‘Jelly Roll’ Back In Print

The University of Arkansas Press has published a new edition of “Jelly Roll: A Black Neighborhood in a Southern Mill Town,” by Charles E. Thomas. The book, originally published in 1986, is a portrait of “Jelly Roll,” a small community of African-Americans living in company housing outside the Calion Lumber Co. in Calion and is enhanced by additional interviews conducted since the book’s original publication.

This classic Arkansas ethnography was written by Charles E. Thomas, an anthropologist whose family owned the mill. It combines Thomas’s unique perspective as both an academician and the grandson of the sawmill’s founder.

Thomas conducted extensive interviews covering three generations among the 84 households forming this community, illuminating the residents’ lives in an unusually thorough and nuanced fashion.

This reissue of “Jelly Roll” will be a valuable reference for anyone interested in African-American studies, the South or the sawmill industry. According to Ben Johnson, author of “Arkansas in Modern America,” “‘Jelly Roll’ is a compelling portrait of an African-American, working-class community based on the distinctive, powerful voices of the residents. Charles Thomas incisively reveals how three generations faced troubled times and deferred opportunities as traditional bonds frayed. This new printing reintroduces a notable work that reminds readers of the vitality and complexity of rural communities adapting to change.”

Charles E. Thomas was a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis for 17 years. He returned to his hometown and the Calion Lumber Co. in 1975 and has run the company ever since.

The University of Arkansas Press was founded in 1980 and is the book publishing division of the University of Arkansas. It publishes about 20 titles a year. The University of Arkansas Press is charged by the trustees of the university with the publication of books in service to the academic community and for the enrichment of the broader culture.


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