Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town

Two instances have been reported of the book, O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town having two of the same fold out pages instead of two different panorama images.  The Columbus Arts Council has examined each of the copies of the book it now has available and they are complete copies. However, before this issue was identified, copies with this binding error may have been distributed to persons who prepaid for copies of the book or bought them at the opening reception February 3, 2022.  The mistake occurred during production by human error at the printer because the fold out pages are printed separately and hand inserted into the book before binding.  If you need a replacement copy, call Longleaf Services, the book’s distributor, tollfree at 1-800-848-6224.

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.

LAST CHANCE!! ONLY FOUR DAYS LEFT!!

The Premiere Exhibition of Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town (photographs of Columbus made from 1919 until 1959) closes this Saturday (April 23) at 2 p.m.   The approximately 100 photographs in the exhibition leave Columbus headed for the next showing in Missouri.

Be sure to see the exhibition this week at the Columbus Arts Center Tuesday through Friday from 9 until 5 and Saturday from 9 until 2 o’clock.

The accompanying book:  O. N. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Photographing TROUBLE & RESILIENCE in the American South, by native Columbian Berkley Hudson is available for purchase at the CAC or online at this link: http://columbus-arts.org/mr-pruitts-book/

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 in January published his book, O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South. Order the book by clicking here.