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And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South

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In And Their Children After Them, the writer/photographer team Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson return to the land and families captured in James Agee and Walker Evans's inimitable Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, extending the project of conscience and chronicling the traumatic decline of King Cotton. With this continuation of Agee and Evans's project, Maharidge and Wil In And Their Children After Them, the writer/photographer team Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson return to the land and families captured in James Agee and Walker Evans's inimitable Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, extending the project of conscience and chronicling the traumatic decline of King Cotton. With this continuation of Agee and Evans's project, Maharidge and Williamson not only uncover some surprising historical secrets relating to the families and to Agee himself, but also effectively lay to rest Agee's fear that his work, from lack of reverence or resilience, would be but another offense to the humanity of its subjects. Williamson's ninety-part photo essay includes updates alongside Evans's classic originals. Maharidge and Williamson's work in And Their Children After Them was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction when it was first published in 1990.


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In And Their Children After Them, the writer/photographer team Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson return to the land and families captured in James Agee and Walker Evans's inimitable Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, extending the project of conscience and chronicling the traumatic decline of King Cotton. With this continuation of Agee and Evans's project, Maharidge and Wil In And Their Children After Them, the writer/photographer team Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson return to the land and families captured in James Agee and Walker Evans's inimitable Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, extending the project of conscience and chronicling the traumatic decline of King Cotton. With this continuation of Agee and Evans's project, Maharidge and Williamson not only uncover some surprising historical secrets relating to the families and to Agee himself, but also effectively lay to rest Agee's fear that his work, from lack of reverence or resilience, would be but another offense to the humanity of its subjects. Williamson's ninety-part photo essay includes updates alongside Evans's classic originals. Maharidge and Williamson's work in And Their Children After Them was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction when it was first published in 1990.

30 review for And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South

  1. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was originally published in 1941 and sold only six hundred copies the first year. When it went out of print in 1948 it had sold only a little over a thousand copies and no more were printed. At least, none before a decision was made to re-issue it in 1960. It was then that it was stamped with the label "classic." Written by James Agee, with photographs taken by Walker Evans, it attempted to document in words and pictures the plight of poor cotton tenant farm families Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was originally published in 1941 and sold only six hundred copies the first year. When it went out of print in 1948 it had sold only a little over a thousand copies and no more were printed. At least, none before a decision was made to re-issue it in 1960. It was then that it was stamped with the label "classic." Written by James Agee, with photographs taken by Walker Evans, it attempted to document in words and pictures the plight of poor cotton tenant farm families in the deep South. The two men spent about four weeks in 1936 gathering information and photographing the twenty-two members of three families living in dire poverty in Hale County, Alabama. After their departure from the area, Agee did return for a brief stay the following year and he stayed in contact with one of the families for a period of time and even sent Christmas gifts for a few years. But he never contacted them after the book was published and he never sent them a copy. In the mid-'80's, a reporter and a photographer employed by the Sacramento Bee decided to try to locate the surviving members of the original twenty-two, as well as their offspring, in order to see how they had fared in the ensuing years since Agee and Evans entered their lives fifty years earlier. They discovered that twelve of the twenty-two were still living and that in addition there were 116 offspring that had been born in the years since Agee and Evans made their sojourn in 1936. Unlike Agee and Evans who spent a month with the three families, reporter Maharidge and photographer Williamson made many trips to Alabama from 1985 to 1988. The result is And Their Children After Them, published in 1989, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1990. But the book isn't just about those three families -- and their children after them. The subtitle, a long one, tells us that the book is also about The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South. Therefore, the reader learns a lot about the motivations and actions of Agee and Evans, including what they overlooked or ignored, and a history lesson about the changing economics of cotton production that resulted from increased mechanization. Once heavily labor intensive, today the cotton crop is planted and picked by machine and does not differ markedly from the planting and harvesting of corn, wheat, or soybeans. "Seldom in our nation's history have so many people in so wide a region had their lives so dramatically altered by so definitive a technological change...The story of the people who went through the transition has been largely ignored." In 1930, it took 270 hours of labor to produce a bale of cotton, while in the mid-'80s it took 23 hours. The sharecropper became obsolete, expendable, and was discarded. "An uneducated person who is simultaneously kept poorly nourished and physically exhausted, forever at the brink of personal and financial disaster, does not think in any logical manner. If people are repeatedly told they deserve their fate, they'll begin to believe it." If you have read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and wondered what happened to the people that Agee and Evans visited, interacted with, wrote about, and photographed, this is the book that will answer your questions. You will discover, among other things, what eventually happened to Maggie Louise Gudger, age ten, the only member of the three families that Agee thought had a good chance of becoming a success in life. He predicted good things for her in her adulthood as perhaps a nurse or teacher. It would be helpful to read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men before reading And Their Children After Them, but because Maharidge provides the reader with many essential details of the earlier book, it isn't absolutely necessary that it be read first. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    I thought this book was fantastic. Where I found "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" to be slightly tedious and the language to be ridiculously flowery in places, this book was straightforward. It briefly told the story of its predecessor, then expounded. The writers exposed the effects that the poverty had on following generations. James Agee's personal issues and motivations were also mentioned, which made some of his own writing seem a little more clear. I found the person of Garvrin Arlo to be pa I thought this book was fantastic. Where I found "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" to be slightly tedious and the language to be ridiculously flowery in places, this book was straightforward. It briefly told the story of its predecessor, then expounded. The writers exposed the effects that the poverty had on following generations. James Agee's personal issues and motivations were also mentioned, which made some of his own writing seem a little more clear. I found the person of Garvrin Arlo to be particularly poignant. While others in his and the neighboring families had risen above, I don't see from any angle how he could have. This is a book of profound sadness in reality with a few glimmers of hope.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    I admit it--I've never been able to get through James Agee's LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. (Gore Vidal agreed with me, for what that's worth.) Agee's clotted, pseudo-Faulkner prose always seemed like the ultimate insult to the sharecroppers he was writing about: not only did these people lead wretched lives, but when a journalist took an interest in them, he turned out not to be a good writer. (Agee's film reviews are all I can stand of him.) I would have preferred a more straightforward reporto I admit it--I've never been able to get through James Agee's LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. (Gore Vidal agreed with me, for what that's worth.) Agee's clotted, pseudo-Faulkner prose always seemed like the ultimate insult to the sharecroppers he was writing about: not only did these people lead wretched lives, but when a journalist took an interest in them, he turned out not to be a good writer. (Agee's film reviews are all I can stand of him.) I would have preferred a more straightforward reportorial approach and that's just what Dale Maharidge provides in his follow-up, AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM. ATCAT not only updates the complicated, problematic life stories of the original subjects and yes, their children, but discusses their reactions to Agee, photographer Walker Evans, and LUNPFM. (Some mistakenly thought Agee and Evans made big money on LUNPFM, which was actually a total flop on its initial publication.) Interestingly, while Evans' photography is what redeems LUNPFM for me, the subjects tended to dislike him, considering him a snob (they liked Agee much better). There's also useful background information about the history of cotton planting in the South, including the story of two socialist-leaning brothers who invented one of the first mechanical pickers. This sequel reveals not-too-sweet-home Alabama from the point of view of the dispossessed.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Terragyrl3

    Amazing book, a must-read if you have even one ancestor that worked The Land. The author traces the descendants of the white cotton tenant farmers first profiled by James Agee during the Depression, to see whether their lots are better than tenant lives during the glory of King Cotton. The author explains where hillbillies come from; and that poor flatlanders identify three kinds of poverty: the Lord's poor, the Devil's poor, and people who couldn't be anything different than poor. Individual st Amazing book, a must-read if you have even one ancestor that worked The Land. The author traces the descendants of the white cotton tenant farmers first profiled by James Agee during the Depression, to see whether their lots are better than tenant lives during the glory of King Cotton. The author explains where hillbillies come from; and that poor flatlanders identify three kinds of poverty: the Lord's poor, the Devil's poor, and people who couldn't be anything different than poor. Individual stories are balanced with historical views. At the conclusion, the author sharply speaks his own mind about greed in America.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maureen Stanton

    This is an interesting account, which looks back at James Agee's and Walker Evan's book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, offering a context and history for that project (and some criticism), while also furthering the exploration by looking at the lives the next generation. This books is not hyper-lyrical like Agee's, but it's solidly researched and very well written. A fascinating account that illuminates Agee's project while shedding more light on the history and sociocultural aspects of rural so This is an interesting account, which looks back at James Agee's and Walker Evan's book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, offering a context and history for that project (and some criticism), while also furthering the exploration by looking at the lives the next generation. This books is not hyper-lyrical like Agee's, but it's solidly researched and very well written. A fascinating account that illuminates Agee's project while shedding more light on the history and sociocultural aspects of rural southern poverty and the cotton industry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Huang

    Agee and Evan’s “Let Us Praise Famous Men” described a few share cropper family in Deep South in the 1930s. The book was almost forgotten but somehow later became a must-read for many colleges and gradually became a classic. 50 years later Maharidge and Williamson decided to find out the fate of those described in the original book and publish a follow-up story. “And their children after them” is that follow up. Agee’s writing is weird, dare I say tortured. If you are into the literary style, the Agee and Evan’s “Let Us Praise Famous Men” described a few share cropper family in Deep South in the 1930s. The book was almost forgotten but somehow later became a must-read for many colleges and gradually became a classic. 50 years later Maharidge and Williamson decided to find out the fate of those described in the original book and publish a follow-up story. “And their children after them” is that follow up. Agee’s writing is weird, dare I say tortured. If you are into the literary style, then of course go read “Praise”. If you are just interested in the fate of the people, then “And their children” is actually a much better book. First, the writing is just clearer and simpler. It actually clarified a lot of weird stuff that I just didn’t understand from Agee’s book. Second, with 50 years of development, it gives you more depth of these people’s lives. You can see what type of multi-generation tragedy the lifestyle creates. On the third page are two photos of “Margaret Ricketts” almost in the exact same pose of washing dishes but separated by 50 years. With the stories in the book, you can easily imagine the hard life these people had for 50 years.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    The realities that Maharidge writes about in this book are just that for a lot of people, reality. I found his writing to be very honest and poignant in most cases. The way he brings these people, their towns, their lives to light, is done so in a way as not to lift them up or beat them down. The lives they've led are real. They are much more interesting than any literary spin could have made them. I grew up in Alabama. While we were not sharecroppers or remotely in the situation that the people The realities that Maharidge writes about in this book are just that for a lot of people, reality. I found his writing to be very honest and poignant in most cases. The way he brings these people, their towns, their lives to light, is done so in a way as not to lift them up or beat them down. The lives they've led are real. They are much more interesting than any literary spin could have made them. I grew up in Alabama. While we were not sharecroppers or remotely in the situation that the people written about were in, I can identify in some ways with them. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that I've known people just like some of those written about. One particular passage regarding "Alabama pride" hit very close to home for me. I can say without a doubt, the idea conveyed there is still very much alive around the country. With the exception of the last few pages, where Maharidge tries to infuse his political ideologies into the book(which weren't enough to spoil the rest), this is a well written account of life for southern sharecroppers from the 1930's to the 1980's.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mrs.

    Introspective truth-telling...never belittles its subjects but tracks the lives shown in Agee's work over several decades while economics conspired against them.... I found this hard to read, hard to return to reading. Sobering truths of hopes held and hopes dashed. I will mourn Maggie Louise (Billie Jo!) for a long time. I love the honest account of journalistic tendencies to get an easy story--this account avoids that and gives us complicated, real people. Introspective truth-telling...never belittles its subjects but tracks the lives shown in Agee's work over several decades while economics conspired against them.... I found this hard to read, hard to return to reading. Sobering truths of hopes held and hopes dashed. I will mourn Maggie Louise (Billie Jo!) for a long time. I love the honest account of journalistic tendencies to get an easy story--this account avoids that and gives us complicated, real people.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jackie G

    This was a terrific follow up to the Agee/Walker classic. I really appreciated that Maharidge focused on the people -- the families -- and that he included the black sharecropper experience to rectify the shortsighted choice made by Agee's editors to exclude them from his research. This was a terrific follow up to the Agee/Walker classic. I really appreciated that Maharidge focused on the people -- the families -- and that he included the black sharecropper experience to rectify the shortsighted choice made by Agee's editors to exclude them from his research.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Wendolyn

    I liked the concept of a follow-up, and found this book MUCH more interesting and readable than the original, whose motives and honesty are questioned in this second, Pulitzer prize winning book. The writing flows. It's honest and respectful. They returned to the South 50 years after the writer and photographer visited during the Depression. I appreciated the background on cotton, as it is a character in these histories and gives great perspective. - "I found there had once been nine million cott I liked the concept of a follow-up, and found this book MUCH more interesting and readable than the original, whose motives and honesty are questioned in this second, Pulitzer prize winning book. The writing flows. It's honest and respectful. They returned to the South 50 years after the writer and photographer visited during the Depression. I appreciated the background on cotton, as it is a character in these histories and gives great perspective. - "I found there had once been nine million cotton tenant farmers in the South; virtually all of them lived under the most brutal conditions, often not too much better off than slaves. They worked from sunup to sundown, raising cotton with their own strong backs and mules as their only help. These nine million workers added one billion dollars of wealth annually to the world economy. Yet most ended each year further in debt." (page xvi) - "Early on, cotton was referred to as 'white gold.'" (page 4) - "Cotton was a curious crop, however. It demanded long hours of heavy labor at the start and the end of the season, labor that could be idle at all other times. The Anglo-Saxon busy-hands ethic was not geared for that. It was quickly recognized that an expoitable labor pool would be necessary for cotton cultivation - the work of slaves." (page 7) - "To get people to do such work, antebellum planters and, later, landowners had two choices - either hold out the prospect of a clear and sure reward at the end of the line or create a credible threat of terrible consequences should the work not be completed." (pate 33) - "In 1936, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics said it took thirty-seven hours of labor to raise an acre of corn, twenty for wheat, fifteen for oats, but eighty-five for cotton." (page 34) Surely the prices didn't reflect the labor required. - "In 1936, the total U.S. production of about fourteen million bales of cotton was almost entirely raised by hand and mule on forth-three million acres. By 1960, the same amount of cotton was being sent to market each year. But because of machines and improved cultivation, it was grown on just seventeen and a half million acres. Fewer people were needed. One million farms had vanished since 1940, representing a loss of a majority of the nine million cotton tenants. (page 96) - "A Reader's Digest article summed up the predicament through the lens of economic Darwinism: '...Then, the help the small, depression-ridden farmer survive, the U.S. government started propping up the prices of cotton with public money...This kept poor marginal farmers in business. But it also raised U.S. cotton prices so high that our cotton began to lose buyers in the world market.'" (page 106) - "All this was done mostly to save some small southern farmers...If that one billion dollars had been used to educate and train them to enter more useful professions, it would have been money better spent. But that would have smacked of social engineering and been politically unacceptable." (page 107) I also admire how Maharidge honestly addresses their work in the preface, pages xxi-xxiii. They were investigative journalists, opening up old wounds, and Agee and Evans were two more characters in this study. "...I offer that I saw my proper role as standing back and observing and that Agee saw his as jumping in and experiencing." (page xxiii) "It is about a group of men and women who long ago told us something about America that we, as a society, do not readily want to face, and who today have something else to tell us about ourselves." (page xxiii) They set up a trust fund with the royalties to educate the descendant children. Evans didn't talk with them. He didn't even talk down to them. He talked at them, as if they were objects...He preferred to shoot barns and buildings. Usually, when he photographed people, it was done in secret. In New York subways, he later took pictures with a hidden camera. In other places, he used a "side-angle" camera that could take pictures at right angles, so the subjects thought he was shooting in another direction." (page 39) "As much as the writer had been prepared to learn about the tenants, Emma, at least, was a curious to know more about him. The two cultures were locked in intrigue. Agee didn't want to look like a big-city