CCU history professor working on second bookby Brian Druckenmiller
By now, everyone knows the detrimental effects of tobacco use—we cannot watch a night of television without an advertisement reminding us of the product’s deadly nature. However, there is much value in preserving the local tobacco culture of a previous generation, and one Coastal Carolina University history professor is the leading scholar in the field.
Eldred “Wink” Prince, a CCU professor since 1987 and director of the Waccamaw Center for Cultural and Historical Studies, has received a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission to produce a new book about the history of the tobacco culture of the Pee Dee region. Drawing from an archive of interviews Prince conducted in the early 1990s, the history is shared through the voices of those who lived it, focusing on the production and marketing of tobacco from the 1940s through the 1960s.
“Traditional tobacco culture is gone,” said Prince. “We are preserving the memories of a way of life that was important for a very long time.”
The book, scheduled for a 2012 release with Coker College Press, fuses Prince’s words with the photography of Benton Henry, a Latta resident and graduate of Francis Marion University.
“Wink and I are extremely excited to be working together,” said Henry. “This is something that we have talked about for some time, and it’s a great feeling to know that the Arts Commission supports our project.”
In 2008 and 2009, Prince worked with Benton Henry for the touring art exhibit “Tobacco Barns of the Pee Dee,” presented by the Black Creek Arts Council, writing the captions for Henry’s photography. The success of the exhibit sparked Bruce Douglas, the editor for the upcoming publication, to tell Prince and Henry that they needed to write a book.
“At each opening,” said Douglas, “I was amazed at the number of people reminiscing about their experiences and how the tobacco industry impacted every aspect of their lives. Seeing people enjoy the exhibit and hearing their incredible stories led me to approach Benton and Wink about expanding our project—it just made sense to find another avenue.”
Prince is considered the leading authority on the subject of tobacco. His book, “Long Green: The Rise and Fall of Tobacco in South Carolina,” received the South Carolina Historical Society’s George C. Rogers Award for the best book of South Carolina history in 2001.
“The Department of History is extremely proud of Dr. Prince’s authoritative status as the leading historian of Southern tobacco production,” said Eliza Glaze, chair of the department. “We look forward to his current project with great anticipation.”
His interest in the Carolina tobacco culture stems from his direct involvement in it. His family owned a tobacco farm in the Pee Dee where he labored during the late 1950s through the 1960s, a time Prince refers to as the “golden age” of the tobacco culture. “I grew up in the culture,” said Prince. “I have a strong commitment to this part of the country. My family has lived here for 200 years—I have some obligation to tell the history and culture of the region.”
Prince recalls the sweltering heat, the early mornings and the long laboring days—all a part of the agrarian work ethic he describes in his history. “I’m not an apologist for tobacco,” said Prince. “Nobody but a fool would defend smoking. I am interested in preserving the agrarian culture, a way of life centered on tobacco. People worked hard and worked together as a community. These are good things that deserve to be remembered.”
The upcoming book invites readers to not only view tobacco as the harmful product designated for use in scattered gazebos around campus (or, as Prince calls them, “butt-huts”), but also to appreciate to the working-class ideals present in its early manufacturing—something any hard-working American can identify with.
“It has been a real pleasure to work with both Benton and Bruce,” said Prince, who has one of Henry’s tobacco barn photos hanging in his office. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we come up with.”