Honoring the legendary Ballad Hunter, dignitaries & family members take part in meaningful ceremonial unveiling of literary landmark plaque at the John A. Lomax Amphitheater
MERIDIAN – At times, meaningful things can be right under one's nose without grasping the significance behind it. And this proves especially true when it comes to local history or people.
Such could be said of the legendary ballad hunter, John Avery Lomax. Raised in Meridian, John A. Lomax was most known for recording and documenting American folk music and the early blues in the antebellum South, about which he wrote several books. In later years, his son Alan Lomax joined him.
With that thought at the forefront for all involved, the Meridian Public Library hosted a festive plaque unveiling of the John A. Lomax Amphitheater as a state and national literary landmark Oct. 9. And with it lies the hope that Bosque County residents and people beyond the county’s borders will take notice of the importance of Lomax legacy to music and literature, and encourage them to learn more about it.
During the well-planned and executed ceremony – with Lomax recorded ballads and folk songs to start – Lomax granddaughter Anna Wood captured the importance of Lomax’ work through a quote from his great-granddaughter Lindsey Smith, who was also present at the ceremony.
“The music John and Allen recorded back then literally influenced every musician since, directly or indirectly,” Smith said. “If not for my great-grandfather we wouldn’t have any of the music we have today.”
The ceremony included the unveiling of the plaque, set in a beautiful new limestone marker and the festive reception, and also featured Will Godby’s documentary “John A. Lomax – A Man and His Legacy.”
"What a splendid event it was – from the weather and music to the speakers and guests, to the reception after the ceremony – it was great!” Meridian Public Library Board President Pam Hardcastle said. “I wholeheartedly believe John A. Lomax's legacy was properly recognized and celebrated and how truly pleased he would have been with it all, most especially to hear his granddaughter Anna Lomax Wood speaking and singing special words of tribute about him. Thank-you to everyone who helped make this wonderful award ceremony possible!”
And it took a village of volunteers to get the amphitheater and the grounds ready, to have the marker in place for the plaque and to organize the event in general. Meridian Mayor Ryan Nieuwenhuis offered some historic information about John A. Lomax’ life, his work and his legacy.
“The City of Meridian is very excited about this literary landmark,” Nieuwenhuis said. “We are anticipating many new visitors to Meridian to view this landmark while visiting Bosque County.”
With the visitors enjoying the breeze and the outdoors, and in keeping with the cowboy songs that inspired Lomax to start collecting folklore lyrics and music, “Home on the Range” was played, and real-life cowboy and sculpture Jack Walker recited a poem he wrote for a cowboy friend’s funeral. He also recited a humorous poem about a horse trader.
Wood gave some family background on how the Lomax family came to Texas, about John A. Lomax as a person. Inspired by Walker’s horse trader poem she shared an anecdote, which she concluded by singing a verse of Littleton Wheaser’s favorite song about a horsetrader.
Other dignitaries present were Bosque County Judge Cindy Vanlandingham, former Bosque County Judge Don Pool, and Field Representative for Texas for Congressman Roger Williams Don Nichols, who offered a flag that had flown over the nation’s Capitol.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Center for the Book Coordinator Rebekah Manley was one of the judges selecting this year’s Texas literary landmarks.
“He made his life work to restore, share and capture, make sure the music was heard and experienced,” Manley said about reading the Meridian Public Libraries application for the award. “I was blown away when I heard that he supplied the U.S. Library of Congress with 10,000 recordings.”
“As a Texan, I can say the Texas Code is that we love to share what we love,” Manley said. And she invited the audience nominate a place with literary ties or an author for next year, to visit the site to view the other literary landmarks in Texas, and to keep encouraging people to experience the amazing John A. Lomax amphitheater.
State librarian of Texas Gloria Meraz herself is passionate about libraries, calling them anchors of the communities, and the one public place where people can be safe. She commended the Meridian Public Library for providing such an excellent application on “a giant in the field of preservation, of storytelling.” She also commended the MPL for putting on the special plaque unveiling event, setting a high standard for the following dedications.
According to Meraz, Meridian’s application for the literary landmark included several important components the judges looked for:
- The connection of the author with the physical location;
- The richness of the literary heritage left by the author – Lomax wrote 10 books on folk music, folklore and lyrics;
- It spoke to the narrative of people at the time;
- Lomax’ work promoted a diversity of voices that had not been heard, especially the African American voice and the voice of incarcerated prisoners;
- With the folklore stories and music, Lomax’ work captured a segment of history that would have been lost.
Meraz called Lomax “a true visionary and the literary father of American folklore,” because of his contributions and lasting impact of his work. Nobody had attempted recording, preserving and sharing the stories and music on such a large scope before.
“It is up to us to perpetuate the legacy, and encounter the value and spirit, that has borne us and what we leave to posterity,” Meraz said in her speech. “One of the extraordinary achievements of John A. Lomax was to capture the voices not often heard. If those stories through song had not been recorded by him, what a loss to the state, to the nation and to the world. Not to have these powerful and meaningful stories captured forever.”
“I am actually a trained archivist, and in my book there is nothing more profound or more important that we can do for future generations than to save and store and share those stories,” Meraz said. ”It is the love of these people that make this happen. Grass roots learning and education at its most palpable. We have so many school children that need to know these stories about John A. Lomax, about folklore, and this is how we grow it and how we make it a reality.”
To help educate, to share, to perpetuate Lomax’ legacy, the Meridian Public Library has most of Lomax’ books and several CD’s with original Lomax recordings.
“It is fitting we are out here in the fresh air, in the breeze,” Meraz said. “If we close our eyes we can imagine Lomax listening to the distant sounds of the cowboys singing on the Chisholm Trail. That is powerful; that is place and time; that is literature; tha tis poetry. That is everything this literary landmark should be.”
Four new Texas sites were approved this spring by United for Libraries, the national organization that administers the program, and all are made possible by funding from the Summerlee Foundation of Dallas. This special push for more Texas Literary Landmarks was organized by the The Center For the Book to create awareness of the sites’ importance to the state’s literary heritage.
The other Texas sites – besides Meridian – receiving literary landmarks are:
- Theodis "Ted" Shine, Jr. Literary Landmark, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas, Texas;
- Dr. Gloria E. Anzaldúa Literary Landmark, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Library, Edinburg, Texas;
- Lonn Wood Taylor Literary Landmark, Jeff Davis County Library, Fort Davis, Texas
Please click on the link https://www.tsl.texas.gov/literarylandmark/Lomax for background information on the Meridian Literary Landmark site.
The link https://www.tsl.texas.gov/literarylandmark/map shows the 2021 literary landmark sites.
Established in 1987, the TCFB seeks to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy and libraries, while celebrating the written word and literary heritage of Texas. Their commitment is to see every Texan develop an appreciation for books and the bridges they create.
With the literary landmarks, the TCFB hopes to reach out to all ages, building bridges of place, then and now, bringing attention to local literary legacies with the stories they tell. And with the literary legacy, they hope to encourage a renewed interest in books and reading.
On the other hand, Meridian just hopes people will come and visit and enjoy the amphitheater and its surrounding parks, the retail and restaurants. And if they choose to visit the town’s wonderful library when they’re here to view the cabinet containing the Lomax books and other artifacts, that would be even more added value for the town, and for the visitors.\
Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS
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