Harvard intellectual, which he was. That would have turned them off. While Agee was in Alabama, his accent "veered towards counttry-southern," Evans later wrote, suggesting, "I may say he got away with this to the farm families and to himself." Agee did not do this with malicious intent - he truly liked these people who would become his story - but because he wanted them to like and trust him and not see him in the same, bad light he saw those who had sent him. The families played along with this game, prepared for their own part to let him believe they were something they weren't. Agee was convinced, or convinced himself, that he was seeing them for what they really were, that they could not hide themselves from him, but at least in some respects they proved smarter than he admitted. There was a lot they didn't show and he never learned. Each side thought it understood the other, but time proved that neither side was as right as it deemed itself. And so they spied on each other, put on false faces, the North meeting the South, each side unaware of the comic farce it was acting out with the other." (page 56) This place was so silent. So big. So dark. After the work was done, Debbie and her family would sit on one of their two unlit porches, the damp breath of the night encasing their bodies - dead, thick air tasting of the sweet rot of all things no longer living, the sweat of all things doomed. It caught in their throats, like a sentence never meant to be completed. Debbie was taught to be afraid of the blackness, forbidden to be outside and off the porch after the sun was gone. She would crawl into bed and hear nothing but the whisper of her parents, fading to the click of night bugs and sometimes that distant train working its way up the valley. It was almost possible to hear the cotton growing. Many nights, it was what you saw in those last half moments between the time your eyes closed and when sleep engulfed you. From planting time to pickinh, it was the only thing you noticed changing. Cell by cell, it climbed, a fraction of an inch each day, until it topped out in that August sun. (page 76) "At a very young age, Debbie Franks started to understand that her family was peculiar." At ages six and five, Maggie Louise and Floyd's children Debbie and Sonny tried to run away. Floyd lured them back with ice cream, which they received after a spanking. "He (Floyd) never asked why Debbie had run away with her little brother. If he had any notion why, he never let on." (pages 77-78) Page 90 was confusing, as it stated that "Boy" could not read, but later said he was a man who read his Bible. I had never heard of a pineapple sandwich! (page 118) I have to question "The kind of poverty Agee reported in 1936 exists in America today only among the urban homeless, who make up their own category." I highly doubt that rural poverty has disappeared. (page 143) "It can easily be argued that Third World poverty has a harder edge to it than anything found in the United States, and this is surely true. Yet it is also true that in America the word "poverty" labels losers, that to be poor and to accept your poverty is to exhibit not stoicism but a sense of defeat." (page 143) Debbie only has one brother, Sonny, not brotherS. (page 145) **** Debbie (Maggie Louise's daughter) "lives life intent on not missing any part of it. She goes about living as if tomorrow might be her last day, not with reckless abandon but aware that every action and word counts, that no moment should be wasted, for she craves to feel, touch, and experience it all." (page 147) "In a nameless town in the county where many members of the three families live, everyone stared, and we deemed it proper to drive slowly and stare back dumbly. Rural Alabama may have the most suspicious small-town eyes in America, though we later found there was nothing overtly violent or threatening behind them. The look is one of amazement at what business would bring anyone so far off the main path to their town. Nevertheless, the eyes are disquieting, and one never gets used to them." (page 167) "...lives in a single-wide bought secondhand for $3,500. A new single-wide goes for something like $10,000, only a fraction of the cost of a new frame home, and therein lies the practical attraction of trailers. It's a dream among many to get themselves a nice double-wide some day, cash paid out. Some of the double-wides, such as the one lived in by Gretchen, are nicer than a person who has never been inside one might imagine. They feature pressed foam made to look like carved wood, carpeting, air-conditioning, and good heat, but are far less durable than even the old shacks. Some floors shake with the burden of heavy steps. They are easily victimized by storms. It is a joke in newsrooms that trailers attract tornadoes - the proof is that when a twister strikes, news photographers run to the trailer parks for the best pictures after the storm. Some who know the vulnerability of these structures have storm pits nearby. The trailer-dwelling Gudgers have one of these pits. They learned about them in their youth, when they lived in a sharecropper shack, but the pits are even more necessary when one lives in a trailer." (pages 190-191) "Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us... There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. And some there be which have no memorial; who perished, as thought they had never been; and are become as through they had never been born; and their children after them. But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out...Ecclesiasticus 44" (page 203) One of the landowners descendants: "He's found himself in a high-powered career as a director of personnel, which fits into the pattern set by his ancestors in the sense that he controls the opportunities of others to obtain work and the conditions under which they will work, but he doesn't feel wealthy or powerful. He says California is like a fast-paced foreign land. There are many differences between where he is not living and where his people came from. He says, ...Alabama is different. You had - still have - dirt-poor people, but they think they have it made. You got a lot of simple-type, good-natured folks who just don't understand a lot of things. They're happy. They got their family, they got a roof overhead, they can put food on the table. Some of those people believe "the man" still exists - "the man" being the plantation owner. If I work for "the man," "the man" never lets me down, gives me food on my plate, provides me a job, a place for my kids, all that. There's some of them who still believe in the way it used to be, the way they were raised, that "the man" has been good to me, so why should I get out and try to make it any differently? Poverty? Will it change? That's the way they was raised, that's the way their fathers was raised, that's the way their grandfathers was raised. Again, the Old South. Maybe sometime down the road. Probably not." (page 217) "They may not be the best farmers, but they are honest and work hard. They occupy just a niche in the sweep of mostly unpeopled vastness that has come to characterize modern rural Alabama. The land has grown more frightening in its solitude over the past five decades. Each generation in time bceomes the older generation, and soon these people will be forgotten. Our generation will pass. Another dozen generations will walk this planet, be forgotten; more beyond. If the planet is not killed off with poisons, the land of Hobe's Hill will still be there after all this passage, waiting, beneath the forest canopy, dripping in the wetness of winter, brittle under the yellow monotony of summer, ready for men and women who will again need to grow food and fiber. They will not recall what happened with cotton and the decades that followed. They will cut back the trees and introduce the soil once again to the sun, and will not know of the struggles of the tenant families or the final desperation of Joe Bridges. (page 221) A landowner after her husband passed: "Right now, I'm not doing much farming. We rent some to the government. Our taxes were real low. They upped the price of the land. Now, I can hardly pay taxes. They said all my land is worth six hundred an acre. It's not worth six hundred an acre for some of that land. Some of it is just holding the world together." (Page 236) "As Joe found, racism seems to be more violent and confrontational in the North...In Cleveland, a white driving on East Fifty-fifth Street might find a brick sailing through his or her window. These kinds of incidents are relatively rare in the South. Few neighborhoods are this off-limits in southern urban centers, and certainly none are in rural areas... Yet many in the North still turn up their noses at the South for what they see as its primitive racial attitudes. What they hold up as evidence of southern racial hate are those images of state troopers bullwhipping marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. But that South no longer exists. Its racism today is like the racism around the rest of the nation - clothes in other issues, rationalized in varied ways, much more subtle but every present. (page 241) "In Ford Heights (Chicago), the only barber in town was sitting in front of his little shop, and it was also no surprise to learn he was an ex-sharecropper. Willie's story could be that of any one of thousands of other blacks. Willie came north during what he calls the "flight" of the 1960s. It wasn't so bad then. He made enough money at a host of jobs to enable him to buy this barbershop in 1978; that year, he sometimes grossed as much as $300 a day. And then everything started retrenching. The day he was interviewed, he made just $17. Things for blacks have gone downhill, and no one has money to get a haircut any longer. Willie has tried to sell the shop so that he can go back to Tennessee, but banks have redlined and will not grant loans to buyers. Willie is trapped and angry. His story is not unique: we found blacks who feel just like this in Boston and other cities. Up in the richest suburb, Kenilworth, on the North Shore of Chicago, everyone who came to the only barbershop was a Republican. The clients spoke glowingly of the Reagan tax cuts; they wanted to find more ways to keep even more of their money. It wasn't so much that they were against people like Willie; no one wanted to openly hurt someone like him. It was their ignorance that was outrageous - they didn't even know he existed. They knew nothing about the Willies of this world, or of his problems, or of why he is the way he is, or how his problems might come back to bite them someday. The first thing we noticed about Willie was that he talked about America in the second person. He kept talking abbut "your" president and "your" nation. He and his family have worked as hard as anyone can. He went from picking cotton, to trying everything else, to working hard to build his own business, and he wound up losing as if he'd never left the cotton patch. He could have just as well stayed home like some of the Gaineses and been better off. Now Willie feels removed from this society. This loss of hope has bred a bitterness this nation has not seen the last of yet. The rich Republicans in Kenilworth had better start thinking about these former sharecroppers and the way things remain stacked against them." (page 242) "What lessons can be drawn from our national failure to assure that if all boats were not in fact raised by a rising tide, at least the lowest berthed would not be swamped?...It is obscene when you travel this nation in 1988 as a journalist and listen to people tell you they are going to vote for the party on whose watch a nation of homeless were recruited because, as one man said with blunt honesty, "I'm greedy." Greed, once a pejorative, has become the national credo." (page 252) "The water falls against the roof of the apartment where Emma's niece Debbie lives. Debbie lies alone, once again separated from her husband, Ron; she now knows that no one knows anybody anyway. She dreams - not of what she has lost, but of her second grandchild, the love she has found, the understanding she has gained from her mother, Maggie Louise. And it is another dream, in another city, and Maggie Louise is there, looking, but it is impossible to see her face. She talks, but not in words. She doesn't need them. She conveys what she has come to say, and that is: "I understand." And Debbie replies, "Mama, I love you." (pages 253-254) (I would keep this book were it not for the cover. I don't need a reminder of the Ricketts. While Maggie Louise's story is haunting and troubling, it is more acceptable. It is not family openly and blatantly hurting family.)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Price Walden

