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[Detail] Wayne Perry playing fiddle, Crowley, Louisiana.

In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax traveled the southern United States, recording nearly 700 examples of folk music and oratory which, along with photographs and fieldnotes, comprise the online collection, Southern Mosaic. Together, these materials portray life in the rural South from the late nineteenth century through the 1930s. For folk songs, transmitted orally, are communally created and re-created through time and generations and thus reflect multiple time periods.

For a narrative description of the Lomaxes' trip and for background on folk music, students should refer to an article, "Southern Mosaic" in the Library of Congress's online "Information Bulletin."

The African-American Experience of the South

Though dating from the late 1930s, this collection reflects the African-American experience in the South during the period between Reconstruction and 1941. The songs the Lomaxes collected come out of a place that had changed very little since the Reconstruction era, though it was on the brink of great transformation. The war years that followed inaugurated a period of economic growth and political change that culminated in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Teachers should preview some of these materials, particularly their language, to determine how much background about cultural differences of the past students will need in order to understand this collection appropriately.

Ruby Lomax's fieldnotes document the racist atmosphere in the South, while the collection's songs are African Americans' own personal expressions of what it was like to live in the South. Do a full-text search of white and negro for allusions to segregation and prejudice such as the following. Or browse blues songs and work songs from the Audio Subject Index, for expressions of hopelessness, desperation, violence, and perseverance in the face of a life of hard physical labor, frequent relocation, injustice, and poverty. Search master and slave and consider how racism and the African-American experience in the South evolved and were reflected in song.

"Louisiana is a murderer's home;
It may be a graveyard, but it's my home."

  "Driving Levee" | MP3

Henry Truvillion is foreman of a work gang for Wier Lumber Company, whose headquarters are at Wiergate, Texas . . . One evening later in the week we returned and set up our machine with batteries in the Truvillion living-room. We tried to persuade Henry to go with us to our hotel in Newton, where we could hitch on to electricity, but he refused. He said frankly that he was afraid, --afraid that such a visit to a white people's hotel might cause trouble for him after we were gone.

Pages 169-170, Section 13 of the Fieldnotes


One particularly powerful documentation of racism and the African-American experience of the South is the collection's images, songs, lyrics, and notes, which reflect prison conditions for African-American inmates. Do a keyword search and full-text search of convicts, inmates, prisons, and chain gang to locate the materials that comprise this highlight of the collection.

  "We Don't Have No Payday Here" | MP3

 "Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad" | Lyrics | MP3

The variety of materials in this collection reflect the cultural life of African Americans in the South. Browse Photo and Audio Subject Indexes as well as the Fieldnotes for materials documenting religion, work, rural lifestyle, children's play, and music. Or, locate African-American songs organized by geographical region by referring to the Special Presentation, "The 1939 Recording Expedition".

 "Seed Tick" | MP3

Mrs. Tartt had told us about the Tartt family of Negroes that lived in the Boyd, Alabama community. She had heard the group sing together with beautiful effect. Because of the rain she thought they would not be working in the field and drove the seventeen miles or more to their farm home to bring them in to sing. She was told at their house that "Sim an' them is huntin' fish". Mrs. Tartt walked through the mud down to the river, calling as she went, to locate them the sooner. Finally she heard a startled whisper, "Dat's Miss Ruby Callin'! Hear her? Reckin what she want?" Then Mrs. Tartt, "Sim, Mandy, you heard me. Where are you?" They came forth, bare-footed and thinly clad; for they really had been fish-hunting. The high water, receding, had left live fish far up on the bank. These the Negroes were spearing and catching with bare hands.

Page 241, Section 17 of the Fieldnotes

 "My Pore Mother Keeps A-Prayin' For Me" | MP3

"There's ole Enoch", Doc Reed said as he sat on Mrs. Tartt's back "gallery" ready to sing. We listened to the "hollerin"' as everybody calls it, though that is too harsh a word for such a rounded-tones. He was crossing the bridge over the Sacarnatchie that runs at the foot of Baldwin Hill. He is artist enough to know that from just there his calls will sound most effective. It is a sort of "hallo-ing", perhaps a form of yodeling, though the words are those of field songs, with always a weird lonesomeness. We could never quite get the effect into our microphone. Usually he would call "oh-oh-oo-oo, I won't be here long", with variations on that theme. Enoch is a strange person, the kind of person that we are tempted to call "a strange creature", for he seems "other-worldly", a wraith that appears suddenly out of darkness...

Page 254, Section 17 of the Fieldnotes

 "Oh I Ain't Goin' Stay Here" | MP3