The History of the Archives
|Years ago J. L. Garrison had a very large quonset hut in Rossville, Tennessee. He was a collector and the hut was filled with all kinds of stuff. He had an Elvis Shrine before they were in vogue and even stored a piano for musician Jim Dickinson. Garrison would travel the back roads of north Mississippi and West Tennessee buying and selling junk and collecting lots of memories. He called his quonset hut and the sprawling surrounding area Memory Trail to honor all those memories of those folks whose junk he bought.
J. L. Garrison
The Center's Multimedia Archives is a giant extension of Mr. Garrison's Memory Trail. Each tape or film clip or artifact or recording pays homage to many people's memories, music and lifestyles for which we now provide a home and a voice. As our mission continues and the Center grows, the archive fills up with new sounds and voices and dances and tales so that the Center is never what Ray Lum described as "PM Whiskey" - Past Memories - instead it's the memories of Today and Tomorrow.
Garrison's quonset hut in Rossville, TN
When we began making films and recordings in the early 1970s we wanted to learn everything we could about the South. That is, the South not from the history books and city leaders but from the everyday folks in towns and cities and community centers. We talked to men and women who told us about their lives through their stories, music, crafts and food. We learned games and rhymes from the youngsters. We sampled foods from tamale stands in the delta to barbecue pits in Memphis. Whether it was traveling down that gravel road or zipping along the new interstate highways, we filmed and recorded people and parties and celebrations -- in homes and churches and gardens and clubs.
And we were so lucky. We were able to talk with so many people who experienced the South as it changed from a rural to urban economy. We sat on porches and living rooms and listened and heard a lot: like the lilting fife music played by Othar Turner and Napoleon Strickland, the clatter in Pecolia Warner's kitchen as she prepared a meal, and the barrel house piano tunes of Mose Vinson (which made you feel you were right in that Memphis juke house). We heard the stories of Ray Lum going to the wild West to gather horse and mules (which he sold to the US Corps of Engineers) and of Rufus Thomas performing in the Rabbit Foot Minstrel Shows across the South.
Pecolia Warner with her quilt.
As we made films and conducted interviews and snapped pictures, we soon realized that our mission would not be complete if we did not begin to organize and maintain the collections. Thus, our Multimedia Archive began. From one shelf in 1970 to a much larger space today, the collection continues to grow. In recent years generous support from local and national organizations: The Assisi Foundation of Memphis and The Plough Foundation, The Tennessee Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and the National Park Service in association with the National Endowment for the Humanities (Saving America's Treasures) has allowed us to organize and digitize this collection so that the voices and images and lifestyles that people have shared with us will be preserved and available for you and for future generations.
Photo from the film Mississippi Delta Blues.