Tenant house during Depression, Hale County, Ala.

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Tenant farmhouse, Hale County, Ala., by Walker Evans. Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

 

The new publication of a 70+ year old unpublished essay by James Agee on the terrible poverty of the American South during the Great Depression has folks looking anew at the issue that has plagued the region since the Civil War.

“Cotton Tenants: Three Families,” published this week, chronicles the lives of people in rural Hale County, Ala., as outlined in this story in The New York Times.   Along with stunning documentary photographs by Walker Evans, Agee eventually published the 1941 work, “Let us now praise famous men,” which garnered more attention in the early 1960s than it did when originally published.

Agee originally was hired to write an essay for Fortune magazine, but apparently argued with editors about a 30,000 word draft, which was first published in full this week.