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My Century in History

My Century in History: Memoirs

Thomas D. Clark
Foreword by Charles P. Roland
Introduction by James C. Klotter
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcq71
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    My Century in History
    Book Description:

    When Thomas D. Clark was hired to teach history at the University of Kentucky in 1931, he began a career that would span nearly three-quarters of a century and would profoundly change not only the history department and the university but the entire Commonwealth. His still-definitive History of Kentucky (1937) was one of more than thirty books he would write or edit that dealt with Kentucky, the South, and the American frontier.

    In addition to his wide scholarly contributions, Clark devoted his life to the preservation of Kentucky's historical records. He began this crusade by collecting vast stores of Kentucky's military records from the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. His efforts resulted in the Commonwealth's first archival system and the subsequent creation of the Kentucky Library and Archives, the University of Kentucky Special Collections and Archives, the Kentucky Oral History Commission, the Kentucky History Center (recently named for him), and the University Press of Kentucky.

    Born in 1903 on a cotton farm in Louisville, Mississippi, Thomas Dionysius Clark would follow a long and winding path to find his life's passion in the study of history. He dropped out of school after seventh grade to work first at a sawmill and then on a canal dredgeboat before resuming his formal education. Clark's earliest memories -- hearing about local lynch-mob violence and witnessing the destruction of virgin forest -- are an invaluable window into the national issues of racial injustice and environmental depredation. In many ways, the story of Dr. Clark's life is the story of America in the twentieth century. In My Century in History, Clark offers vivid memories of his journey, both personal and academic, a journey that took him from Mississippi to Kentucky and North Carolina, to leadership of the nation's major historical organizations, and to visiting professorships in Austria, England, Greece, and India, as well as in universities throughout the United States.

    An enormously popular public lecturer and teacher, he touched thousands of lives in Kentucky and around the world. With his characteristic wit and insight, Clark now offers his many admirers one final volume of history -- his own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7138-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiii)
    Charles P. Roland

    I am pleased and honored to have been asked to prepare a brief foreword for this memoir by Thomas D. Clark. Here, in the author’s own words, the reader learns of the countless vicissitudes surrounding the extraordinary life of one of the most distinguished American scholars of the twentieth century. His memoir is written with commendable modesty, yet it demonstrates the ability of an individual to soar above his origins.

    Tom, as his multitude of friends and admirers knew him, carried out to an astonishing measure an axiom set forth by the renowned Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. When Jackson was...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiv-1)
    James C. Klotter

    Thomas D. Clark died in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 28, 2005, just days before his hundred and second birthday. The governor ordered flags flown at half mast over the state capitol in Clark’s honor. Earlier, the legislature had directed that the Kentucky Historical Society’s new building be renamed the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives was already operating out of the Clark-Cooper Building, and the University Press of Kentucky calls the Thomas D. Clark Building home. A bas-relief of Clark stands at the History Center, and a bust of him holds a...

  5. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. PROLOGUE. The Land of the Dancing Rabbit
    (pp. 3-6)

    I was born and spent the first quarter century of my life in the heart of the former Choctaw Nation, which, since 1817, has been known as the State of Mississippi. During my youth I oriented almost as well with Choctaw nomenclature and legend as with that of “Old Carolina.” The personal names of Choctaw chiefs Pushmataha, Mushulatubbee, and others were almost household names. My home county of Winston was surrounded by Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Choctaw, and Neshoba Counties. I attended high school in Choctaw County. In the vicinity were to be found such place names as Mushulaville, Noxapater, Shuqalak, Wahalak,...

  7. 1 The Long Road Home
    (pp. 7-18)

    My ancestors began their journeys far away from their final destinations. En route they passed through several layers of human culture and were well seasoned by rugged environmental conditions. It is doubtful that any of my forebears had any clear notion of what they were really seeking. Like thousands of eighteenth-century immigrants to North America from the British Isles, the Clarks and Bennetts were caught up in a state of restlessness created by economic depression and the diminishing quality of land, as well as by political and religious pressures.

    Information about the Clark family is sparse and sometimes conflicting. According...

  8. 2 Old Place, New Place
    (pp. 19-42)

    After the elapse of a century, I believe I still have a clear memory of the plain houses that sheltered my family and a strong sense of connection to those places. Consciously or unconsciously, migrants to Mississippi transported to the Old Southwest their memories of Virginia and the Carolinas. None were more tangibly demonstrated than those of simple domestic architectural forms. Even the big old double log, or dogtrot, structures reflected more than a whim of earlier home design. At the time of my birth and early years, a good proportion of the Mississippi white population was housed in plain,...

  9. 3 A World in Change
    (pp. 43-54)

    If any single year can be said to be one of transition for a region and its people, 1914 was that year for the South. Our lives in central Mississippi, molded in an unprogressive age of faltering agrarianism, never again got pieced together. The coming of the automobile to the rest of America had made little or no impression on our way of life. The machine was still a curiosity in Winston County. I recall distinctly the first automobile I ever saw. We were visiting my father’s brother, who lived beside the “big road.” We had just seated ourselves in...

