On January 19, 2022, Berkley Hudson presented “Pruitt’s Historic Columbus Photographs” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Hudson is the author of the new book O.N. Pruitt's Possum Town: Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South. Otis Noel Pruitt (1891–1967) was for some forty years the de facto documentarian of Lowndes County and Columbus--known to locals as “Possum Town.” His body of work recalls many Farm Security Administration photographers, but Pruitt was not an outsider with an agenda; he was a community member with intimate knowledge of the town and its residents.
Pruitt photographed his fellow white citizens and Black ones as well, in circumstances ranging from the mundane to the horrific: family picnics, parades, river baptisms, carnivals, fires, funerals, two of Mississippi’s last public and legal executions by hanging, and a lynching. “From formal portraits to candid images of events in the moment, Pruitt’s documentary of a specific yet representative southern town offers viewers today an invitation to meditate on the interrelations of photography, community, race, and historical memory,” said Hudson.
Columbus native Berkley Hudson was photographed by Pruitt, and for more than three decades he has considered and curated Pruitt’s expansive archive, both as a scholar of media and visual journalism and as a community member. Hudson’s book presents Pruitt’s photography as never before, combining more than 190 images with a biographical introduction and Hudson’s short essays.
Breach of Peach author Eric Etheridge wrote: "Knockout images from a remarkable archive. Otis Noel Pruitt photographed his slice of Mississippi head on, omnivorously, leaving behind an encyclopedic record of Southern life in the early to mid-20th century. Look closely at these pictures. Embedded in their details are clues not only to a world long gone but the present moment as well.”
Berkley Hudson is emeritus associate professor of media history at the Missouri School of Journalism of the University of Missouri. He earned BAs in history and journalism from the University of Mississippi, MS in journalism from Columbia University, and PhD in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and worked for 25 years in magazines and newspapers. Since 2006, Hudson has been special curator of the Pruitt-Shanks Collection at the Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson.