Mrs. Ruby Pickens Tartt was an internationally
known folklorist and writer. She was best known for her work in discovering and
collecting Negro folksongs, field calls, and other folklore.
Mrs. Tartt first gained recognition as a
folklorist through the assistance she gave to such experts as John Allan Lomax
and Harold Courlander in their studies of African-American folklore, which
brought them to international prominence in this field. She also assisted Carl
Carmer in writing his classic, Stars Fell on Alabama. Many of her own
stories, character sketches, and articles were published in prestigious
journals and books.
Although she did receive royalties from the
Kingston Trio and from Harry Belafonte for recordings based on her discoveries,
Mrs. Tartt's work in folklore brought her little monetary reward. She engaged
in the study of African-American folklore because of her love for and enjoyment
of it, and because of her genuine interest in, and respect for, Blacks and the
contribution of the race to American culture.
Mrs. Tartt was a woman of many talents and
interests. She served as County Librarian for Sumter County from 1940 to 1964.
The public Library in Livingston was named the Ruby Pickens Tartt Library in
1975, in recognition of her contribution in encouraging countless young people
to read and appreciate good literature. She was a painter, having studied
painting at the Alabama Normal School (now the University of West Alabama),
Sophia Newcomb College, and the William Chase School of Art in New York. Her
portraits, still lifes, and rural scenes hang in a number of public buildings
and are treasured in private collections.
After Mrs. Tartt's death in 1974, her published
and unpublished manuscripts were given to Livingston University. The collection
contains over 5,000 manuscripts of folklore and local history, including a
large number of previously uncollected African-American folk songs, folk tales,
and anecdotes. She made a distinct contribution to American literature in
collecting African-American folklore and in the short stories she wrote about
Blacks in Alabama.
ed. Dim Roads and Dark Nights: the Collected Folklore of Ruby Pickens
Tartt. Livingston, Alabama.: Livingston University Press,
James Seay, Jr., ed. Up Before Daylight: Life Histories from the Alabama
Writers Project, 1938-1939. Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, 1982. (Includes two stories by Ruby Pickens Tartt.)
Brown, Virginia Pounds. Toting the Lead Row: Ruby
Pickens Tartt, Alabama Folklorist. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,
Solomon, Jack and Olivia Solomon, ed. Honey in
the Rock: the Ruby Pickens Tartt Collection of Religious Folk Songs
from Sumter County, Alabama. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1992.
Stallworth, Clarke. She Heard a Hymn in Cotton
Fields. Birmingham News, 12 June 1983, 1D.