  10. 4 The Road Taken
    (pp. 55-65)

    By the time I reached my grandmother clark’s home late in the afternoon of September 12, 1921, a record-smashing Gulf rainstorm was roaring in, strong enough to douse any dreams I had for the future. Yet by sunup the following morning I began the seven-mile walk to my home. Midway there I came to the ancient iron bridge that spanned the Tallahega. For a brief, meditative moment I stood staring down, just as I had done precisely two years and two months before. Beneath me and winding away into the distance lay two miles of canal channel that I had...

  11. 5 Out of the Cotton Patch
    (pp. 66-89)

    On sunday morning, september 13, 1925, I loaded onto a cotton wagon a brand-new trunk containing most of my worldly possessions and hauled it to town to be deposited with the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern Railway’s baggage master. At the same time I purchased a ticket for Oxford to be used the next day. While I was there the north-bound passenger train arrived with two or three Ole Miss boys aboard. One of these was Dees Stribling of Philadelphia, Mississippi, a boy with whom I soon became well acquainted. These acts began my entry into the world of the university....

  12. 6 Big River
    (pp. 90-113)

    I received the more rugged part of my education in human relations well beyond the bounds of a university campus. As I approached the end of my freshman year at Ole Miss, I needed to find a summer job that would allow me to remain in college. I had two close friends who were graduating in engineering that spring and were going to work with the United States Corps of Engineers in the Fourth District. They suggested that I apply to Captain Sam Hornsby in Natchez for a summer job on a Mississippi River quarterboat. I did so and was...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 7 West to Kentucky
    (pp. 114-135)

    Two weeks before I completed my courses at the University of Virginia I received a highly unsettling letter from my cousin Howard Liddell in Louisville, Mississippi. Howard informed me, without giving any reason, that the Louisville Home Bank was revoking its commitment to loan me four hundred dollars on my personal note, endorsed by my father. Losing the prospect of that money all but closed the door on my future academic plans. I had no established source of credit outside of Louisville, and it was exceedingly doubtful that I could procure a loan from the conservative and stingy Bank of...

  15. 8 The Way to Durham
    (pp. 136-152)

    In the interlude between Kentucky and Duke University I tried my hand at being a traveling salesman for a high school jewelry company. In order to travel I needed a car, but I had only a modest amount of capital. In Lexington I visited the Frazier Motor Company on High Street. They had just taken in trade for a new car George Brady’s beloved Model T family touring chariot. It was for sale at the bargain price of seventy-five dollars. Brady was a member of the Department of English in the University of Kentucky. He had exchanged his old car...

  16. 9 Year of Decision
    (pp. 153-169)

    In mid-summer 1930, while the great drought scorched Kentucky and withered field crops to the ground, I am certain I did not comprehend the enormous pressure I would face in the coming academic year. I still had to complete a semester of course requirements at Duke and begin the perplexing preparation for the general doctoral examinations. Until I underwent that ordeal in the second semester, I would not be a full-status candidate for the doctorate. In addition to the field subject examinations, I had to satisfy the Duke requirement that I demonstrate a reading capability in French and German. There...

  17. 10 Depression Years
    (pp. 170-185)

    I began the academic year 1931–1932 with considerable trepidation. The Kentucky General Assembly was caught in a partisan deadlock I had not anticipated, and funding for higher education was cut. In the immediate past the university’s funds had been derived largely from estate settlement taxes, and in the Great Depression this source was greatly reduced. The Ruby Laffoon administration, following the precedents of other southern states, attempted to secure passage of a sales tax in 1932, but it failed to pass. In 1934 it passed, creating a glimmer of hope that the university would reinstate full salaries. That glimmer...

  18. 11 Putting Down Roots
    (pp. 186-194)

    By the 1932–1933 academic year, I had begun to strengthen my position in the classroom, in acquiring material for the new library, and in laying the foundation for a special collection of rare books and manuscripts. In April that year I read a research paper at the Chicago meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, and my little bookThe Beginning of the L&N, based on my dissertation, was in publication. I was given administrative assurance that my employment was relatively safe. At last it seemed that marriage might be possible, even though Beth would be leaving a good...

  19. 12 Building the Special Collections
    (pp. 195-211)

    When I was hired in april 1931 by president mcvey, my job description indicated that I would give half time to the classroom and half time to collecting basic source materials for the library. The new library had recently been named for its director, Miss Margaret I. King, and was in an advanced stage of completion. For the foreseeable future it would contain a maze of empty stacks with no books and no documentary materials. Almost anything in the way of books and documents, original or published, would be a welcome addition.

    In making my earlier survey of source materials...