    Found it completely devastating and beautiful.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dachokie

    The Plight Continues … After being mesmerized by the snapshot presented in “Cotton Tenants” (the publishing of James Agee’s original Fortune magazine article detailing three Alabama cotton farming families in 1936 and the basis for his book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”), I was compelled to find out what happened to those families after Agee’s visit. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM illustrates the depressing post-Agee lives of those families as well highlighting the destitution and racial divide t The Plight Continues … After being mesmerized by the snapshot presented in “Cotton Tenants” (the publishing of James Agee’s original Fortune magazine article detailing three Alabama cotton farming families in 1936 and the basis for his book “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”), I was compelled to find out what happened to those families after Agee’s visit. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM illustrates the depressing post-Agee lives of those families as well highlighting the destitution and racial divide that still languishes in the rural Deep South. An advisory note: AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM may be best read after reading either “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” or “Cotton Tenants” rather than as a standalone read. This book is essentially a supplement/follow up to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”, a book in which Agee used pseudonyms for the three families he covered; this book uses those same pseudonyms. “Cotton Tenants”, on the other hand, uses the actual family names. Considering my introduction to this subject matter was triggered by “Cotton Tenants”, I found it somewhat confusing at times trying to tie the names from “Cotton Tenants” to those in AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM. Pseudonym vs. Actual Family Name (used in “Cotton Tenants”) Gudger = Burroughs Ricketts = Tengle (or Tingle) Woods = Fields Dale Maharidge and Michael Williams basically continue the story that started in 1936. Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” could be viewed as an appetizer for a meal that was never intended to be served (as Agee died in the 1950s). While the written observation of the three families was thorough and thought-provoking enough, Walker Evans’ accompanying photos are what beg readers to ask “I wonder what ever happened to them?” Those photos generate a curiosity similar to National Geographic’s captivating photo of the Afghan refugee girl. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM finally gives readers that main course … fifty years later. In many ways, Maharidge and Williams make Evan’s classic still photos come alive as well as providing us new angles of interpreting Agee’s words. The authors have graciously organized the book into sections that cover specific time frames (1930-1940, 1940-1960 and 1960-mid 80s) and the three families Agee originally covered are given their own chapters within each section. In addition to the original families, the authors profile two more families that were not fully represented in Agee’s book: a black family and land-owning family. I found the detailing of these families through the decades a particularly miserable journey. While the Second World War may have brought prosperity to the majority of Americans, the cotton tenants in the Deep South still languished in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of generational poverty. The authors reference Agee’s original observations and predictions throughout the book and for the most part, his bleak view of their futures was spot-on. Even in the mid-1980s, the offspring of one family were still urinating in buckets and defecating in the weeds surrounding their dilapidated shack dwelling. Sadly, the one child Agee had pegged as having the will to break away from poverty and having a bright future becomes a tragic, sacrificial figure in the end (even though her children manage to break the poverty cycle). The lives of the offspring are not uplifting and pleasant, but mostly wretched. The book tends to uphold the stereotypical terms describing small towns in the rural Deep South: poor, apathetic and racist. A large collection of updated black-and-white photos at the front of the book are hauntingly reminiscent of Walker Evans’ classic 1936 photos. The photos alone encapsulate the continuing misery of generational poverty and emphasize the cliché: “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM is an eye-opening and depressing read. “Cotton Tenants” may have triggered my interest in learning more about the plight of these poor farming families, but this book completely ended my curiosity. The emotions I felt while reading were tinged with sympathy, frustration and disgust. Frequently, the heart-wrenching futility exhibited by the impoverished families was offset by their lethargic acceptance of their predicament. Although AND THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM was written almost thirty years ago, it is a fulfilling read that satisfactorily ends the story James Agee started over seventy years ago.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    A follow-up 50 years later to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” The book contains updated photos of some of the original characters and sites and the authors tracked down members of the Gudger, Wood and Ricketts families to relate how their lives turned out. Most didn’t turn out very well as one might expect. Some of the descendants were bitter about the earlier book that portrayed them as desperately poor and illiterate; however, some are still in that deplorable state. Others advanced a bit, or A follow-up 50 years later to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” The book contains updated photos of some of the original characters and sites and the authors tracked down members of the Gudger, Wood and Ricketts families to relate how their lives turned out. Most didn’t turn out very well as one might expect. Some of the descendants were bitter about the earlier book that portrayed them as desperately poor and illiterate; however, some are still in that deplorable state. Others advanced a bit, or had dreams that were deferred. Almost all left the cotton fields for jobs in towns. Overall, cotton production in Alabama declined due to competition from California and dry state growers that could harvest thousands of acres. It seems as though the three families continue to be haunted by the problems their status in life, overall health, and lack of education impose. What this sequel lacks however, is the poetic and passionate quality of its predecessor.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Neno

    This sort-of sequel to James Agee and Walker Evans' classic book doesn't have the poetry, forcefulness, attention to detail, experimentalism or passionate rage that Let Us Now Praise Famous Men did. It's a much more straight forward piece of journalism. If you're curious to know what happened next to the families Agee described, though, the book is must reading. And Their Children After Them also gives an insightful overview of the history of cotton growing in America and, in particular, Alabama This sort-of sequel to James Agee and Walker Evans' classic book doesn't have the poetry, forcefulness, attention to detail, experimentalism or passionate rage that Let Us Now Praise Famous Men did. It's a much more straight forward piece of journalism. If you're curious to know what happened next to the families Agee described, though, the book is must reading. And Their Children After Them also gives an insightful overview of the history of cotton growing in America and, in particular, Alabama, and describes how the loss of that culture has affected not only the sons and daughters of the tenant farmers, but the landowners as well.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    This is an average book on its own terms, but a failure as it relates to Agee. It’s strange situation, the people who actually take the time to write about Agee don't appear to understand his work at all. The biggest problem here is that Maharidge sets out to correct Agee’s narrative in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. He writes, “Agee was convinced, or convinced himself, that he was seeing [the tenant farmers] for what they really were.” The goal, then, is to set the record straight. Of course, Ma This is an average book on its own terms, but a failure as it relates to Agee. It’s strange situation, the people who actually take the time to write about Agee don't appear to understand his work at all. The biggest problem here is that Maharidge sets out to correct Agee’s narrative in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. He writes, “Agee was convinced, or convinced himself, that he was seeing [the tenant farmers] for what they really were.” The goal, then, is to set the record straight. Of course, Maharidge is doing this decades after the fact, once the families and their children have read Agee’s book, digested it, and formed an official response. But more importantly, out of all Agee’s failures and liabilities, this is one attack that simply cannot be made. Agee spends a lot of time in the introduction admitting to his limitations with his subject matter. In fact in a passage I always liked, Agee writes “In a novel, a house or a person has his meaning, his existence, entirely though the writer. Here, a house or a person has only the most limited of his meaning through me: his true meaning is much huger. It is that he exists, in actual being, as you do and as I do, and as no character of the imagination can possibly exist. His great weight, mystery, and dignity are in this fact. As for me, I can tell you of him only what I saw, only so accurately as in my terms I know how: and this is turn has its chief stature not in any ability of mine but in the fact that I too exist, not as a work of fiction, but as a human being.” The second disconnect here is that Maharidge is asking very different questions than Agee. Agee is essentially a religious writer, and the questions he struggled with in Famous Men are the sort of questions that philosophers, the great novelists, and psychologists (and religious) ask about the individual. Maharidge, on the other hand, is answering questions that sociologists, historians and reporters ask. That being said this book is really interesting once it gets passed its Agee hangup. Maharidge provides a historical and sociological study of the rise and fall of cotton tenantry in Alabama, and the South more generally. Agee wrote about poverty at its most unimaginable. Maharidge writes about the context, and what came after. State rehabilitation offices were created and they provided tenants with medical care and job placement. One of the children Agee wrote about was even able to move to Illinois and live a sort of suburban existence. But then everything retrenched. Everyone moved back and the assistance dried up. The one child Agee felt was smart enough to escape poverty killed herself out of desperation, by drinking rat poison. “Many members of these families were not ready to face the world that challenged them after the cotton tenant system went down. The urban middle-class belief system of hope and expectation that things will always be better had never been taught to them. The transition has been hard. The choices offered them - go forward or even farther backward - seemed unreasonably harsh. Some insisted on barricading themselves in the past, living in trailers on back roads, avoiding the modern world.” Added to the difficulty was the fact that farming as a living was diminishing. The old landowners switched their land to timber as it provided profit without the burden of employees. By the time Maharidge gets to the grandchildren of Agee’s tenant farmers, the vast majority of them are back living in poverty, joining churches which make claims like the ability to regrow the amputated limbs of their members. The photos that accompany this book represent a much more familiar world than the ones in Famous Men, and did not do as much for me. But they do a good job of showing the superficial mutations of poverty, and its deep, unchanging nature.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mary Christensen

