NEW ALBANY – The Union County Historical Society pulled off some major achievements in 2008, adding whole new facets of the county’s past in the process.
In the past year, the society paid off $40,000 in debt, hosted more than 5,000 visitors and built a one-room schoolhouse that typifies the 73 crossroads schools that educated past generations of Union County’s children, President Vance Witt said at the society’s annual meeting on Thursday at First United Methodist Church in New Albany.
Witt singled out two groups for Golden Hammer awards: The Faulkner Garden Club for its exhibit of the flowers, vines and other flora mentioned in New Albany native William Faulkner’s writings, and the New Albany Civitan Club for funding the new schoolhouse at the Union County Heritage Museum. Much of the actual sawing and hammering was the work of one man.
“You’ll see one fixture at the museum, and that’s Zack Stewart. He’s so versatile,” Witt said. “When he was highway commissioner, I didn’t know he had all this talent in him.”
Memphis filmmaker William Bearden was the event’s keynote speaker. The Rolling Fork native congratulated the Union County audience for their priorities.
“It makes me feel good to look out here and see all you folks who care about preserving your community’s past,” he said. “You can tell the health and success of a city by the people who do things they don’t have to do.”
Bearden’s work has graced the PBS network, Memphis’ Wonders series, several regional museums including the Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum and a host of other venues. Much of it reflects on intertwined themes of Southernness – music, cotton, land, rivers, race, religion and more.
Bearden shared several personal “moments of clarity” that allowed him to deliver half-serious life lessons about life in the South. Thirty-odd years ago he’d displayed his knowledge of music throughout a long road trip. His new sister-in-law eventually cut him short: “She turned around and said, ‘I don’t care who played bass on the “Hoochie-Coochie Man.” Can’t a person just listen to the radio?’”
He once heard overhead two women pondering marital strife in a couple they knew.
“One woman said to the other, ‘What happened to Randy and Cheryl?’ And the other said, ‘Well, she wouldn’t fix him any biscuits,’” Bearden said. “That’s the most Southern thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Bearden recalled being incredulous at learning that acclaimed historian Shelby Foote had watched the soap opera “As the World Turns” for 40 years.
“He was such a great storyteller, but he also loved having other people tell him stories,” Bearden said.
The filmmaker encouraged Union Countians to continue documenting their past and making it available for themselves and other to learn.
“The more we define who we are and what we are, the more we understand each other and how we can help one another,” he said.
Jill Smith, director of the museum, echoed that sentiment.
“The historical society exists to preserve our stories,” she said. “Other types of wealth come and go, but the stories are ours; as long as we do our part, they stay with us.
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal