A Corner with Phi Authors
Small Town South. By Sam Byrd. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1942. Pp. 237. $2.75.
Sam Byrd, Florida '29, the Dude Lester of "Tobacco Road," has added another chapter to the growing list of records on American regionalism. In many
ways. Small Town South is the counterpart of Hal Steed's Georgia: Unfinished
State, reviewed in the September SCROLL.
Like Steed, Sam Byrd writes from the
autobiographical viewpoint, a device
that contributes immeasurably to the
reader's interest and assurance of authenticity. There is even more of the personal record in Small Town South than
in the book on Georgia. In one respect,
that of the subject proper, there is the
difference that Steed has taken an entire
state under consideration while Byrd has
localized his pictures. Small Town South
is actually two siAall towns south, one a
composite of communities near Goldsboro. North Carolina, the other Onora
Valley, Florida. Sam Byrd grew up in
these two localities.
In Part One, with the opening chapter
of "Mrs. Byrd's Little Boy Comes Home,"
the author starts out in search of the
Lesters of Tobacco Road. He found
them, as he says, "too many of them."
The Lesters and other strata of society
are graphically described, but no issues
are raised. Economically the particular
area around Byrd's first home had suffered from too much concentration on
one crop, and the center of strawberry
cultivation had shifted. The result was
the dissolution of many of the leading
families and the decay of many of the
magnificent southern homes. Part One
also includes intimate descriptions of the
independent small-farm owners, intimate
because a number of them are Byrd's own
relatives, and a humorous but sympathetic cross-section of the Negro colony.
The transition from North Carolina
to Florida is that of a shift from the old
to the new. Onora Valley was one of the
great boom towns in the early promotion of Florida. When the bubble burst
little was left. The concentration on one
crop, this time celery, completed the disaster begun by wild speculation in real
estate. The picture of Onora Valley is
SAMUEL ARMANIE BYRD, Florida
one of fabulous golf courses, social workers, tourist camps, and "tourist" camps.
Behind the rather dismal record of dishonest bankers, selfish politicians, and
avaricious farmers, Byrd distinguishes
the courageous and hard-working citizen
who refused to give up his affection for,
and his faith in, his home town.
In reviewing Small Town South much
of the author has been omitted but from
the pages of the book much could be
said about him. Perhaps his concluding
sentences may help, sentences addressed
in general to other members of the Byrd
clan: "And when I go home to stay, I'll
settle down there under the peaceful
maples beside them and through
eternity, we'll talk. It's the besetting sin