Life in Possum Town

Berkley Hudson’s new book depicts 20th-century life in Columbus, Mississippi.

photographer posing with equipment and assistants

O.N. Pruitt, far right, documented life in Columbus, Mississippi for 40 years.

Published on Show Me Mizzou August 25, 2022

Culled from 88,000 negatives rescued from oblivion, O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town is an insider’s look at early 20th-century life in Columbus, Mississippi. The author, journalism emeritus associate Professor Berkley Hudson, grew up in the small town and was part of the quintet who found the forgotten images and saw to their preservation. Pruitt worked as a professional photographer in Columbus for 40 years and died in 1967. His subjects ranged from debutantes, weddings and church events to street scenes and circus performers to victims of lynching. “With ethnographic rigor and the intimacy of a local, Pruitt’s eye roves matter-of-factly between scenes of gilded refinement — the crafted splendor of privilege — and the gruesome violence that makes privilege possible,” writes Lauren Christensen in The New York Times. The National Endowment for the Humanities has funded a traveling exhibit, Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Trouble and Resilience in the American South, showing at the State Historical Society of Missouri through Nov. 5. At the same time, a satellite exhibit runs next door at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. Learn more about the exhibit at, the book at and the project at View more photos.

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