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Otis Noel Pruitt : Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town


Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Trouble and Resilience in the American South reveals life between 1920-1960 in Columbus, Mississippi – a town, according to curator Berkley Hudson, “shaped in the crucible of slavery and cotton and the Civil War.”  Built around the collection of photographer Otis Noel Pruitt, a white man in the racially segregated South, the exhibition explores race relations and issues of class, gender, and religion.

Described as a “national treasure’“ by William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Pruitt’s work is distinguished by a passion to prolifically and diligently document the customs, lives, joys, and sorrows of people in his hometown. His pictures provide a candid and sometimes disturbing visual history of that era in the American South, and serve as an invaluable resource for those interested in civil rights, photography, Mississippi, and US history.

This project aims to place in context Pruitt’s life-long work of documenting Southern culture. His photographs are representative of small towns in the American South at critical and tumultuous times in our nation’s history. Images include family picnics, river baptisms, carnivals, parades, fires, tornadoes, even public execution by hanging – as well as the 1935 lynching of two African American farmers.

O.N. Pruitt worked as a photographer from 1920-1960 in the town of Columbus, Mississippi. Pruitt acted as the de-facto documentarian of northeast Mississippi. He photographed white and African American Mississippians alike inside his studio over Main Street and beyond, a unique and unusual practice for white photographers in the early 20th century American South.

Pruitt died in 1967 and is buried in Friendship Cemetery


Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town ; Trouble and Resilience in the American South
February 3, 2022 – April 22, 2022
Columbus Arts Council
501 Main St, Columbus, MS 39701

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