Wednesday, September 16—Elnora Spencer “Best of the ‘Jazzy Blues’ and More”

 Award –winning singer, Elnora Spencer, will open the Comer Library’s SouthFirst Bank Lecture Series accompanied by piano, bass and drums. Elnora calls her style the ‘jazzy blues’ and her repertoire of songs—gospel, jazz and R&B—will feature favorite oldies from several eras. Music in Elnora’s home was a family affair. She has been singing since the age of four and the roster of musical family members includes her mother—a noted gospel singer during the ‘50s—as well as a grandfather who was musical and an aunt who performed on the Morning Show out of Birmingham. In 2014, Elnora was inducted as a Master Blues Artist in the Alabama Blues Hall of Fame. She has been featured in the Living Legends Performing Live Series at Moonlight on the Mountain in Bluff Park and has sung with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Many of the participants in the Comer Library’s programs will remember her from performances at the lecture series with bass legend, Cleve Eaton, pianist, Kermit Orr, drummer, Buddy Simpkins, and jazz trumpeter, Bo Berry. An hour with Elnora is an opportunity to relive a beloved time in musical history.

Wednesday, September 23—Faye Gibbons Halley: the Story of a Depression Era Georgia Mountain Girl”

Faye Gibbons’ novel, Halley, is set in the rural Depression-era South. Every detail shows that she knows this hardscrabble world to the bone—the chamber pot, buttermilk, and cow-safe fencing. Halley and her younger brother, Robbie, and their parents, Jim and Kate, manage to get by until Jim dies suddenly in an accident, and Kate decides that she and her children have no choice but to move in with her parents. Grandfather Franklin is a hellfire and brimstone fundamentalist preacher who runs a strict household. A miserly tyrant, he claims any money the women in his household earn. Waiting for the end of time may suit her grandparents and others of the same faith, but Halley yearns for control of her life and longs for an education which she firmly believes will eventually allow choices.

Faye Gibbons—the popular author of more than a dozen books—writes in the tradition of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, focusing on stories of rural life that feature the importance of family and the land. Born into a large mountain farm family, she grew up in mill towns and mountain communities throughout northern Georgia. Gibbons knows firsthand about the people who populate her books, with her own memories of living in places without electricity, running water, indoor toilets and with storytelling as the main form of entertainment. Her first book, Some Glad Morning, won the Georgia Author Award in 1983 and in 1998, A Night in the Barn, won the Alabama Author Award. Her literary papers are housed at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Wednesday, September 30—Peggy Jackson Walls “A Century of Gold Mining at Hog Mountain—1839-1939” 

Decades before the discovery of gold in California, farmers, miners, and sometimes entire families with high hopes, were digging for gold in the hills of the Southern Piedmont region. In 1842, one of Alabama’s first gold rushes took place in NE Tallapoosa County at Goldville, where a town sprang up with a population of 3000 people, a hotel, at least 23 businesses, including one or two saloons. The gambling, drinking and “wild” life caused many families to move to a new mining site, a town which remains today as New Site. In 1839, gold was discovered at Hog Mountain by a Mr. Johnson who used an ox-drawn cart to haul the ore to nearby Hillabee Creek to separate the gold from the rock. According to geological reports, Hog Mountain is considered the top gold mine in Alabama producing consistently since the 1880s. For this story, the presenter draws from first person accounts by miners who worked in the gold mines in the 1930s mining operation as well as the company doctor, managers, community members, and geological reports to give a look at how mining helped shape the local economy, community and history for a century.

Peggy Walls has a Master’s Degree in English and Southern History from Auburn University. She has taught at the high school and college level and has several historical publications to her credit. She has spent years researching local history, interviewing people, and conducting tours of the east Tallapoosa County mining sites.

Wednesday, October 7—Troy Jones “The Nashville Experience: Small Town Boy and BigTown Song Writing” 

Troy Jones dreamed of hearing a song that he had written played on the radio! As a boy, he had listened to his dad spin records at a local AM radio station. For over twenty years, he worked to become what he smilingly calls “an overnight success” with his recording artists sounding like a roll call at a country music award show—Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Billy Currington, Randy Travis, Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins, and Ashton Shepherd. The singer-songwriter actually worked at a paper mill for the twenty years that he was aiming at becoming a full-time songwriter and his co-workers began calling him the “Fork Lift Philosopher.” Several of Troy’s songs have hit the top of the charts— “People are Crazy”, “Shiftwork”, and most recently, “God Paints”, recorded by Alan Jackson.

