Stella: A Film by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips (Fall 2014)

Sarah Beth Phillips and Ashleigh Bryant Phillips visit with Stella Grant at her home in Northampton County, North Carolina. 

Filmed and edited by Jeb Bennett and Ashleigh Bryant Phillips.



I was about 10 years old and it was an early sunny Sunday morning in the South.  It was a tough week for me. I was burdened by this dark-skinned thing and I didn’t know where to turn.  I was lying in bed and I could hear my mother cooking our usual big Sunday breakfast and singing with the music from the local radio station.

My mother’s loud singing was her spiritual tune-up before church and a way to let us know "I’m up so you need to be up too!" I'd be silently practicing my Bible verses because I knew that I would have to recite one during our usual Sunday morning prayer around my parents’ bed. Between songs, there were always advertisements for various black hair care products and life insurance plans. Then there was Reverend Ike, the "original Georgia prophet." He preached prosperity through prayer and also made it clear that good fortune was not free. His mantra was "nothing from nothing leaves nothing...when you give nothing you receive nothing."

I listened very intently to the part of an ad focused on prayer cloths. Reverend Ike offered prayer cloths for a donation of ten dollars. He suggested to his listeners that a ten dollar donation was fine but the probability prayers would be answered was directly related to the amount of the donation. I had saved about fifty dollars after working all summer picking blueberries. I knew that I needed a pretty big prayer cloth.

It was summer time so I met the mailman the next day and gave him my mail. After about five days, I made sure that I picked up the mail from the box before anyone else. My fifty dollar prayer cloth came early the next Saturday morning. I waited until no one was in the room that I shared with my little brother. I closed the door and undid the wrapping and held the 3 x 5 inch piece of white cotton cloth in my hands. I didn’t waste time. I kneeled in front of the chair in my room, closed my eyes, and held the prayer cloth directly against my forehead. I made a whispered plea with tears in my eyes and desperate hope in my heart. "God, please let me be light-skinned."


"Gentleman, I have a fool proof method for controlling your black slaves . . . I have outlined a number of differences among the slaves; And I take these differences and make them bigger . . . I use distrust and envy for control purposes . . . Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. One is 'color' or shade. There is also intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations, and status on plantations . . .Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that distrust is stronger than trust and envy is stronger than adulation, respect, or admiration . . . You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves. ...Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. I guarantee every one of you that, if installed correctly, this method will control your slaves for at least three hundred years.”

Message to American slave owners from British slave owner Willie Lynch (circa 1712)


Clyde Edgerton, the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing (who perhaps could use a shave) acquaints the students of his UNCW topics course, "Crossroads: Race, Culture, and Southern Literature," with archival research at the Louis Round Wilson Library, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. October 5, 2014.





WHEN I AM IN THIS CIRCLE: ______________ (a particular group you belong to--big, medium, or small), I FEEL LEFT OUT OF THIS LOOP: _______________ (a particular group you do not belong to.)


(THE ABOVE IS JUST AN INITIAL STAB AT WHAT WE HOPE THIS WEB SITE CAN EVENTUALLY LEAD TO: . . . talk among people in similar and different groups or communities.) 


Crossroads: Race, Culture, and Otherness in the American South (CRW 580-003)
FALL 2014 Wednesdays, 3:30 p.m.
Clyde Edgerton


Required textbooks should be in campus bookstore:

Wolf Whistle, by Lewis Nordan

Beloved, by Toni Morrison (alternate: Your Blues Ain't Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell)

The Fire This Time, by Randall Kenan (Note: this will be the spine book for this course)

Ignorance: How It Drives Science, by Stuart Firestein (This book is to be read for inspiration as we think of how to ask questions about what we think is important.)

OVERVIEW PLAN: We will look at intersections of fiction, history (and other related writings, commentary, documentary projects, and present-day community and cultural forces) in the US south. Initial reading, through the first third of the course, will be very directed—only from the books in the course library. Then, as students decide what to write about, the reading will become more individually choice-based. Around mid-term or soon after, students will each write a narrative piece (12 to 40 pages) that reflects each of our individual interests related to this course. We will workshop your piece if possible.

GENERAL ACTIVITIES: Reading, discussion, research, field trips, viewing videos, preparing for and writing a project.

