Liberty School Recordings

While seeking folk songs in African American communities, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby visited two schools for black students in Newton County in May 1939. They first recorded at Liberty High School in the emancipation community of Liberty and then at Wiergate High School in the lumber town where John had earlier worked with Henry Truvillion.

After spending the night in the town of Newton, John and Ruby were driving north when they saw a group of African American children playing outside "a neat white schoolhouse," as Ruby later described the Liberty School. They stopped and approached the principal, S.D. Ramsey, who assembled students and teachers in the largest of the three classrooms in the main schoolhouse. It had been constructed about 13 years earlier with plans and support from the Rosenwald Fund which helped build schools for African Americans in rural communities in the segregated South. Next to the Liberty School, a school shop and a teacher's home were also built with support from the Rosenwald Fund.

Inside the classroom, the Lomaxes recorded teacher Hattie McGuire and at least 13 students mostly between the ages of 10 and 17, including a shy Margie Mattox, so hesitant to sing in front her classmates that she performed a lullaby inside a coat closest. Other singers included sets of siblings from the Hawthorne, Hunter, Knight and McBride families and Alleyne Simmons, whose father Calloway W. Simmons was a teacher at the school and later became Liberty's principal. The Lomaxes recorded at least ten different songs, which varied from religious ones to children’s play and rhyming songs, some with students clapping along.

After leaving the Liberty School, John and Ruby drove to Wiergate, a sawmill town operated by the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company, and in the section where black workers lived, they saw a group of girls singing and playing outside the school. They spoke with the girls who said they were playing "Seed Tick" and then talked with the principal, Richard Mack, and his wife Edna who worked as a teacher at the school. The students were called to an assembly and the Lomaxes recorded several children's songs, including ones associated with singing games like "Ring Around the Rosie" as well as the "Seed Tick" song the girls had been singing earlier at recess. Only three students were identified by name and three songs at Wiergate High were simply attributed to groups of "unidentified children."

Images

Audio

The Sun Didn't Shine Out on Yonder Mountain
Siblings in the Hawthorne and Knight families formed the Liberty High School Quartet, as the Lomaxes identified the singers of "The Sun Didn't Shine Out on Yonder Mountain," a religious song. ~ Creator: Courtesy American Folklife...
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I Can't Stay Away
John A. and Ruby T. Lomax recorded Liberty School teacher Hattie McGuire singing the spiritual "I Can't Stay Away" when they visited her school in 1939. ~ Creator: Courtesy American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
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Suzanne
The Lomaxes recorded two versions of "Suzanne" during their visit to the Liberty School in 1939, including this rendition by Versie Helen Hunter who was incorrectly identified as Bessie Helen Hunter in the Lomaxes' notes. ~ Creator:...
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Sweet Babe O' Mine
John A. Lomax offered a quarter to any student who would sing a lullaby. Margie Mattox, listed as Margie Maltox in the Lomaxes' records, agreed to sing the lullaby "Sweet Babe O' Mine" but only while inside a closet. ~ Creator:...
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Seed Tick
When the Lomaxes first stopped at Wiergate High School, they saw girls in a circle singing "Seed Tick" while playing at recess. The same group of girls made this recording later that day. ~ Creator: Courtesy American Folklife Center,...
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Here Comes Uncle Jesse
Here Comes Uncle Jesse: The lead singer of "Here Comes Uncle Jesse," recorded by the Lomaxes at Wiergate High School, was likely Artie Brailsford, not Ottie Brails Ford as documented in the Lomaxes' field notes. ~ Creator: Courtesy...
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All Around the Green Apple Tree
A group of unidentified children made this recording of "All Around the Green Apple Tree," a ring game song, when John A. and Ruby T. Lomax visited their school in Wiergate. Ruby's voice can be heard at the end of the recording. ~...
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Ring Round Rosey
The Lomaxes recorded the students at Wiergate singing several play songs, including this version of "Ring Round Rosey," a song traditionally sung by children in a circle. ~ Creator: Courtesy American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
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