JOHN HENRY IN LEEDS : CELEBRATING A LOCAL LEGEND, September 15, 2007
- From: AlabamaFolklife@yahoogroups.com
[mailto:AlabamaFolklife@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Joyce Cauthen
Sent: Friday, August 31, 2007 11:55 AM
Subject: [AlabamaFolklife] JOHN HENRY IN LEEDS : CELEBRATING A LOCAL
LEGEND, September 15, 2007
JOHN HENRY IN LEEDS : CELEBRATING A LOCAL LEGEND
September 15, 2007
Community Arts Center
8140 Parkway Drive. Leeds , Alabama
Co-sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation, a state program of
the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information about
the event, visit http://www.alabamafolklife.org or call Joyce Cauthen
The legend of John Henry, as told in the well-known and often recorded
folk song, has inspired Americans for generations. It is the story of a
skillful and powerful African-American laborer who drove spikes into
rocks to make holes for the placement of dynamite as his railroad
company blasted through mountains in its race westward. When challenged
to a contest with a machine that could rob his fellow workers of their
livelihoods, he vowed that "A man ain't nothing but a man. Before I let
this steam drill beat me down, Lawd, I'll die with this hammer in my
John Henry's deeds have been kept alive through songs, novels, plays,
animated films, scholarly articles, and a postage stamp. In the part of
Alabama where Shelby , St. Clair and Jefferson Counties converge, John
Henry's story has been kept alive through oral transmission. Many older
citizens of the area were told by their grandparents that he resided in
the railroad workers' camp in Dunavant as tunnels were built through
Coosa and Oak Mountains .
On September 15, 2007 the Alabama Folklife Association, the Leeds
Historical Society and the Leeds Arts Council are sponsoring a day of
programs which will discuss and celebrate the long-lasting significance
of the man and the legend.
8:30: Continental Breakfast provided by Leeds Historical Society
9:00 a.m.-9:45: Laying the Ground Work: Guitarist/singer Ron Dometrovich
will open the program with the ballad of John Henry. Leeds-area
residents--Marie Cromer, Carl Marbury and Jerry Voyles-will discuss area
railroad history and the John Henry connection.
10-10:45: Myth, Oral Tradition, and the Historical Nature of the John
Henry Legend: Carl Marbury, Ph. D., will approach the topic from his
background both as a humanities scholar and as one who grew up in the
Leeds area hearing of John Henry.
11-12:15: Evidence for John Henry in Alabama: John Garst, Ph. D. will
tell how his research on the history behind the song "John Henry" led
him to conclude that the legendary steel driver was a historic person
who died after a contest with a steam drill that took place in the
tunnel being built through Oak Mountain in 1887.
Lunch in town: A list of recommended eating places will be provided.
1:30-2:30: John Henry and American Culture: Scott R. Nelson, Ph. D.
will discuss why the legend of John Henry endures. This talk is made
possible by New College of the University of Alabama.
2:40-3:40: The Story Continues: Did you hear the John Henry story from
your parents, grand parents, school teacher, scoutmaster, etc.? In this
open forum, led by Susan Thomas and Joyce Cauthen, you are invited to
tell your connection to the John Henry legend and to further discuss
points that have been made by speakers during the day.
4:00-5:30 Tours to tunnel (reservations required; visit
details) Two historic homes in Leeds, the Bass House and Rowan House ,
will also be open for tours.