Update - The newsletter for the University of Memphis
More November Features:

Picture Perfect
Power of Soul
U of M recruiting efforts
Bausch lands award
Lending a hand
Talking Head
Revved up research


February 2010 Briefs

Bygone Days, The 1940s had its share of ups and downs with celebrity visit, WW II. Read more

Brain Drain? Healthy lunch habits can mean a more productive day at the office. Read more

Ring Container Technologies Inc. has made a $300,000 gift to establish the Ring Companies Professorship Fund in the Herff College of Engineering at the U of M. The Professorships will allow the Herff College to retain highcaliber faculty.

For More Information:
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To learn more about the Rev. L.O. Taylor Collection, visit www.southernfolklore.com.

Picture Perfect

By: Sara Hoover

�Children�s Pantomime, ca 1940s,� featuring a pantomime troupe, was taken by Rev. Taylor in his home studio on Hunter Avenue in the North Memphis Springdale community.
“Children’s Pantomime, ca 1940s,” featuring a pantomime troupe, was taken by Rev. Taylor in his home studio on Hunter Avenue in the North Memphis Springdale community.

Rev. L.O. Taylor, former pastor of Olivet Baptist Church and once a candy maker, is most remembered for lugging his bulky Eastman Kodak Camera No. 2- D, newfangled movie camera and audio recording machine to churches and businesses in the Binghamton area of Memphis. From the 1920s through the 1960s, he “opened a window into the African American community.”

“That’s one reason his collection is so unprecedented,” said Dr. Beverly Bond, U of M associate professor of history and director of the African & African American studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I describe him as this Renaissance man. He always needed to have something that he was doing, something new he was trying. Preaching was what he did because he loved to preach. But he also was the center of a community. He wanted to really show this community and have this community really understand themselves.”

Dr. Beverly Bond gives a glimpse of Rev. L.O. Taylor�s life. (Lindsey Lissau photo)
Dr. Beverly Bond gives a glimpse of Rev. L.O. Taylor’s life. (Lindsey Lissau photo)
The Rev. L.O. Taylor Collection, housed at the Center for Southern Folklore in downtown Memphis since Taylor’s death in 1977, is enormous. The multimedia aspects consist of 15 hours of color and black-and-white film, 7,000 negatives, 500 prints and 100 78 rpm lacquer discs. It is also comprised of his book, Bits of Logic, a self-published collection of sermons and writings, plus songs, poems, handbills, postcards, letters and church bulletins and audio interviews folklorists conducted with friends and family of Rev. and Mrs. Taylor.

Bond (BS ‘67, MA ‘69, PhD ‘96) is using the collection to write a biography on him. She’s done two other books related to Memphis history — Memphis in Black & White and Images of America: Beale Street — but didn’t think she would be the one writing this biography.

When Center director Judy Peiser held a roundtable to discuss ways to generate resources for the Center and get the Taylor Collection out in the community, Bond suggested a biography.

“I wasn’t really thinking of me because I do 19th century African-American history. I don’t do 20th century history. A little later, Judy called me and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing it?’ I said, ‘I could learn 20th century history because this collection is so fantastic.’ It is really rare that a historian has access to all of these photographs and the man’s writings and his papers. And it’s all in one place and I don’t even have to leave town.”

Bond is currently on sabbatical, researching for the biography and has a research assistant, Vivian Nwonye, an undergraduate student in African & African American studies at the University.

The plan is to have the book, which will include many photos, finished within the next year.

With this book, Bond hopes to change how people might approach the black experience.

“My target audience is people who want to understand what it was like to be an African American in the 20th century and who may approach this — the African-American experience is one where people are always struggling for their rights — but who have not really approached it in the way of looking at what’s going on in the community, where people are not necessarily struggling every day for their rights. They are just living.”

That’s the message Bond hopes to convey with Rev. Lonzie Odie Taylor (1899-1977) as a model.

“He was really showing a community, where people are getting up in the morning, going to work, living their lives, going to school, going to church on Sunday. All these different parts of a community, that’s what I’m looking at — the community experience. That’s what I really want people to see. This is just a story of a man who was a man. He was a minister, but he was also a man who was trying to find some way of creative expression. And also a way of showing people in his community that their lives had value, everyday lives had value.”

His photographs and films showcased everyday black life in Memphis spanning almost half a century. His audio recordings, which he began in the 1940s, were for most people the first time they had heard or seen a moving picture of themselves. Throughout the United States, there are not many intact black photographic collections. This collection preserves and serves as a resource for people to know about black Memphis.

“As a component of this collection, a biography is very, very important,” said Peiser, Center director and U of M alumna (MA ‘70). “You hear about the great photographers everywhere, but there’s very few times you hear about the great photographers who are also the great writers, who are also the filmmakers. This man was unique. I think it’s important that we find those people in a community who documented the community but because of their work take the community to a different level.”

Bond is also working with history chair Dr. Janann Sherman on two books due out in 2012 on the U of M’s 100-year history.

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Last Updated: 1/23/12