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Sheila Curran Bernard
University at Albany (Albany, NY 12222-0100)
"Bring Judgment Day": Reclaiming Lead Belly's Truths from Jim Crow's Lies

Research and writing of a book about blues performer Huddie Ledbetter (1889-1949), his interactions with music collectors John A. and Alan Lomax, and the racial and labor politics of the post-Reconstruction era.

A book intended for both trade and academic audiences, “Bring Judgment Day” challenges the accepted mythology surrounding legendary blues performer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly (1889 -1949), much of it focused on his violent nature and criminal record. This narrative was shaped in the 1930s by white music collector John A. Lomax and his young son, Alan, and, as my research shows, masks a much deeper story. For the first time, "Bring Judgment Day" explores the Ledbetter legend in the context of post-Reconstruction southern racial and labor politics and a corrupt system of criminal justice and explores the ways in which the Lomaxes, aided by the northern press and emerging forms of mass media, built on prevailing stereotypes to market the performer in a way that falsified his past while obscuring the nation's own culpability.

Project fields:
African American History; U.S. History

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2021 – 8/31/2022