Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town

Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town:

Trouble and Resilience in the American South

Photo by O. N. Pruitt. Courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.

Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town:
Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South
February 3, 2022 – April 23, 2022
on display at
Columbus Arts Council
501 Main Street, Columbus, Mississippi
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 3, 2022, 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

O. N. Pruitt’s Possum Town:
Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South
Exhibition Curator and Companion Book Author
Columbus Native Berkley Hudson, Ph.D.
Books may be reserved by advance purchase through the Columbus Arts Council online or by phone
at 662-328-2787. $49.95, 9” X 10” Oversized Hardback, 272 pps., 194 images.

About the Exhibit

Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Trouble and Resilience in the American South reveals life between 1920-1960 in Columbus, Mississippi – a town, according to curator Berkley Hudson, “shaped in the crucible of slavery and cotton and the Civil War.”  Built around the collection of photographer Otis Noel Pruitt, a white man in the racially segregated South, the exhibition explores race relations and issues of class, gender, and religion.

Described as a “national treasure’“ by William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Pruitt’s work is distinguished by a passion to prolifically and diligently document the customs, lives, joys, and sorrows of people in his hometown. His pictures provide a candid and sometimes disturbing visual history of that era in the American South, and serve as an invaluable resource for those interested in civil rights, photography, Mississippi, and US history.

This project aims to place in context Pruitt’s life-long work of documenting Southern culture. His photographs are representative of small towns in the American South at critical and tumultuous times in our nation’s history. Images include family picnics, river baptisms, carnivals, parades, fires, tornadoes, even public execution by hanging – as well as the 1935 lynching of two African American farmers. 

This exhibition, with approximately 100 images, including audio and video recordings, period Mississippi music, and Pruitt artifacts, provides extensive access to these important images, and the stories behind them, and will encourage conversations as we continue to strive for deeper understandings of the role of culture and history.

The exhibition was curated by Berkley Hudson and produced by Curatorial of Pasadena, California. 

About the Photographer

O. N. Pruitt worked as a photographer from 1920-1960 in the town of Columbus, Mississippi. Pruitt acted as the de-facto documentarian of northeast Mississippi. He photographed white and African American Mississippians alike inside his studio over Main Street and beyond, a unique and unusual practice for white photographers in the early 20th century American South. 

Pruitt died in 1967 and is buried in Friendship Cemetery.

Curator Biography

Berkley Hudson is an emeritus associate professor of journalism studies at the Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia, Missouri. He earned his Ph.D. degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Hudson grew up in Columbus, Mississippi and was photographed by O.N. Pruitt as a child. In the early 1970s Hudson and four other Columbians knew of a collection of Pruitt’s work in their hometown. In 1987 the five – Jim Carnes, David Gooch, Mark Gooch, Hudson, and Birney Imes III – purchased the collection of 142,000 negatives. They spent the next 30 years archiving, researching, and preserving the work. Then in 2005, they transferred the photographic collection to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill libraries so the images could be saved for posterity. Hudson lives in Chapel Hill with his wife Milbre Burch, storyteller. The University of North Carolina Press in partnership with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University will publish his book, O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South. Pre-order the book by clicking here.