  20. 13 Years of Passage
    (pp. 212-225)

    In 1941–1942 I took sabbatical leave to collect material for the writing of what I hoped would be a trilogy devoted to the institutions and way of life of the rural post–Civil War South. I spent this time traveling, gathering source materials, and conversing with people of varied southern backgrounds and experiences. The first book was to deal with the role of the furnishing merchant in the social and economic aspects of the region’s agrarian life and with the sharp and bitter criticisms lodged against those merchants. I published that book in 1944 under the titlePills, Petticoats,...

  21. 14 Indiana University
    (pp. 226-242)

    The telephone can be at once a blessing and a curse. Often it figures prominently in changing the course of one’s life. In the spring of 1965 Beth and I were sitting at the dinner table when the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Oscar Winther of the Department of History in Indiana University. He asked me if I would accept an appointment as the Indiana Sesquicentennial Professor for the calendar year 1966. Indiana was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its statehood. The salary would be almost half again my Kentucky salary. I was not wholly...

  22. 15 Breaking the Racial Barrier
    (pp. 243-253)

    Racial relations were cardinal facts in my growing up in the Lower South. At the time of my birth in 1903 there were more blacks than whites in Mississippi, and an almost unspoken fear of race riots prevailed. This fear was shared by both races, and in my childhood I heard expressions of the unknown crisis that might erupt at any moment. There was an ambivalence in white-black relations in my family and my youthful neighborhood. The two races had a close workaday relationship, but the line of demarcation was not clearly defined, though it was clearly observed in social,...

  23. 16 Teaching and Lecturing Abroad
    (pp. 254-271)

    At the close of world war II in 1945, the world was faced with the massive challenge of reknitting old cultural and intellectual bonds. As for me personally, I was glad the days of working almost day and night with the Army Specialized Training Program were ended. I knew that many professors were going abroad to teach or do some kind of national service, educational or informational. But I had no thought of doing so myself until 1948, when I unexpectedly received an invitation from the head of the recently organized Salzburg Seminar for American Studies in Austria. He inquired...

  24. 17 An Ancient Land in the Grip of History
    (pp. 272-296)

    In the spring of 1952 I read an article in theSaturday Review of Literaturewritten by J. Saunders Redding, a black author, in which he describes his adventures and misadventures in India. At that moment India was in the first stages of creating itself out of the crumbling British Empire. Figuratively the Raj was rapidly going home, and Gandhi’s widely publicized crusade for independence and freedom was given considerable attention in the United States. Redding’s article was published during the dark days when Senator Joseph McCarthy and his sleuths were looking for communists under every American cabbage leaf. I...

  25. 18 The Road to Professionalism
    (pp. 297-315)

    As a young historian with my graduate work virtually finished in 1931, the road to becoming a professional historian was long and narrow, with many an unexpected turn. Aside from attending two meetings of the American Historical Association and one of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association during my years as a student, I had no professional attachments when I joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky in September 1931.

    Joining with other historians was a vital step in the development of my career. One such organization was the Southern Historical Association, whose history paralleled my own. The SHA had...

  26. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  27. 19 Speaking Kentucky (and a Lot of Other Places)
    (pp. 316-331)

    During the past three-quarters of a century, I have often left Lexington to fulfill a lecture engagement and wondered what bizarre incident would befall me. I knew the possibilities were many. Just as often I wondered if I had left my common sense at home. It was long ago in rural Mississippi when I first heard the “old folks” bragging on some public speaker or another. I soon learned that the art of public speaking—if it is an art—had its own particular mores.

    I arrived in this world at a moment when oratory was in full flush and...

  28. 20 The Book Thieves
    (pp. 332-353)

    The years before the great depression were an exciting time to be in Kentucky. A modest literary renascence was under way. Tucked away in seclusion in Springfield, Elizabeth Madox Roberts achieved critical acclaim with her poetic offerings and her novelsThe Great MeadowandThe Time of Man. Elizabeth Chevalier of Maysville published her novelDrivin’ Woman. Irvin S. Cobb of Paducah and New York was easing into the sunset years of his newspaper and writing career. In Lexington, William H. Townsend enjoyed a burst of popularity on the publication ofLincoln and His Wife’s Home Town. At the same...

  29. 21 Family
    (pp. 354-363)

    Robust health and longevity were not common attributes in the Lower South at the opening of the twentieth century. The course of life in that era was beset with as many hazards as was Odysseus’s journey in the roiling waters between Scylla and Charybdis. Somewhere in an earlier age, some members of my ancestral chain latched onto some good genes, good enough to attract the attention of longevity researchers. A team of life scientists in the Harvard University Medical School and Boston University School of Medicine discovered my family and asked us to participate in their longevity study. We did...

  30. 22 A Time of Reckoning
    (pp. 364-374)

    An academic career necessarily involves joys, humilities, and serious introspection. This is especially true when such a career spans almost fourscore years. I derive some pleasure from memories spread over all but three years of the twentieth century. The turnings and changes of life over such a broad span have obviously involved a generous dose of reality. At the end of the first quarter of the century, I stood in the middle of a field of cotton in full bloom that constituted for me the promise of a college education. Day after day in that field I tried silently to...

  31. Index
    (pp. 375-394)