Tag Archives: Carlton Jackson

Frankly, She Gave a D-mn

The 1939 movie blockbuster Gone With the Wind is as legendary as the novel of the same name.  Gone With the Wind’s author, Margaret Mitchell, had no desire to participate in the film project, but insisted that producer David O. Selznick employ a technical adviser to keep him honest about its portrayal of Southern accents, customs, wardrobes and etiquette.  Mitchell’s choice for the job was her good friend and fellow Georgian, Susan Myrick.

Raised on her family’s plantation near Milledgeville, Myrick (1893-1978) was a teacher, journalist, civic leader, and arbiter of all things Southern.  Despite long days on the set of Gone With the Wind, she reported regularly and candidly to Mitchell about her quest to keep the movie’s production values authentic (in a 1939 kind of way).

"Hattie," by Carlton Jackson

“Hattie,” by Carlton Jackson

While researching his biography of Hattie McDaniel, who played “Mammy” in the movie, WKU history professor Carlton Jackson discovered how opinionated Myrick could be.  Jackson’s research includes a copy of one of her gossipy letters to Mitchell, written just before filming of Gone With the Wind began.  Myrick was “sick at heart” that “three Britishers”—Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland—had been cast in leading roles (Scarlett O’Hara, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton); but she liked Howard, who she found had “more sense than anybody I’ve seen around here” except for director George Cukor (a “grand person,” though he would soon be replaced).

Myrick was pleased with the exterior set for Tara, the O’Hara plantation, but battled with various technical personnel over other details of the production.  She insisted that Tara have “feather beds” and that a magnolia tree grow outside Scarlett’s window.  She put a stop to the agricultural faux pas of having “cotton chopped while dog woods were blooming,” and “nearly died when they asked me if they couldn’t show cotton right at the front yard!”  She was also determined that “Prissy” and other African-American characters “NOT wear ten or twenty pink bows on their hair” so they would look “pictorial”—a word that made Myrick want “to scream.”

As for 44-year-old Kansas native Hattie McDaniel, the singer/songwriter/actress just signed to play “Mammy,” Myrick grumbled to Mitchell that she “hasn’t the right face” and “lacks dignity, age, nobility and so on.”  Director Cukor admitted that he was still looking for another actress for the role; in fact, he sent Myrick to see the play Run, Little Chillun in order to scout its African-American cast for a replacement.

But the rest, of course, was history.  Not only did she keep her job, Hattie McDaniel owned the role of “Mammy” and received an Oscar for best supporting actress, making her the first African American to win an Academy Award.

Carlton Jackson’s research for his book Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Carlton Jackson Papers Celebrate Archives Month

Dr. Carlton Jackson at a book-signing for "Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna"

Dr. Carlton Jackson at a book-signing for “Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna”

Heartbreaking memories of the 1918 influenza pandemic.  The FBI dossiers on a husband-and-wife team of socialist labor activists.  Gracious letters from Gone With the Wind star Olivia de Havilland.  The gritty details of a guest’s sudden collapse and death during a television talk show.  Accounts from survivors of one of America’s worst wartime naval disasters.

Where can you find all of these within easy reach of one another?  In the papers of Dr. Carlton L. Jackson, a prolific author and historian who donated a large portion of his research and manuscripts to WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Processing of the 4,336 items in this collection was completed in October, which happens to be American Archives Month.  A finding aid is available here.

Carlton Jackson’s career as a history professor at WKU began in 1961 and continued until his death in 2014.  A high-school dropout, the Alabama native resumed his studies during service in the Air Force, then taught school and worked as a newspaperman before arriving at WKU.  The author of more than 20 books, he also held several Fulbright awards and visiting teaching posts, and in 1996 was appointed WKU’s first Distinguished University Professor.

Jackson’s books included Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel, a biography of the Oscar-winning actress who immortalized the role of “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind; Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna, an account of the 1943 guided missile attack on this troopship that killed more than 1,000 American servicemen; J. I. Rodale: Apostle of Nonconformity, a look at the self-described “father of the organic movement” in the United States, whose life ended suddenly while a guest on the Dick Cavett Show; and Child of the Sit-Downs: The Revolutionary Life of Genora Dollinger, a biography of this workers’ rights champion whose career began in earnest during the great 1936-1937 “sit-down” strike at the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan.  Other books of Jackson’s have told the story of the iconic World War II song Lili Marlene; related a social history of the Greyhound Bus Company; assessed the career of movie director Martin Ritt; recalled the heroism of Joseph Gavi, a Louisville restaurateur who was once a partisan fighter in the Jewish ghetto of Minsk; and novelized the life of George Al Edwards, a Green County, Kentucky outlaw.  For a 1976 book on the 1918 influenza pandemic, Jackson placed ads in newspapers across the country seeking eyewitness accounts, and received more than 400 replies documenting the flu’s deadly march through 42 states and 9 foreign countries.  The book was never completed, but this unique collection of letters has been preserved.