    This is a very painful and depressing book to read. Maybe because I am a schoolteacher and have spent most of my life trying to see the good in people, this book makes my desired outlook almost impossible. It offers a very personal look at how France's class system has imprisoned an entire generation of young people into poverty and hopelessness. It shows the closed and grinding nature of the eductional system which is a barrier to keep 98% of students out of the good paying jobs. I spend a lot This is a very painful and depressing book to read. Maybe because I am a schoolteacher and have spent most of my life trying to see the good in people, this book makes my desired outlook almost impossible. It offers a very personal look at how France's class system has imprisoned an entire generation of young people into poverty and hopelessness. It shows the closed and grinding nature of the eductional system which is a barrier to keep 98% of students out of the good paying jobs. I spend a lot of time in France and I have observed this firsthand, this pressure to pass the "bac" and pressure to choose a technical career or vocation very early on, while still in middle school. The book also shows the nature of angst in teenagers, their need to feel alive, their constant scrapes with death, the drugs, alcohol, sex and danger which they all face, no matter what country they are living in. It was too much, maybe because I felt like I was watching my own children go through this dangerous gauntlet all over again. The ending was fitting...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul Lemcke

    Great followup to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", but I would not recommend reading this if you haven't read and appreciated the earlier Agee/Evans book. I think there are way too many references to the earlier work to read it as a stand-alone. I was fascinated by the first half that was filled with research about cotton growing and its impact on the South up to about 1940. Then the second half got more personal, following two more generations of the families that Agee/Evans originally wrote abo Great followup to "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", but I would not recommend reading this if you haven't read and appreciated the earlier Agee/Evans book. I think there are way too many references to the earlier work to read it as a stand-alone. I was fascinated by the first half that was filled with research about cotton growing and its impact on the South up to about 1940. Then the second half got more personal, following two more generations of the families that Agee/Evans originally wrote about and photographed. For me, it was a fascinating comparison because I grew up as a northerner, and the contrast with my life was stark beyond belief.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Maureen Blake

    I thought this was a beautiful book and read it cover to cover just fascinated to learn of the lives of the children of sharecroppers as they navigated the changing economy from rural agrarian to modern living. Some did not make the shift and hung on as long as they could. This was just such an interesting read, about part of US which I think it important to have awareness of. The photographs were really wonderful as they capture life for these families represented candidly with such pride and d I thought this was a beautiful book and read it cover to cover just fascinated to learn of the lives of the children of sharecroppers as they navigated the changing economy from rural agrarian to modern living. Some did not make the shift and hung on as long as they could. This was just such an interesting read, about part of US which I think it important to have awareness of. The photographs were really wonderful as they capture life for these families represented candidly with such pride and dignity.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Davy

    As indispensably imperfect as its predecessor, further evidence that there's no neat & tidy way to tell these stories. In both books you sense the exasperation of the reporter, the incredulity of the photographer. This book is highly recommended for those readers who've had a hard time getting out of the headspace that Agee and Evans (and perhaps Christenberry) put them in. And it's about time it had its own sequel. As indispensably imperfect as its predecessor, further evidence that there's no neat & tidy way to tell these stories. In both books you sense the exasperation of the reporter, the incredulity of the photographer. This book is highly recommended for those readers who've had a hard time getting out of the headspace that Agee and Evans (and perhaps Christenberry) put them in. And it's about time it had its own sequel.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jia Jung

    This is an important book - documentation of a population ignored or unknown by ourselves in America in a highly readable and evoacative format of narrative made possible only by immersion reporting.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bradthad Codgeroger

