University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

John. L. (John Louis) Spivak:

An Inventory of His Literary File in the Photography Collection at the Harry Ransom Center



Creator: Spivak, John L. (John Louis), 1897-1981
Title: John. L. (John Louis) Spivak Literary File, circa 1931
Dates: Circa 1931
Abstract: The Literary File of American journalist and author John L. (John Louis) Spivak consists of photographic prints and negatives primarily of African American prisoners, their abuse by wardens, and their living conditions in rural Georgia. All photographs were made by Spivak and used as documentation for and illustration in his 1932 novel Georgia Nigger.
Call Number: Photography Collection PH-281
Extent: 1.5 document boxes (146 photographs)
Language: English and
Repository: The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

John Louis Spivak was born on June 13, 1897, and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. After a series of factory jobs, Spivak began his career in journalism as a police reporter for the New Haven Union. His antipathy for the patriotic hysteria of the late 1910s, coupled with an interest in socialism, politicized Spivak, who investigated and exposed corruption and venality in American business and government. By 1919, Spivak was working as a freelance reporter for the American Socialist Party's paper, The Call, where he covered labor unrest in the West Virginia mines, going so far as to personally ask the White House to investigate the murders of unionizers and the Sacco-Vanzetti murder trial.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Spivak travelled around the country and the world investigating corruption and inequality. He successfully proved that a New York police commissioner's "evidence" of labor unions receiving funds from the U.S.S.R. was forged. He also investigated living conditions in Georgia prison camps and chain gangs, which he revealed in his 1932 novel Georgia Nigger. This book caused a sensation, and it is credited with curtailing the chain gang system in the South.

In the 1930s, Spivak investigated the rise of fascism, working with several anti-fascist and Jewish groups to expose German and Japanese propagandists and spies. His 1934 book, Plotting America's Pogroms, investigated Nazi groups in the United States. He continued his investigations and interviewed members of the anti-Nazi underground in Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw, and Prague. He published these reports as Europe Under the Terror (1936). Spivak also exposed a group of fascist sympathizers who were trying to foment a revolution in Mexico in order to divert American attention from Germany and Japan. His 1940 book, The Shrine of the Silver Dollar, led to the downfall of the anti-Semitic broadcaster, Father Charles Coughlin.

Spivak retired from journalism in the early 1960s and published an autobiography, A Man in His Time, in 1967. Two years later, he became consumer affairs editor at a Pennsylvania newspaper. There he exposed a corrupt magazine sales scheme which eventually led to a new state consumer protection law.

Spivak died on September 30, 1981, in Philadelphia.


Scope and Contents

The Literary File of American journalist and author John L. (John Louis) Spivak consists of 146 photographs (81 prints, 65 negatives), primarily of African American prisoners in Georgia circa 1931. The images depict wardens' abuse of prisons, prisoners' living conditions, chain gangs, and the rural environment. All photographs were made by Spivak and used as documentation for, and illustration of, his 1932 novel Georgia Nigger. While the majority of the photographs are small in size, approximately nine by twelve centimeters, several enlargements are also included. A few of the photographs have black and white paint applied to either mask or enhance the image, and several show printer's crop marks.

Descriptions in this finding aid are based on Spivak’s inscriptions on the photographic print versos, where available. The images are arranged based on their original order, with negatives at the end of the collection.

This file forms a part of the Ransom Center’s Literary File photography collection, which is comprised of photographs and albums withdrawn from the libraries and/or papers of literary figures and businesses, and generally include portraits and images taken or collected by and/or of those people and businesses.


Restrictions

Access:

Open for research. Please note: Negatives cannot be accessed without curatorial approval, but access prints are available for negatives which were not accompanied by original prints.


Index Terms

People
Williams, J. D. (Prison warden).
Subjects
African American prisoners--Georgia--1930-1940.
Chain gangs--Georgia--1930-1940.
Convict labor--Georgia--1930-1940.
Prison wardens--Georgia--1930-1940.
Prisoners--Abuse of--Georgia--1930-1940.
Prisons--Georgia--1930-1940.
Places
Georgia--Pictorial works--1930-1940.
Document Types
Gelatin silver prints.
Nitrate negatives.

Related Material

Additional material, much of it related to Georgia Nigger, is located in Spivak’s personal papers, which are also held by the Ransom Center.


Administrative Information

Acquisition:

Internal transfer

Processed by:

