Eubanks links Welty’s work to his courses


By Janice K. Neal-Vincent

Contributing Writer


Mount Olive, Miss. native Ralph Eubanks joined gatherers at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building in Jackson at noon April 13, in the History Is Lunch Series and presented On Welty, Photography and Civil Rights.

The Mississippi literary icon, Eudora Welty, believed that a frame was fundamental to photography and writing fiction. In that regard Eubanks reflected on Welty’s comment, “A novelist can contribute to social change.” Further, a person’s point of view and perspective are crucial for social change to occur.

Eubanks posed these matters to the audience in his role as the Welty Scholar in Southern Studies at Millsaps College. In doing so, he emphasized that his students are told, “A work of literature often begins with what the eye can see.” According to the professor, Welty contrasted style with photographic approaches. “Her photographs do not explain; they acknowledge. They have the power to shock us and there is shock in some of Welty’s photos,” he claimed.

From there Eubanks noted that Welty believed that a writer should bring forth the mystery of mankind and darkness. Such a mystery can reveal that photography has impact only when it fits or adheres to what is reflected within the literature. Hence, Eubanks contended that his students saw Welty’s photos as thinking about class because “her photos captured diversity.”

Referencing the Civil Rights Movement, Eubanks pointed out that Welty “described protestors as a reflection of society at the time.” She wrote, for instance, a story called “The Night Medgar Evers was Murdered.” The presenter explained, “The writer knew, was in a position to know, what the murderer was thinking.” So to Welty the unknown became obvious.

Continuing his thoughts, Eubanks asserted that laws are not an adequate index of discriminatory practices in the South. The Civil Rights Movement, nevertheless, “detoured along the way, particularly with women as their roles were muted.” Women were in the background and the men were out front.”

The speaker made it clear then that context plays a significant role when it comes to how the photographer captures the moment. He denoted that ethical standards must be abided by. The photographer, in essence, is responsible for thinking about how the photos will be used in going forth for adequate representation of public figures.

Eubanks earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi in psychology and his master’s in English and literature from the University of Michigan. His memoir “Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past” won him a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007. A second memoir, “The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South,” focuses on American identity and race relations, presented in context with contemporary issues experienced by three generations of Eubanks’ family.

All programs in the History Is Lunch Series are held noon Wednesdays in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building or the Old Capitol Museum.

Upcoming programs are as follows: April 27 – K. C. Morrison, Aaron Henry of Mississippi: Inside Agitator at the Winter Building; May 4 – Trent Lott, Crisis Point: Why We Must – and How We Can – Overcome our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America at the museum; May 11 – Michael Fazio, N.W. Overstreet and his Mark on Mississippi Architecture at the Winter Building; May 18 – Harry Bolick, Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930s at the Winter Building; May 25 – Edwina Carpenter, Saving a Battlefield: The Preservation of Brice Crossroads at the Winter Building.

For more information call (601) 576-6998 or email

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