MAJOR OBJECTIVE: Students will complete an engaging project about our subject (see course title) or a subject that is parallel in theme. For example, students may choose to write about classism, sexism, ageism, or other related concerns in ways that demonstrate research and insights drawn from course assignments. (Project format may include essay, literary criticism, documentary article, fiction, film, poetry or lyric essay. A fiction, poetry, film, or lyric essay format will include accompanying analysis.) Your narrative may be generally broad, or it may hone in on one specific interest, short story, novel, essay--and analyze it, clarify what it means or might mean, deepen its mystery, etc.  

I encourage close analysis and piercing of generalizations.


Class Dates, assignments, etc.:

AUG. 20— OVERVIEW, ANSWER QUESTIONS, DISCUSS READING and other ASSIGNMENTS FOR THE SEMESTER, mentioned below: (If you have problems with any assigned fiction—i.e. you don’t like it for any reason—let me know and we’ll find a good alternative.) Also, there will be forty or more books at our disposal plus ANY books you would like to add. A list of available books will follow in a subsequent copy of this syllabus—with any syllabus revisions colorfully marked—or as separate handout.  (Blues music lecture and music is possible during this or upcoming class.)

AUG. 27—1. The Fire This Time (Kenan); 2. Wolf Whistle (Nordan)

SEP 3—1. Beloved (Morrison); 2. Ignorance, How it Drives Science (Firestein); John Sullivan guest

SEP 10 – approx. 200 pages of reading (approx. 25% student selected); Deborah Brunson and Edel Segovia—guests

SEPT 17—approx. 200 pages of reading (approx. 50% student selected)

SEPT 24—approx. 200 pages of reading (75%  student selected)


OCT 1—Self-Directed reading

OCT 8—Self-Directed reading

2 page proposal for final project DUE—outline, summary, notes, or combo.

OCT 15—Self-Directed reading   

OCT 22—Self-Directed reading

OCT 29—Self-Directed reading      


NOV 5, Nov 12, Nov 19—reading, talking, writing (and out of class written workshops on essay drafts discussed in class)

NOV 26—NO CLASS (out of class written workshops on essay drafts, etc.)

DEC 3—Culminating Activity


Among potential class and individual activities:

  • Possible trips to Southern Historical Collection of Papers, Wilson Library UNC-Chapel Hill, to Bellamy Mansion, to Liberty Hall Plantation, to a blues club.
  • Discussions of literary criticism; approaches to nonfiction narrative; blues music
  • Discussion of technique in nonfiction writing
  • Discussions of readings (from among assigned and unassigned reading)
  • Discussions of film, interviews, fiction, nonfiction, media as the relate to our topic(s)
  • Discussing your essay’s theme (see “essay plan” below)



I’M ASKING THAT YOU MEET WITH ME INDIVIDUALLY AT LEAST ONCE A MONTH. Sign up on sheet at my office door and text or call me to let me know the time if you sign up within 24 hours before conference.



The idea here is to get us started on the same foot in a course the themes of which could otherwise scatter to the wind. I’ve selected 40 to 50 books for us to read or read from during the initial weeks of the course. They will be on hand for you to check out. If you’d like to add books to the poetry selection let me know (the list is weak in poetry).  Remember, we have the books below in our class library.

Fiction Book Index

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine – Bebe Moore Campbell
Fiction (1995)
Moves from the eve of integration in rural Mississippi to contemporary street gangs in Chicago's housing projects, to capture the gulf between pre-and post-civil rights America. A story centered on the murder of a young black man whose trial is argued before an all-white jury.
**See NYT review by Clyde

Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Fiction (1952)
The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of "the Brotherhood", and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. 

  • Black nationalism, individuality vs. community, Marxism

The Night Train—Clyde Edgerton
Fiction (2011)
A story of a partial friendship between two teenagers in rural North Carolina in the early 1960s. Physical violence is absent but other tensions are clearly present. Rhythm and Blues and jazz threads through the action of the story.

Collected Stories of William Faulkner – William Faulkner
((“Barn Burning” and “That Evening Sun” will be required))

Light in August – William Faulkner
Fiction (1932)
A novel that features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

The Queen of Palmyra – Minrose Gwin
Fiction (2010)
Set in 1960s Mississippi, this novel deals with a segregated society in which black women are paid poorly to raise white people’s children. Narrated by a confused young girl named Florence who is constantly shuttled between her grandparents and their longtime black maid, Zenie. When Zenie’s niece begins selling burial insurance to pay for her education, simmering racial tensions erupt, and Florence becomes a witness to unspeakable crimes. Offbeat, stream-of-consciousness style in an atmospheric story of racial hatred in the Deep South.

