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Letter, Frank Porter Graham to Kemp Plummer Lewis

Letter, Frank Porter Graham to Kemp Plummer Lewis
Letter, Frank Porter Graham to Kemp Plummer Lewis

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Letter, Frank Porter Graham to Kemp Plummer Lewis


Contempo controversy and labor issues


In this letter, University President Frank Porter Graham thanks Kemp Plummer Lewis, a University trustee and Durham textile executive, for his support on several labor issues, including the "reduction of hours and abolition of night work for women and children." Graham goes onto describe the controversy surrounding the Scottsboro issue of Contempo magazine and states his intent not to interfere Langston Hughes' visit to Chapel Hill.

Contempo was a small literary magazine published in Chapel Hill by co-editors Milton “Ab” Abernethy and Anthony Buttitta, both former UNC students. Although only lasting from 1931-1934, Contempo was able to build a strong reputation among critics and also managed to attract contributions from William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and many other well-known writers. The December 1931 issue of Contempo caused a stir in Chapel Hill due its inclusion of two controversial pieces by African American writer Langston Hughes.
Abernethy and Buttitta had decided to devote the entire issue to writings about the case of the Scottsboro Boys – a series of trials in Alabama involving nine African American boys who had been accused of the rape of two white women. Hughes submitted a poem called, “Christ in Alabama,” (which appeared with a drawing called, “Black Christ,” by artist Zell Ingram) and an essay called, “Southern Gentlemen, White Prostitutes, Mill-Owners, and Negroes.”
The publication of the Scottsboro issue was timed to appear several days before Hughes was to visit Chapel Hill for a public reading. Citizens of the town of Chapel Hill were incensed by the visit. Newly-inaugurated University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham and Chapel Hill town officials received a flood of letters denouncing Hughes as “sacrilegious” and calling for his engagement to be canceled. Graham did not interfere and the reading went on as planned.


Frank Porter Graham


Kemp Plummer Lewis Papers #3819, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


16 December 1941


Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.





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