Ben King’s Southland Melodies
- King, Benjamin Franklin Jr.

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Leigh Richmond Miner, major photographer for three of the six photographically illustrated editions of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry, collaborated with Essie Collins Matthews, an African American, on the illustrations for Ben King’s Southland Melodies (1911), a book of dialect verse by the white poet and parodist Ben Franklin King Jr. The volume was a posthumous one, King having died in 1894, and it is reasonable to assert that King wrote the poems without a view to photographic illustration. It would appear likely, given Miner’s sympathies with the hardships and oppressions faced by many African Americans during this period, that he and Matthews engaged in the project as a method of dignifying King’s imitation of what Ray Sapirstein calls ‘conventional plantation dialect and humour,’ ranging from gross parodies of dialect verse to the abhorrently racist ‘De Cushville Hop.’ (Ray Sapirstein, ‘Out from Behind the Mask; The Illustrated Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Photography at Hampton Institute’ (PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2005), p.253.) Many of Miner and Matthews’ illustrative strategies sought to use photographs for parodic purposes, ridiculing white mimicry and the manner in which such degrading dialect works could be passed off as part of African American literary tradition.

Book Details

Author: King, Benjamin Franklin Jr.
Title: Ben King’s Southland Melodies
Publication Year: 1911
Poets Featured: King, Benjamin Franklin Jr.
Photographers Featured: Miner, Leigh Richmond; Matthews, Essie Collins

This book can be found on the Internet Archive HERE

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