“Dr. Jackson’s research and writing testified not just to his energy but to his eclectic interests and inveterate curiosity,” says WKU Special Collections department head Jonathan Jeffrey.  Searching for sources in both public archives and private collections, Jackson corresponded with anyone who might provide a lead.  As a former journalist, he never hesitated to seek a telephone or personal interview, making many friends along the way.  As the collection reveals, his efforts generated wins and losses, both big and small.  While researching a biography of Western novelist Zane Grey, Jackson wondered if Grey’s tales of shark fishing had influenced Peter Benchley’s blockbuster novel Jaws, but Benchley politely replied in the negative.  A greater disappointment occurred when, after his initial contacts proved promising, the Greyhound Bus Company withdrew its cooperation for Jackson’s history.  He scored a coup, however, when he located and corresponded (in German) with the pilot of the plane that had attacked the Rohna.

“I’m basically lazy,” Jackson once insisted in a profile published in WKU’s On Campus.  But it never showed.  After he got an idea for a book he would begin work, reading, traveling, knocking on doors and, like a good ex-journalist, digging.  The result, in addition to his publications, was a trove of research, now available to anyone else who wants to keep digging.

The Department of Library Special Collections is located in the Kentucky Building on WKU’s campus.  Hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Search our online catalogs at TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Notice to Vacate

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson's passport photo

Another dissatisfied customer? Carlton Jackson’s passport photo

As students descend on WKU and set up housekeeping in residence halls and apartments, let’s hope that none has the experience of a former faculty member during one of his many overseas adventures as a visiting professor.

Carlton Jackson (1933-2014) taught history at WKU for more than four decades.  An enthusiastic traveler, Jackson accepted several Fulbright professorships and visiting lectureships in countries such as Finland, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.  In the fall of 1978, he and his family headed for Shiraz, Iran, where Jackson was to serve in an endowed professorship at Pahlavi University (now Shiraz University).

Jackson leased a house in September, but only a month later was preparing to vacate.  “The electric supply in the house is faulty,” he complained to the University’s representative, “and extremely dangerous. . . . The wires are exposed, and would electrocute anyone who touched them.  One of the plugs has a piece of newspaper stuffed into it, creating a real danger of fire.”  As if that wasn’t enough, the house’s proximity to a nearby farm field attracted “huge amounts of mosquitoes, flies, and other biting and possibly disease spreading insects.”  And then there was the rodent population.  The house “is full of rats and mice,” complained Jackson.  “Each night, several of them come through the bedrooms and get on the curtains and Venetian blinds.”

And finally, there was the danger that this whole house of horrors might explode: there was “a serious leakage of gas in the front yard” that was seeping into the family’s bedrooms at night.  Jackson was unimpressed with the representative’s assurance that “It’s been there for two years, and goes up in the air.”  With a friend’s help, Jackson had contacted the gas company, and while the problem was quickly fixed he had become convinced that the landlord had no intention of making the house habitable.

Ultimately, however, it was the Iranian Revolution that cut short Jackson’s time at the University and sent him home, one hopes, to better housing.  “I only taught two hours at this position,” he would later write ruefully in his vita.  “I had to leave early for reasons that are well known.”

Carlton Jackson’s papers are held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  A finding aid is available here.

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Not Homesick for Heaven

Reinecke mine, Madisonville, Kentucky (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Reinecke mine, Madisonville, Kentucky (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Five years ago today (August 5), the world learned of the entombment of 33 miners 2,300 feet below ground after a cave-in at a copper and gold mine in northern Chile.  For the next 69 days, all eyes were on the rescue effort which, miraculously, raised “Los 33” to safety one by one in a steel capsule designed with input from NASA.

Dating as early as 1854, when Nancy Wier reported seeing the “great curiosity” of a coal mine in Union County, Kentucky, the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections contain a wealth of information on the perilous business of mining.  Included are histories of coal companies in Muhlenberg and Hopkins counties and elsewhere in the Pennyroyal Region, and oral history interviews in which miners recall their back-breaking work.  WKU professor Carlton Jackson‘s research for his book The Dreadful Month focuses on coal mining accidents, and letters, like one from Sturgis, Kentucky, tell of bravery in the aftermath of explosions and other disasters.  Although coal reigns supreme in Kentucky, many would-be miners from the Commonwealth, such as David B. Campbell and William Harris, set out for California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s and wrote home about their quest for wealth.