Let the Dead Bury Their Dead – Randall Kenan
Fiction – short stories (1992)
12 short stories about diverse characters—black and white, young and old, rich and poor, rural and sophisticated—who live in eastern NC.  (The story, “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead” will be required.)

Beloved – Toni Morrison
Fiction (1987)
Inspired by the story of a real-life slave, Beloved centers on Sethe, who kills her daughter and tries to kill her other three children when a posse arrives in Ohio to return them to Sweet Home, the Kentucky plantation from which Sethe recently fled. A woman presumed to be her daughter, called Beloved, returns years later. Pulitzer Prize winner.

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
Fiction (1970)
Morrison’s first novel. A story revolving around a young black girl named Pecola who develops an inferiority complex due to her eye color and skin appearance. Set in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest during the years following the Great Depression. The POV switches between the perspective of Claudia MacTeer as a child and an adult, and a third-person omniscient viewpoint. Considered controversial as it deals with racism, incest, and child molestation.

Wolf Whistle – Lewis Nordan
Based on the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy lynched for whistling at a white woman. Multi-award winner. Alternating POVs, lyricism, humor, and depiction of the South in the 1950s.

Uptown/Downtown in Old Charleston – Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
Short Stories Fiction (2010)
Stories that offer perspective into Charleston's evolving identity as an historic seaport on the cusp of modernity during the Great Depression and the onset of World War II.

Strange Fruit – Lillian Smith
Fiction ( 1994)
Centered on the clandestine love affair between an educated young black woman and the white son of the town’s doctor in Georgia of the 1920s. Captures the deep-seated racial conflicts of a tightly knit Southern town as well as the hypocrisy, the blind cruelty, and the prejudices of its residents.


Poetry Index

John Brown’s Body – Stephen Vincent Benét
Poetry (1928)
An epic American poem about the radical abolitionist John Brown, who raided Harpers Ferry in West Virginia in the fall of 1859. He was captured and hanged later that year, and his name and rebellion inspired the civil war song "John Brown's Body." Benet's poem covers the history of the American Civil War. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929.



Nonfiction Book Index

Who Speaks for the South? — James McBride Dabbs (1964)
In some ways dated, but required reading will be pages: 263-273, 287, 361-362, 287, 266, 375-6, 288-290, 297-306, 269-70, 288, 286-296, 287.

The American South: Portrait of a Culture – editor, Louis Rubin. Required: Introduction by Rubin, Essays by Mebane (also read what you can find about her), Blyden Jackson, Greene, and pages 371- 411.
((** With many of these historical/NF books, check the index for “race” **))

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander
Nonfiction (2012)
A book that presents the case that by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

 Meet the Help: the True Story of Domestics – Rhonda Bellamy & Bertha Boykin Todd
Nonfiction (2011)
An anthology of interviews with southern domestic workers (“the help”) and/or their employers.

Slavery and Freedom in Savannah – Ed. Leslie M. Harris & Daina Ramey Berry
Nonfiction (2014)
A collection of perspectives on slavery, emancipation, and black life in Savannah from the city’s founding to the early twentieth century. Written by leading historians of Savannah, Georgia and the South. Includes a mix of longer thematic essays and shorter sidebars focusing on individual people, events, and places.
**Imp. Reading before visits to Bellamy Mansion + Liberty Hall

Unspeakable: the Story of Junius Wilson – Susan Burch & Hannah Joyner
Nonfiction (2007)
The story of the life of Junius Wilson, who spent 76 years at a state mental hospital in Goldsboro, NC (including 6 in the criminal ward). He had never been declared insane by a medical professional or found guilty of any criminal charge—but he was deaf and black in the Jim Crow South.

America’s Culture of Terrorism – Jeffory a. Clymer
Nonfiction (2002)
Clymer uncovers the roots of American terrorism and its impact on American identity by exploring the literary works of Henry James, Ida B. Wells, Jack London, Thomas Dixon, and Covington Hall, as well as trial transcripts, media reports, and cultural rhetoric.

The State Boys Rebellion – Michael D’Antonio
Nonfiction (2004)
An exploration of Fred Boyce and a group of boys who were wrongfully committed to state institutions for the feebleminded—a common bureaucratic practice that existed in almost every state and continued into the 1970s. Inspired by what they learned about the civil rights movement, the State Boys protested their mistreatment.

