During these turbulent political times where the country feels more divided than ever, we should still take the time to put away our devices, crack open a book, and see what the history of our country can teach us.
Enter writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans. Many of us are familiar with their seminal work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Published in 1941, the book was an instant American classic. Agee’s words and Evans’ photographs shone an unflinchingly honest eye at the daily lives of sharecroppers in rural Alabama during the Great Depression.
What’s more, Agee wasn’t afraid to look inward at his own privilege and role as a reporter in documenting the lives of impoverished farmers. This theme is expanded upon in the duo’s lesser known work, Cotton Tenants: Three Families, a “rediscovered masterpiece” about Southern cotton farmers that was shelved and finally published in 2013. As a critic from the New York Times wrote:
Agee squabbled with his editors over what he felt was the exploitation and trivialization of destitute American families. . . . What readers are about to discover now is what all the fighting was about.
In these days of “alternative facts”, attacks on the media, and a supposed urban/rural divide, both books are well worth a read. Cotton Tenants can be purchased HERE or run on over to your local library to borrow it!