Item #2579 [Photographically-Illustrated Memoir About South Carolina Former Slave, Charlie Adams]. African Americana, South Carolina, Charlie Adams.
[Photographically-Illustrated Memoir About South Carolina Former Slave, Charlie Adams]
[Photographically-Illustrated Memoir About South Carolina Former Slave, Charlie Adams]

[Photographically-Illustrated Memoir About South Carolina Former Slave, Charlie Adams]

[N.p., likely South Carolina: ca. 1933]. [2],8,[1]pp. typescript, printed and numbered on rectos only, plus six additional leaves with original tipped-in photographs, some with typed captions, stapled. Tiny remnants of wrappers in the staples, minor edge wear, photographs mildly faded. Good. Item #2579

A curious and bibliographically interesting biography of Charlie Adams, a former slave in South Carolina who lived to be 108 years old, and who is pictured in all six photographs tipped into the present work. The work was seemingly compiled by Charles S. Clifford, who learned about Adams while visiting Chester, South Carolina in 1928, evidenced by the text of a letter included here. At the time Clifford met him, Adams was 104 years old and a local legend, as he had survived forty years in slavery and over sixty years beyond the clutches of the peculiar institution.

The preponderance of the work contains an eight-page account of the author's first encounter with Charlies Adams, titled "Under Southern Skies." The author first meets Adams' son of the same name while cutting down a tree, and desires to meet the father. Soon after, the author declares his purpose: "to meet this old man, to hear the real stories of old Slavery Days which he was sure to have and to get some characteristic pictures of him." The author relates the story of meeting Adams, his wife "Muh," and numerous grandchildren at Adams' house. He describes Adams' physical appearance as the former slave tells him about the kind of manual labor he still performs, even at his advanced age. The author then describes Adams' "personal charms," his "extremely gentle" manner, his "soft and beautiful" voice, and his possession of "a dignity and a self-confidence that marks him as a Patriarch of his race."

At this point, the tone of Adams' account changes, as the author records Adams' nostalgic longing for the days of slavery, a time when Adams "never had no hard time." The author then inserts his own glistening, idealized, and "hazy" description of "the sun-lit cotton fields of the Old South," punctuated with "the shouts and laughter of many Negroes, their black skins glistening in the sunlight" and "soulful music with the rhythm of care-free and happy hearts." At this point, the author takes leave of Adams, though he stayed in touch with the son for some years afterward. On the last page, the author records in manuscript that Adams died in January 1933 at the age of 108, though the month and year are curiously scratched out. Interestingly, the author records all quotes by Adams or other African Americans in dialect.

The author also mentions within the text that he took pictures of Adams. Indeed six photographs feature Adams sitting by himself, as well as with his wife Muh. According to one of the captions, Charlie and Muh had been married for seventy-five years. Most of the photographs feature Adams weaving a wicker basket while sitting on the porch of his house. Some of the photographs are captioned with exchanges between Adams and his wife in African American dialect.

The present work does not contain a title page, nor does it retain wrappers, though very small remnants of wrappers remain in the binding staples along the spine. We are confident the work is textually complete, as it begins even before page one, appears to carry a complete account of Clifford's visit with Adams, and concludes with several leaves containing photographs. We surmise that the work is perhaps a unique hand-made memoir, or at most was produced in only a few copies, due to the nature of the typescript, the textual emendations within the text, and the presence of the photographs, which would have been expensive to produce for such a vanity project, and the first of which seems very much intended as a frontispiece. In the end, however, we cannot be entirely sure the work is complete, but provide our price for the value of the material that is in fact present here. Internet searches of each name, place, and the title, "Under Southern Skies" produced nothing similar to the present work, and the WPA's efforts to interview former slaves would not come until several years after the present work, when Adams had already passed away.

A mesmerizing and perhaps unique vernacular production memorializing the life of a South Carolina man who far outlived the vile institution of slavery, though the author (no doubt a white man) manages to create here a sly entry in the literature prevalent in the South at the time that contended that African Americans were better off under slavery than with their subsequent freedom.

Price: $2,250.00