June 27, 2010

A Southerner Discovers The South: Jonathan Daniels and Alfred Eisenstaedt

A month ago, I was poking around the LIFE photo archives searching for old shots of Charleston, SC and I ran across a series of pictures that absolutely knocked my socks off.  All I knew is that they had been taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt and that each one bore the tag "Jonathan Daniels Southern Trip Charleston, Plantations."  Naturally, I dropped that into Google to see what it was all about.  I found this excellent essay by Jennifer Ritterhouse of George Mason University and I also checked in with my city library.  I HIGHLY recommend the aforementioned piece but I've also summarized it below.
Map of the original Jonathan Daniels journey (from Southern Spaces)

In 1937, native North Carolina newspaper editor and writer (and later White House Press Secretary to FDR and Truman) Jonathan Worth Daniels embarked on a ten-state, five-week road trip through the American South, stopping at points of interest along the way and keeping the travel journal that would make up what he later referred to as the discovery of "one man's South."  The resulting 1938 book, titled "A Southerner Discovers The South" would form in its time one of the most definitive accounts of the depression-era South and its release introduced the rest of the country to an honest glimpse of a region that President Roosevelt only days before had declared to be "the nation's No. 1 economic problem" in a letter to the National Emergency Council.
Your local library probably has a copy.

In his original trip, Daniels had not included any photography for his book but in 1938 (perhaps in response to the photo documenting being done at the time by WPA and FSA photographers like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange) he returned to parts of South Carolina with LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.  Trust me when I say that there are more good photos in the archives than one blog post could contain.  (Perhaps there will be a part two tomorrow.)  I've included the ones that initially jumped out at me when I ran across them.  A few of the photos below are of duck hunting but most of them are of a larger, mixed-gender hunting party, complete with an outdoor meal:


  1. Double guns, the gentleman's choice.Those photos bring to mind the stories of Babcock and Buckingham. Thank you.

  2. James-

    Apparently double guns are the gentle lady's choice as well.

  3. This is a wonderful post of a world that no longer exits. The elegance of a table in field. I would have enjoyed being there to hear the conversation. Everyone seems to feel the need to wear cammy today, and do the Rambo thing in the woods.