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Southern Cultures 10.1 (2004) 91-96

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Separate, But Equal. The Mississippi Photographs of Henry Clay Anderson. Edited by Shawn Wilson, with essays by Clifton Taulbert, Shawn Wilson, H. C. Anderson and Mary Panzer. Public Affairs Books, 2002. 160 pp. Cloth $35.00

Henry Clay Anderson photographed the African Americans of Greenville, a majority-black town on the banks of the Mississippi River and at the edge of the Mississippi Delta, for close to forty years. His life's work is presented for the first time in Separate, But Equal. Greenville was thoroughly segregated throughout most of Anderson's career, and his photographs open the door to a world that precious few whites have ever seen and many blacks have forgotten.

The people portrayed here are captured, one suspects, exactly as they would have wanted to be remembered. A lithe basketball player poses in his spread-eagle defensive stance. Wedding couples beam. Three-generation families gather close. Sharps and dandies grin on their trips into town. The members of a Masonic lodge line up proudly, if incongruously, in front of a building with the inscription, "Women's Auxiliary." Bathing beauties strut their stuff. Gus Courts stands seersuckered and defiant in his Belzoni store. A midwife clad in immaculately starched whites attends to a mother and newborn child. Civil rights activists march. Relatives at open-casket funeral services memorialize their loved ones. High school students and middle-aged professionals look as though they were born in their tuxedoes. Farm laborers pause to visit. A homecoming queen waves from the back of a convertible. A young Riley ("B. B.") King looks up from his birthday cake while a mash of celebrants crowds into the frame. Church congregations recognize their leaders. The smallest player on a Little League team demands, "What are you lookin' at?" A fringed cowgirl draws her toy pistol. Aaron [End Page 91]

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Figure 1
Henry Clay Anderson photographed the town of Greenville and its people for almost forty years. His work informs, surprises, and delights. Courtesy of Public Affairs Books.

Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer sing at a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party rally. Families make sure that we notice their homes' telephones and televisions. A student hits the books. A professor, a postman, preachers, insurance salesmen, and doctors defy stereotypes just by doing their jobs. A couple of motorcycle riders simply show off in one of the most evocative portraits I have ever seen. This is an entirely segregated and, it appears, self-sufficient African American community: not foreign, not exotic, and certainly not pitiable. This is "Mayberry," as Wilson puts it in his introductory essay, "but with an all-black cast." [End Page 92]

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Figure 2
This town is Mayberry, as Shawn Wilson puts it—"but with an all-black cast." Courtesy of Public Affairs Books.

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Figure 3
This town is Mayberry, as Shawn Wilson puts it—"but with an all-black cast." Courtesy of Public Affairs Books.

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Figure 4
Anderson's photographs depict a proud, flourishing community of people simply enjoying their lives. Courtesy of Public Affairs Books.

Anderson's portraits are unlike any we have seen of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta. The photos "are surprising because they seem so ordinary," writes Mary Panzer in one of the book's accompanying essays. Viewers used to the duotone visage of Ken Light's world-weary sharecropper or the drinking-my-blues-away juke joint patron awash in Birney Imes' color will find in this book an entirely fresh set of images, nearly all of them dignified, middle-class, and full of [End Page 94] self-evident pride. This collection will excite even casual observers of life in the postwar South. For students of the Mississippi Delta it will be nothing short of a revelation.

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Figure 5

Anderson's community as depicted here is a prosperous one, though poverty does seep into the margins of a few of the photographs. Small children...