In 1937, 22-year-old George Tippins wrote to his future wife Pat of the routine perils he faced working in a Harlan County, Kentucky mine:

Tell your mom coal dust and powder sure do make you sick.  I sat and vomited and cussed for 7 hours the first night inside.

We had a man get his finger cut off last nite. . . A piece of slate fell and hit me on top of the head.

I told you we had a man hurt on the day shift.  Well we had another one get hurt yesterday in the same place and by the same thing.  I took one of the day men’s job and damned if I didn’t come within a hair of getting crushed all to pieces the same way.

You tell mom if you see her I am working on the tipple [the loading facility for extracted coal].  What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her besides I’m carrying over $7000.00 worth of insurance. . . .  I know I have a home in heaven but I’m not homesick for it.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Detail from 1925 map of western Kentucky coal fields (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

Detail from 1925 map of western Kentucky coal fields (Maurice Kirby Gordon Collection)

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What I Learned in Summer School…

Gabe

Gabe Sudbeck, summer intern in Manuscripts.

“Everyone has a story and I want to know what it is.” These words were spoken by the late WKU history Professor Carlton Jackson. This notion has formed a phrase that has stuck with me since I read them. My name is Gabe Sudbeck and during my time as an intern in WKU’s Library Special Collections Manuscripts unit, I spent a lot of time reading his work and looking over his research about the HMS Rohna and the 1918 flu epidemic. When I was home one night talking with my mother about my internship, and I found out that she (a WKU Alumna) had actually been a research assistant with Jackson during her time at WKU. She said that he was a wonderful man. While I personally never had the honor to meet him in person, I do believe that he was a fine man full of energy and passion for his field.

The stories that I read about in the collection concerned regular people dealing with survival and tragedy in world events. The sinking of the Rohna for example was a tragedy in which over 1000 American men lost their lives. Many were left adrift for three days. Many men began to think of their loved ones. One story featured a man lost at sea who could hear his wife telling him that he could pull though. Another consisted of a priest recalling the story of a member of his church who refused to be baptized due to fear of being submerged under water which reminded him of being adrift at sea for three days.

One thing I learned from the internship is the personal connections that the researcher makes with his subject when he begins to study a historical event or person. I have heard stories that David McCullough, when researching John Adams intended for it to be about both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But McCullough found Adams to be more interesting and under appreciated, despite his significant contributions. McCullough truly enjoyed his discovery and his research; in the same spirit Carlton Jackson relished each of his writing projects. If I have learned anything from studying his work, it’s that we all have our own story to tell from the greatest of tragedies to the minutiae of everyday life.

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Carlton Jackson & the Hilltoppers

The Hilltoppers, 1952

The Hilltoppers, 1952

Jimmy Sacca, Billy Vaughn, Don McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman were students at Western Kentucky State College (now WKU).  In 1952 they hit the  big time as the Hilltoppers quartet with their song “Trying.”   The group had several more hits including “P.S. I Love You” and performed together through 1963.  Billy Vaughn went on to have a successful musical career with his orchestra.   The group was honored at WKU’s homecoming in 1972.  Check out the University Archives website: http://www.wku.edu/library/archive/ex1.php for more information regarding the group.

Carlton Jackson came to the WKU History department in 1960 where he served with distinction through 2001.  He is the author of nearly 20 books and innumerable articles which earned him the title Distinguished Professor of History. 

In 2003, he began researching the Hilltoppers.  Dr. Jackson met and corresponded with surviving members of the group and fans, including fan club president Bobbie Ann Mason.  The result was his book P.S. I Love You: The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers.  The research notes and correspondence he compiled along with the drafts of the book are now a part of the University Archives Faculty/Staff Personal Papers Collection.  Just processed, these papers are now available for researchers and fans interested in the back story of the Hilltoppers.  The finding aid is now available through TopScholar at: http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/dlsc_ua_fin_aid/79/

If you have Hilltopper records, photographs or memorabilia that don’t appear in the finding aids, please contact the University Archives at 270-745-4793 or via email at archives@wku.edu

Check out KenCat to get information on other University Archives collections:  http://wku.pastperfect-online.com/35749cgi/mweb.exe?request=ks

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