Annual Big Read Sparks Engaging Conversations
Subhead: ‘My Little Town’ Dives into Segregation, Religion and Small-Town Living in the Deep South
BY SABRINA BATES
MARTIN (July 21) – The Deep South, confederacy, Brown vs. the Board of Education, racism, segregation and religion were only a handful of topics discussed when more than 50 community members gathered last week for the 11th annual Big Read event, sponsored by the Ned Ray McWherter Weakley County Library in Dresden. This year’s event took place at the Obion River Regional Library in Martin and featured author, D.B. (David) Tipmore, of “My Little Town: A Pilgrim’s Portrait of a Uniquely Southern Place.”
Tipmore was inspired to pen the book after spending 10 years of his life in a small town in Alabama, led there from Florida when a family member needed home health care. He was offered a job in what he calls, Lovelady, Alabama, along with a play to stay. His worldly travels didn’t quite prepare him for an isolated place in the Deep South that still seemed to celebrate its history.
Tipmore’s book touches on the ways of life in a rural setting in one of the poorest towns in the country. Known as part of the Black Belt, a collection of 17 counties with rich soil, Lovelady, Alabama, is described with a population of 80 percent African American who vote Democrat, yet “memorials to the Confederate dead” are found in the town square, and politics were woven into religion.
At only 159 pages, “My Little Town” examines the author’s own prejudices as he tries to learn what it means to be human in a place where his feelings and thoughts may be considered in the minority.
Weakley County General Sessions Judge Tommy Moore asked of the author if he was changed by spending a decade in the small town. Tipmore suggested everyone should live somewhere else for at least five years, mentioning that may not even be enough time to learn everything about a community.
Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum and Tipmore shared a conversation where they referenced a quote by Eudora Welty, “one place understood helps us understand all places better.” Furthering that notion, Bynum and Tipmore opined understanding one person may help to understand all persons.
Retired Col. Lee Smith reminded Tipmore the topics of racism and segregation aren’t confined to only the South. Smith recalled his time in the Army, when all soldiers were “green”, either light green or dark green. Living in Wisconsin and teaching at a university for many years, Smith said he was witness to students who felt more comfortable “among their own kind.”
Tipmore questioned why those in the small town in Alabama would still glorify the “South” and the Confederacy and how do we, as people, get past the stereotypes of Blacks as people of servitude and Whites as people who were victorious in war.
Linda Plunk mentioned having a common enemy in this nation brings people together as a country.
Linda Ramsey thanked Tipmore for offering bits of American history throughout the book, tidbits she said she never knew for those parts of Alabama.
Advocate for racial justice Joyce Washington asked the crowd gathered to be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations as a method to moving forward from the ugly past of the South.
“We have to look at who we are. Many people are in denial … But we’ve got to have the will and courage to speak your truth and be willing to listen,” Washington shared.
Discussion leader Anna Clark, a retired faculty member from UT Martin, gave credit to the members of the Weakley County Reconciliation Project, who are inspiring conversations about the segregated history of Weakley County and recognizing racial injustices.
Local religious leader Josh Moore announced his first thought when he began reading “My Little Town,” was that the author didn’t have an understanding of the South or the subjects presented, but diving deeper into the book, he saw Tipmore becoming an entrenched member of that community. Moore applauded the author for “diving in and getting involved.” He also wondered if 10 years was enough time to truly encompass the sacredness of where one is from.
After spending 24 hours in Martin and Weakley County, Tipmore shared with the audience how much he delighted in his visit and claimed a love for the small town in the South. The author noted there are very few similarities to Martin and “Lovelady, Alabama,” and he could see how the leaders and the community are making it an objective to move forward from a part of the Confederate history that seems to hang over many small towns in the South.
Those on hand for The Big Read Thursday walked away from the event examining their own prejudices and were charged with the task of ultimately trying to be more understanding of people’s journeys in life as well as breaking down racial barriers.
Tipmore concluded the event by offering autographs for those with a copy of his book. The author owns a bookstore in Selma, Alabama. Weakley County Library Director Candy McAdams said this year’s event was a success with a variety of conversations sparked from “My Little Town.
Featuring many different voices and perspectives, locally The Big Read was inspired by the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read annual event. Weakley Countians have gathered to discuss a diverse range of books, including “My Antonia,” “A Walk in the Woods,” and “Gilead,” to name a few. The event is typically held in July of each year.
The Friends of Martin Public Library gather once a month at the library for book discussions.