Originally from Port St. Joe, Florida, Jones met and married his wife Patsy and raised a family in the Sylacauga area. The couple now reside at Lay Lake in Talladega County. Library director, Shirley Spears said, “It has been our dream to have Troy tell the brown bag audience about his Nashville experience and to hear him sing some of his songs. These songs are so real—they resonate with people from all over the country.”

Wednesday, October 14-Wayne Flynt “In Sylacauga, Who is the Watchman? And What is She Missing? She Watching?”

Dr. Flynt said of his upcoming discussion of Nelle Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman: “It is obvious that she once again uses the Bible to talk straight to Maycomb and its people. But in Isaiah 21:6, it is clear that a specific person is given this duty/responsibility/honor. In the novel, it is less clear. Is it a self-righteous Jean Louise Finch, her now-flawed father, or every individual citizen called on by history and events to take a stand for conscience sake? And is the novel primarily about race in Alabama in the mid 1950s or about the generational passages we go through from ages 6-9 when our father protects and nurtures us and seems to us to be perfect? Or is it about our relationship when we are between 13 and 30 and our father does not understand us, want to change with the times, and is too much an accommodation to his family, town, and culture to suit our firmer notions of what is now our better understanding of life?”

Wayne Flynt graduated from Anniston High School, Howard College (now Samford University), and took a doctorate at Florida State University. He taught at his alma mater for twelve years and then served as head of Auburn University’s history department until he retired as Distinguished Professor Emeritus in 2005. He has won eighteen teaching awards and has written/co-authored twelve award winning books. Library Director, Shirley Spears, commented: “With the advent of Harper Lee’s new book and the ensuing fanfare, all eyes (including mine) turned toward Dr. Wayne Flynt for a commentary on the new novel and the beloved author, Nelle Harper Lee.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015—Governor John Patterson With Warren Trest “Battle of El Guettar: A Turning Point in the Tunisian Campaign” 

Former Alabama Governor, John Malcolm Patterson, participated in the Battle of El Guettar as a young artillery officer. The battle took place in south-central Tunisia fought between elements of the Army Group Africa under General Hans-Jurgen von Arnim, along with Italian forces under General Giovanni Messe, and U. S. II Corps under Lieutenant General George S. Patton. It was the first battle in which U. S. forces were able to defeat the experienced German tank units. According to military historian, Warren Trest, no one tells the story of that pivotal battle better than Patterson—a junior officer who rose from private to major, winning the Bronze Star. Albert Patterson’s murder cast his son into politics, first as an attorney general, and later as the governor of his state. After leaving the governor’s office, Patterson moved into the state’s judiciary, serving on the Court of Criminal Appeals until his retirement in January, 1977. Warren Trest, the former senior historian with the U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB, has authored more than 50 military histories and is the author of the authorized biography of Alabama’s youngest governor.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015—Monique Laney “When Histories and Memories Collide: How Huntsville Made Sense of its German Rocket Team’s Nazi Past” 

In late July 1969, Huntsville joined the world in celebrating the successful return of the Apollo 11 astronauts. The once small cotton mill town had added reason to jubilate because the rocket specialists who had made this enormous cold war feat possible were their direct neighbors and friends. Some of the specialists were members of Wernher von Braun’s Germanrocketteam, who had been brought to the United States after World War II because of their expertise gained developing the V-2 rocket for the Nazi regime. This fact did not become a point of concern until one of the team members was accused of war crimes in the 1980s. Laney will describe how Huntsville’s diverse community responded to this news and tried to grapple with its meaning, shedding light on the intersections of German and U.S. history and memory.

Monique Laney was raised by an American father and German mother living first in Tuscaloosa, AL, and later Frankfurt, Germany. She earned her Master’s Degree at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität in 1995, and her Ph.D. at the University of Kansas in 2009. She moved back to Alabama and joined the History Department at Auburn University in 2014. Dr. Laney is the author of German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past During the Civil Rights Era. She has received multiple prestigious national awards for her scholarship, has published two articles on her research, and has presented her work at national and international conferences.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015-Dolores Hydock “Spirts, Souls and Saints: Stories About-and for-the angels hiding among us.”

The fascination with the supernatural is always with us and Dolores will tap into that interest with stories that make us think about possibilities. She said, “One (true) story will refer to a ghostly apparition my mother experienced in my house; another story is about how people can be ‘angels’ in our lives—sometimes intentionally and sometimes by accident; and one story is about my mother’s spirit embodied in the spirit of my white cat.” Hear these stories as only Dolores can tell them.

Hydock, originally from Pennsylvania, is an award winning actress and story performer whose work has been featured in concerts and festivals throughout the United States. She serves as a touring artist for the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Alabama Humanities Foundation. Dolores lives in Birmingham, Alabama and in her spare time, teaches Cajun and zydeco dancing.