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Contact: Visitor Center Staff, (662) 680-4027
Bruce will focus on William Johnson examining his life as a free black barber and diarist living in Natchez during the antebellum period. William Johnson was a free man of color, born a slave, in a town cosmopolitan enough to admire his business smarts and rocklike integrity, but unable to grant him full citizenship or social equality. As a result, Johnson made the best of his half-world in between, unburdening himself in page after page of priceless Old South observations while graciously passing his days with family, servants, and trusty violin, in a comfortable Natchez townhouse. Saturday’s talk by Robert Bruce Smith, at the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center, will combine authentic images from the 1800s with William Johnson’s own lively words to revive—however briefly—the very human side of life in this famous African American Mississippian’s vanished Natchez world.
A Mississippi native, Robert Bruce Smith spent his childhood in Ripley, graduated from high school in Tupelo, received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi. He now lives in Tupelo, where he does technology consulting and enjoys researching topics about science, architecture, and Mississippi history. Additionally, he reviews classical music concerts for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. In 2004, Smith published a book, Madness and the Mississippi Bonds, about the famous Mississippi bond scandal that became a worldwide cause célèbre in the decades immediately preceding the Civil War. For several years, he has led a walking tour of historic Faulkner sites during Ripley’s annual Faulkner Festival. Last summer, he led a similar tour of Ripley and New Albany for visiting scholars at the University of Mississippi’s Faulkner-Yoknapatawpha Conference in Oxford. His first appearance at the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center was in 2006, when he gave an illustrated public lecture about the famous Old Natchez District of southwestern Mississippi. This event is free to the public. The Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center is located along the Parkway at Milepost 266, just north of Barnes Crossing in Tupelo, Mississippi.