    Get a behind the scenes look at the creation of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men while learning about cotton farming and Alabaman. And more good pictures.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dree

    A follow-up to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, this book is actually much more readable. A very interesting (and disturbing) book looking at many of the people in the original--what happened to the adults, and the children as they grew up. Obviously, not all wanted anything to do with this book. But that is OK. I appreciated the addition of landowners--from a small-time landowner like Bridges, to the larger holders. The authors also take an interesting look at how the landowners blame civil rights a A follow-up to Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, this book is actually much more readable. A very interesting (and disturbing) book looking at many of the people in the original--what happened to the adults, and the children as they grew up. Obviously, not all wanted anything to do with this book. But that is OK. I appreciated the addition of landowners--from a small-time landowner like Bridges, to the larger holders. The authors also take an interesting look at how the landowners blame civil rights and government assistance for blacks and poor whites who "don't want to work"--while at the same time refusing to rent them land to farm so that they can work. The authors also suggest civil rights was a direct result of the end of sharecropping and the beginning of fully mechanized cotton farming--driving blacks off the land and often into northern cities. This topic could be a book unto itself.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This was mildly disappointing. I haven't read the Agee work, so maybe I'm missing something, but I think Maharidge really just skims the surface of his subject. He doesn't give any real insight into the characters and he doesn't follow them close enough or for long enough for us to get to know them. I will say that he lets some of the scenes unfold themselves in a slow, beautiful way, especially those involving Debbie - Maggie Louise's daughter. All in all this was a good read and about a lifest This was mildly disappointing. I haven't read the Agee work, so maybe I'm missing something, but I think Maharidge really just skims the surface of his subject. He doesn't give any real insight into the characters and he doesn't follow them close enough or for long enough for us to get to know them. I will say that he lets some of the scenes unfold themselves in a slow, beautiful way, especially those involving Debbie - Maggie Louise's daughter. All in all this was a good read and about a lifestyle and part of the world that fascinates me, but I feel like I read a long magazine article, not a book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tanya Hurst

    This book was amazing. I recommend it to anyone who's ever read "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." You really should read Agee and Evan's book first, though, if you haven't. It relates everything to Famous Men and wouldn't make much sense if you haven't read it. I loved both books. They detail the lives of three cotton tenant/sharecropper families in 1936 (Agee and Evans), followed by an account of where and how the remaining members of the original families and their descendants were in 1986 (Maha This book was amazing. I recommend it to anyone who's ever read "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." You really should read Agee and Evan's book first, though, if you haven't. It relates everything to Famous Men and wouldn't make much sense if you haven't read it. I loved both books. They detail the lives of three cotton tenant/sharecropper families in 1936 (Agee and Evans), followed by an account of where and how the remaining members of the original families and their descendants were in 1986 (Maharidge). A lot of social and economic history is interwoven in "And Their Children After Them," making for an even richer understanding of the original novel. Definitely a great read!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This book only makes sense if you have read "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" first. This book follows up on the three families, and you find out what happens to the children & grandchildren 50 years after the original book was written. Some success stories, but mostly heartbreak. The story about the man on the cover is so horrible, I couldn't help but reread LUNPFM to look for clues as to how that family got to that point. After recently reading "Cotton Tenants", I will probably be rereading this This book only makes sense if you have read "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" first. This book follows up on the three families, and you find out what happens to the children & grandchildren 50 years after the original book was written. Some success stories, but mostly heartbreak. The story about the man on the cover is so horrible, I couldn't help but reread LUNPFM to look for clues as to how that family got to that point. After recently reading "Cotton Tenants", I will probably be rereading this book...and would love to know updates on the families now, since many years have gone by since this book was written.

  26. 5 out of 5

    George King

    I love books that explore the American Experience and this is one of those book. It explores trhe side of America that isn't pretty causes you to reflect on who the bad guys really are; if there are any at all. It's probably a book that was read frequently when it came out and yet for me it is a book that every American should read because it is a book about yesterday with implication for society today. I love books that explore the American Experience and this is one of those book. It explores trhe side of America that isn't pretty causes you to reflect on who the bad guys really are; if there are any at all. It's probably a book that was read frequently when it came out and yet for me it is a book that every American should read because it is a book about yesterday with implication for society today.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

    A follow-up to Agee's Let Us Know Praise Famous Men 50 years later. The authors have traced the descendants of the original book (pseudonymous is that volume) to find out if and how they have progressed from the grinding poverty of Depression-era Alabama. Very interesting and at times just as sad as the original. 250 pages of text and 80 pages of photos. I owned both these books and (stupidly) lent them to someone. Wish I had them back! A follow-up to Agee's Let Us Know Praise Famous Men 50 years later. The authors have traced the descendants of the original book (pseudonymous is that volume) to find out if and how they have progressed from the grinding poverty of Depression-era Alabama. Very interesting and at times just as sad as the original. 250 pages of text and 80 pages of photos. I owned both these books and (stupidly) lent them to someone. Wish I had them back!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book was actually 3 1/2 stars, because I love the original book so much, and it was interesting to read about what happened to the original characters. The author did a decent job of updating a non-fiction classic. He had respect for his subjects, as well as the original work of James Agee.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Depressing Southern poverty mid-century as cotton tenant farming ends. Landowners and tenants all trapped in debt and ill-education and changing technology elsewhere. Difficult background of selective observation, journalism, and exploitation of Alabama stereotypes.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Carpenter

    Really only recommended for those who become obsessed with Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

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