Lanterns on the Levee

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Percy lost to Vardaman in a landslide, a historic statewide shift away from the Delta elite of planters and businessmen in politics. Bilbo was elected lieutenant governor. Percy had been a relief worker serving under Herbert Hoover in German-occupied Belgium when, in , the United States entered the war and he joined the Army. But father and son would clash in , when Mississippi floodwaters broke the Greenville levee, deluging the Delta and forcing , to flee.

Ladybanks reads from Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

Known for his work in Belgium, Will Percy was tasked with presiding over flood relief. He quickly evacuated white women, children, and elderly, and planned to evacuate the blacks, many of whom were encamped on the levee. Will consoled the orphaned Percys, one of whom remembered being read Greek myths when unable to sleep. He adopted all three boys and would eventually leave his considerable estate to them.

When not bedridden, he continued his global travels, which took months by transoceanic steamers.


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  • William Alexander Percy.

The publisher of Lanterns on the Levee removed most of these wanderings from the manuscript, preferring to focus on Percy as archaic Southern aristocrat, including his paternalistic racial views. Lanterns sold tens of thousands of copies, got admiring reviews, and generated hundreds of fan letters, although black publications saw it as racially condescending.

He died a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, aged William Alexander Percy May 14, — January 21, , was a lawyer, planter, and poet from Greenville, Mississippi. His autobiography Lanterns on the Levee Knopf became a bestseller.

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In a largely Protestant state, the younger Percy championed the Roman Catholicism of his French mother. His father was elected as US senator in As an attorney and planter with 20, acres under cultivation for cotton, he was very influential at the Episcopal university, Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee , a postbellum tradition in his family.

He spent a year in Paris before going to Harvard for a law degree. After returning to Greenville, Percy joined his father's firm in the practice of law. He served in Belgium as a delegate until the withdrawal of American personnel upon the U. From to , Percy edited the Yale Younger Poets series, the first of its kind in the country.

Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter's Son by William Alexander Percy

He also published four volumes of poetry with the Yale University Press. He socialized with Langston Hughes and other people in and about the Harlem Renaissance. As adults, all three prospered. Lanterns on the Levee is a first-hand account of a past era, primarily describing the Mississippi Delta, but also the outside world as well. Percy offers singular characterizations of his grandparents, parents, and relatives, as well as Delta folks and their lifestyles.

He elegantly recreates the significant scenes of his time and place including a gripping description of the great Mississippi River flood of Lanterns on the Levee is a unique literary perspective of a time and place departed long ago. George Mason, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, was happiest at home, either in the fields and woods, with a good book by the hearth, or entertaining neighbors and family.

What does the South have to offer that is valuable to humanity, to civilization?

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