The Wars of Reconstruction – Douglas R. Egerton
Nonfiction (2013)
A thorough exploration of state and local politics related to Reconstruction, tracing the struggles of 1500 African-American officeholders, in both the North and South.

Speak Now Against the Day – John Egerton
Nonfiction (1994)
The hidden history of the South’s resistance to racism in the thirties and forties and early fifties (the years that immediately preceded the civil right era). Personal stories, little-known history.
**See page selections below   

  • 5-12                                                 Prologue
  • 15-33 and 185-197                          Part I
  • 280-301 and 316-330                    Part II
  • 345-359 and 432-448                   Part III
  • 569-572 and 578-583                   Part IV
  •  613-627                                          Epilogue 

Give My Poor Heart Ease  - William Ferris
Nonfiction (2009)
Illustrated with Ferris's photographs of Mississippi musicians and their communities and including a CD of original music and a DVD of original film, the book features more than twenty interviews (spanning more than ten years) relating frank, dramatic, and engaging narratives about black life and blues music in the heart of the American South.

 The Storied South – William Ferris
Nonfiction (2013)
Features the voices of Eudora Welty, Pete Seeger, Alice Walker, William Eggleston, Bobby Rush, and more. One-on-one interviews conducted over the past 40 years + amazing photography. Reveals how storytelling is viscerally tied to southern identity and how the work of these southern/southern-inspired creators has shaped the way Americans think about the South.

The Companion to Southern Literature – Ed. Joseph Flora, Lucinda Hardwick MacKethan
Nonfiction (2011)
A thorough encyclopedia about Southern literature. Addresses everything from the pre-Columbian era to the present, referencing specific works of all periods and genres.

Race and History – John Hope Franklin
Nonfiction (1989)
A collection of Franklin’s essays, presented thematically and including pieces on southern history, significant but neglected historical figures, historiography, the connection between historical problems and contemporary issues, and the public role of the historian.
**See essay on the movie Birth of a Nation

Confronting the Veil – Jonathan Scott Holloway
Nonfiction (2002)
An exploration of the early lives and careers of economist Abram Harris Jr., sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, and political scientist Ralph Bunche—three black scholars who taught at Howard University during the New Deal and formed the leading edge of American social science radicalism.

Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century – Randall Kenan
Nonfiction (1999)
Over six years, Randall Kenan talked to nearly two hundred African Americans, whose individual stories he has shaped into a look at black American life today. He visits some familiar settings—Oakland, New Orleans, and New York—and some unusual places (including Bangor, Maine, and Maidstone, Saskatchewan) to discover how everyday black folks deal with issues of race, identity, and nationality. 

The Christ-Haunted Landscape – Susan Ketchin
Nonfiction (1994)
Stories, interviews, and discussions showing the imprint of “old-time” religion on the artistic vision of twelve writers of the American South.

One Place – Paul Kwilecki
Nonfiction (2013)
A collection of intimate black-and-white photos taken over four decades, in Decatur County, Georgia. An interesting look at the evolution of a community.

And Don’t Call Me a Racist: A Treasury of Quotes on the Past, Present, and Future of the Color Line in America – Ella Mazel
Nonfiction (1998)
A fascinating collection of over 1,000 quotes, including the voices of Langston Hughes and the Delany sisters, for example. You’ll find comments on historical moments, as well as some bittersweet humor.
**Download e-book free: http://ellamazel.org/yellowbook/download.htm

The Mockingbird in the Gum Tree – Louis D. Rubin Jr.
Nonfiction (1991)
Analysis Southern literature
**See Faulkner Commentary as well as selected pages to come

The Blues Line: A Collection of Blues Lyrics -- Eric Sackheim
Nonfiction (1993)
Lyrics, commentary, and interviews

Religion in the American South – Ed. Beth Barton Schweiger
Nonfiction (2004)
A collection of essays that examines religion in the American south across three centuries—from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It complicates “southern religion” geographically, chronologically, and thematically and by challenging the interpretive hegemony of the “bible belt.” 

Rape and Race in the Nineteenth-Century South -- Diane Miller Sommerville
Nonfiction (2005)
Sommerville traces the evolution of white southerners' fears of black rape by examining actual cases of black-on-white rape throughout the nineteenth century. This book offers a fascinating angle on the interplay of race and property and slavery and sexual relations in the south from 1800 until 1950s

The New Mind of the South – Tracy Thompson
Nonfiction (2013)
Draws on data, interviews, and historic archives to explore the “New South” filled with promise and paradoxes. Thompson spent 4 years traveling throughout the region and includes reporting and observations on the South’s ability to adapt and transform itself.

