Jelly Roll


A Black Neighborhood in a Southern Mill Town
Charles E. Thomas
978-1-55728-982-7 (paper)
May 2012


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Jelly Roll, a small community of African Americans living in company housing outside the Calion Lumber Company in Calion, Arkansas, is the subject of this classic Arkansas ethnography written by Charles E. Thomas, an anthropologist whose family owned the mill. Originally published in 1986, Jelly Roll 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 eighty-four households forming this community, illuminating the residents’ lives in an unusually thorough and nuanced fashion.

Now back in print and enhanced with later interviews revealing attitudes of growing restlessness over the slow movement toward racial equality and opportunity, Jelly Roll will be a welcome reference for anyone interested in African American studies, the South, or the sawmill industry.

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

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.”
—Ben Johnson, author of Arkansas in Modern America

Jelly Roll is a provocative look at life in a rural Arkansas community in the tumultuous twentieth century. The sociological approach reveals a lot about what intrigued scholars in the 1980s and how blacks responded individually and communally to modernity and post-modernity. Students of the South, of African American history, and of social change will profit from reading or rereading t his informative book.”
—Randy Finley, Louisiana History