Susan McClellan, 2006; Kait Dorsky, 2015


Item List

Container
1.1 Seminole County, Georgia, warden in front of his house at the convict camp, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 25.5 x 20.2 cm
Container
1.2 Inside of a convict cage at Camp No. 2, Sumter County chain gang, 24-Oct-31
Gelatin silver print, 11.2 x 8.6 cm
Two variant views of wooden convict cages, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.6 x 8.9 cm or smaller
Convict in cage, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.2 x 8.6 cm
Two variant images of sick convicts, 24 October 1931; ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.2 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Two variant images of bunks in the Seminole, Georgia, convict camp stockade, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 24.9 x 20.5 cm or smaller
Container
1.3 Two variant images of convicts taking bath, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 25.5 x 20.5 cm or smaller
Container
1.4 Three variant images of convicts chained by the neck and feet to an iron cage, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Container
1.5 Two variant images convicts in camp, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 12.4 x 11.1 cm or smaller
Three variant images of Georgia chain gang convicts. ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.1 x 8.6 cm or smaller
A chained Georgia convict, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.2 x 8.6 cm
Two variant images of Georgia convicts at work on a highway, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.3 x 8.7 cm or smaller
Two variant images of Georgia state convicts. ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.6 x 8.9 cm or smaller
Two variant images of convicts at work on Georgia highways, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 11.2 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Machines used to help break land in one of the larger Georgia counties, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.2 x 8.6 cm
Two variant images of Georgia state chain gang prisoners working on a highway, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 10.9 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Convict on horse drawn cart in field, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.7 x 8.6 cm
Truck bed filled with dirt, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11 x 8.5 cm
Two variant images of Georgia convicts at work on a highway, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 25.5 x 20.3 cm or smaller
Container
1.6 A crew of Seminole County, Georgia, convicts being returned by guards to the stockade after a day on the roads, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.9 cm
Convicts in a stockade, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 10.8 x 8.3 cm
One of the Seminole County, Georgia, chain gang crews returning to the convict camp stockade, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 20.5 x 25.5 cm
Container
1.7 Eight variant images of convict-built roads in Georgia, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 25.5 x 20.3 cm or smaller
Container
1.8 Two variant images of convicts in stocks with wardens, including J. D. Williams of Early County, Georgia, standing by, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 24.9 x 20 cm or smaller
Three copies of an image showing warden J. D. Williams of Early County, Georgia, with a chain gang convict locked in stocks who has fainted while hanging suspended by wrists and ankles. ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 24.8 x 19.7 cm or smaller
Two copies of an image of a warden tying a convict to a rack, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 24.8 x 19.4 cm or smaller
J. D. Williams, warden of Early County, Georgia, pauses in the act of putting a convict on the rack, to pose for picture, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.2 x 8.5 cm
Convict on rack, rapidly losing consciousness, while another convict and trustee stand by to untie him when he faints. ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.3 x 8.6 cm
Three copies of an image showing wardens "stretching" a convict. In this practice, a variation of the medieval rack, a convict is tied to a concrete post, the hands are manacled, and a rope is tied to the manacles and "stretched" around another post, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 24.8 x 19.8 cm or smaller
Container
1.9 Convict chained by hands and feet, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 10.8 x 8.5 cm
Convicts watching trussed up fellow prisoner in a Seminole County, Georgia, convict camp stockade, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.9 cm
Convict trussed up in Seminole County, Georgia, convict camp stockade, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.9 cm
Georgia convict who "sassed" guard trussed up in chains and ropes so that he cannot move, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.8 cm
Container
1.1 Six variant images of men using hound dogs to sniff for the scent of an escaped convict from State Prison Farm, Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia, 22-Oct-31
Gelatin silver prints, 11.2 x 8.7 cm or smaller
People using cattle in farming in Georgia, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.3 x 8.6 cm
Cattle and cart, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.3 x 8.6 cm
Four variant images of people picking cotton, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 12.6 x 8.7 cm or smaller
Container
1.11 A Georgia man returning from the cotton field, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 8.6 x 11.4 cm
Two copies of an image of people bringing a load of cotton to the gin, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver prints, 25.5 x 20.5 cm or smaller
An old Georgia woman emits a cloud of smoke while she poses for a picture, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.9 cm
A sharecropper home in south Georgia, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 25.5 x 20.3 cm
View of swamp surrounding body of water, ca. 1931
Gelatin silver print, 10.8 x 8.4 cm
Container
NV LF Boxes Wooden convict cage, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.5 x 8.6 cm
Negatives for 957:0108:0002-0003, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.5 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Two variant images of convicts in cage, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.6 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Negatives for 957:0108:0007-0012, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 12.1 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Convict bathing, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.4 x 8.5 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0014, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.6 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0016, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 14.2 x 8.5 cm
Convicts in uniforms, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.5 cm
Negatives for 957:0108:0020-0025, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.7 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Georgia convicts at work, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.9 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Negative for 957:0108:0036-0043, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.7 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Negative for 957:0108:0045, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.8 x 8.6 cm
Convict-built road in Georgia, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.5 cm
Two variant images of convicts in stocks with wardens standing by, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.5 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Warden tying convict to rack, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.5 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0055-0056, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.7 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Negatives for 957:0108:0060-0063, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.6 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Four variant images of convicts chained by the hands and feet, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 12 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Men with dogs, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11 x 8.5 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0070, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.4 x 8.6 cm
Cotton picker in field, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.5 x 8.6 cm
Negatives for 957:0108:0076-0077, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.5 x 8.6 cm or smaller
Two variant images of cotton pickers returning from fields, ca. 1931
Nitrate negatives, 11.7 x 8.5 cm or smaller
Negative for 957:0108:0079, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.6 x 8.6 cm
Georgia woman in front of house, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.5 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0080, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.7 x 8.5 cm
Sharecropper home, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.3 x 8.5 cm
Negative for 957:0108:0081, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.3 x 8.6 cm
Men on road, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.5 x 8.5 cm
House, ca. 1931
Nitrate negative, 11.5 x 8.5 cm