clark, unlike so many of the retirees who line the streets of Jelly Roll, is sixty-seven, lean, alert, and still in his prime. Clear-eyed, thoughtful, and verbally skillful, self-educated with a broad knowledge of the Bible, he is a highly respected member of his community, a deacon in the large Willow Grove Baptist Church ...

Part II: The Middle Aged and Traditional Families: Transition, Conflict, and Accommodation Between Old and New

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pp. 63

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9. Ruby Johnson: A Single Mother and Her Clan

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pp. 64-80

Welfare mothers are often depicted as helpless victims of their own fertility, caught in an environment of poverty and uncontrollable circumstances. In the bloom of youth, the "welfare mother" probably had the support of several men, but the pregnancies that followed made her less appealing, often over-weight, ...

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10. Leroy and Rose McCoy: The Welfare Elite

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pp. 81-87

Driving up to the McCoy residence is like looking for the office at a junk yard. Set apart from the other houses on the street, its ample yard has become the graveyard for a white Fleetwood Cadillac, 1970 vintage, a mid-seventies golden Chrysler LeBaron, several battered pickup trucks, as well as a quantity of furnishings, ...

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11. Saphire and Wilbur Hines: Home is Like a Honky Tonk

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pp. 88-92

The Hines live conveniently at the end of the street on a large lot adjoining a shady creek lined with feathery cypress trees and a thicket of small oaks. Their large trailer house faces the creek, not the street, and has a spacious living room that opens out onto a raised wooden deck. By chance or by design, the setting is perfect ...

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12. Low-Profile Mainstream Families

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pp. 93-104

The lives of more traditional families seem less dramatic and uneventful when compared to the high profile minority of welfare matriarchs, street studs or colorful old timers; for they are the less conspicuous working people of Jelly Roll's citizens. They are a majority of the community's households, but just barely. ...

Part III: Youth and Pop Culture: The Accelerating Process of Deculturation

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pp. 105

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13. Evelyn and Mike Oliver: Youth in Conflict

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pp. 106-109

Evelyn and Mike are a modern young couple, children of the twentieth century. Both in their mid-twenties, they have been married for five years and as yet have no children. They come from large families with whom they maintain casual but continuous ties. Though professing strong backgrounds of religious upbringing ...

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14. Conversations in the Singles Society

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pp. 110-120

Erma Jean is thirty-four, husbandless with three children from the ages of seven to sixteen. She lives in Jelly Roll with her elderly mother in a dilapidated rent house, dependent on the combined income of her mother's social security and her A.F.D.C. and food stamps. She is a long-term welfare recipient, ...

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15. Talk About Town: A Casual Exchange

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pp. 121-126

Jelly Roll is much involved in gossip and street talk. In a sense this can be seen as a substitute for the sometimes unaffordable diversions and consumer luxuries that so preoccupy the time and energy of middle-class America. In this little communitiy gossip is a staple of everyday life, and even casual street encounters ...

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16. Rapping with the "Boys" on the Street

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pp. 127-135

The following dialogue came about when I had invited five local, unemployed young men (all in their mid-twenties), into my motor home which was parked opposite Clara's Sandwich Shop in Jelly Roll. Four of the five were already known to me as former employees at the mill. ...

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17. Lovella Jones: Someday, Their Father Will Marry Me

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pp. 136-142

Lovella is twenty-one years old and the mother of five children. Poor health and the lack of a family-supported network have kept her from applying for work at the mill. She lives alone in a dilapidated old frame house with broken steps and a leaky roof. The ceiling hangs loose precariously, the peeling wallpaper is brown ...

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18. Summary and Conclusions: The Paradoxes of Progress

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pp. 143-150

After more than three years of continuous study in this neighborhood community, a candid summing up is in order. I make no pretense that I ever became an integral part of the community. However, I continue to assert the viability of a study such as this one in which I could maintain an involved detachment ...


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pp. 151-153


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pp. 154-158

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pp. 159-163

The black community of Calion, Arkansas, is on the move. Since Jelly Roll: A Black Neighborhood in a Southern Mill Town was published in 1986, many of the growing middle class have broken the historic bonds of manual labor and fled this “frog pond town,” while those who have chosen to remain at the mill ...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781610754996
E-ISBN-10: 1610754999
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557289827
Print-ISBN-10: 1557289824

Page Count: 164
Illustrations: 8 images
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Arkansas -- Calion -- Social conditions.
  • African Americans -- Arkansas -- Calion -- Economic conditions.
  • Calion (Ark.) -- Social conditions.
  • Calion (Ark.) -- Economic conditions.
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