Eudora Welty Photographs – Eudora Welty
Nonfiction (1989)
250 representative photographs from the collection of a few thousand that Eudora Welty took during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s in Mississippi. 

Eudora Welty on William Faulkner – Welty
Nonfiction ( 2003)
Welty’s essays, lectures, and musings on Faulkner.

Race Matters – Cornel West
Nonfiction (1993)
A collection of West's essays on the issues relevant to black Americans today: despair, black conservatism, black-Jewish relations, myths about black sexuality, the crisis in leadership in the black community, and the legacy of Malcolm X. 

The Burden of Southern History – C. Vann Woodward
Nonfiction (2008)
A collection of historian Woodward’s essays on the South including “The Irony of Southern History,” “What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement,” and more.

When I Was a Slave – Ed. Norman Yetman
Nonfiction (2012)
More than 2,000 interviews with former slaves, who provide first-person accounts of their lives in bondage. Includes some of the most detailed, compelling, and engrossing life histories in the Slave Narrative Collection, a project funded by the U.S. Government.

Fire on the Beach – David Wright & David Zoby
Nonfiction (2000)
The recovered true story of the only all-black crew in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Religion in the American South – Ed. Beth Barton Schweiger
Nonfiction (2004)
A collection of essays that examines religion in the American south across three centuries—from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It complicates “southern religion” geographically, chronologically, and thematically and by challenging the interpretive hegemony of the “bible belt.” 

William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist – Daniel J. Singal
Nonfiction (1997)
An intellectual biography of William Faulkner that uses detailed analyses of individual texts, from the earliest poetry through Go Down Moses to trace the author’s attempt to liberate himself from the repressive Victorian culture in which he was raised.




http://documentarystudies.duke.edu/books (Particularly the "Behind the Veil" project)


I’ll be looking for suggestions from you—especially titles regarding white privilege and intersectional studies of gender, racial, community, and cultural topics.




From Toni Morrison: "Nadine Godimer writes about black people with such astounding sensibilities and sensitivity--not patronizing, no romantic, just real. And Eudora Welty does the same thing. Lillian Hellman has done it. [...] I am curious about one thing: it seems to me that of the white writers who write about black people well, most of them are women. All the people that I have mentioned are also from the South, South Africa, born in totally racist places, and that's a fascinating idea. They are all extraordinary women; their perceptions are so unlike what are supposed to be the perceptions of the community in which they live and, of course, who they are."



     The course grows out of my life in the south, including my reading and writing. I was raised in a rural southern community during the reign of Jim Crow. I’ve written fiction that draws on my time, place, and family. One novel of mine, The Night Train, will be given to you at the beginning of class (I have several boxes on hand). You may choose to read it. No pressure. (Seriously.)
     We humans tend to look at our physical and psychological and social environment in generally uncomplicated ways. This helps us learn things. Sometimes relationships among people, communities, ideas, etc. get complicated. Good fiction (in my view) usually deals with relationships among characters and thus serves to allow insight into many complexities. Good fiction “deepens the mystery.”
     Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel suggests that novels present the “wisdom of uncertainty.” A history book may contain rather sweeping generalizations, exceptions to which can be found in a piece of fiction. Fiction about a person doesn’t necessarily represent what is true of a class of people. Some nonfiction also embraces uncertainty and uncovers new complexities. Ultimately, if this class is good, it will deepen our understanding of certain complexities of our times.
     Going into the course, a couple of questions I have about my community of birth is 1) “How did the segregation and sexism of my community influence me?” 2) “What, about my upbringing, is precious to me and why?” I hope you’ll be able to explore and write about a topic you find interesting that is somehow related to our reading and discussions, interviews and field trips. Some of you grew up outside the south. Everyone has different but valuable questions to contemplate and I anticipate fascinating dialogue related to concerns uncovered in in this course. Looking at aspects of racism, privilege, bigotry in the south—in fiction and history, for example—may lead you into private thinking which eventually finds form in your essay, poem, fiction, film, or other project for this class. 



Traveling While Black: Some Americans are afraid to explore their own country, concerns that evoke the Jim Crow-era Green Book

Story by Rhonda Colvin