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Frank Durham Papers

The varied contribution of Columbia native Francis Marion Durham (1913-1971) must loom large in any account of South Carolina's twentieth-century cultural history, as this collection of twenty-one and one- quarter linear feet of papers—letters, scrapbooks, clippings, photographs and miscellaneous printed items—makes clear. From his student days at the University of South Carolina and then at the University of North Carolina and Columbia University, through his final years as a professor of English at USC, 1964- 1971, Frank Durham was intimately involved in the state's theatrical, literary and academic life, helping to shape and define much of it.

Durham's early association as playwright, actor and director with the dramatic circles of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, coupled with his activities in the Poetry Society of South Carolina, 1930s- 1960s, brought him in contact with many of the state's most creative people. Two of these, in particular, would become the subjects of his own literary endeavors: Dubose Heyward: The Man Who Wrote Porgy appeared in 1954; The Collected Short Stories of Julia Peterkin, in 1970. In addition to his unpublished writings, as well as a master set of his many published essays, articles and poems, the collection contains copies of these rare, out-of-print books which he wrote or edited, and which the Library has been able to acquire for the first time: the plays Fire of the Lord (1937) and My Late Espoused Saint (1937), Government in Greater Cleveland (1963) and Studies in Cane (1971).

Among the collection's most valuable material is its documentation of Durham's friendship with Julia Peterkin, which began as early as 1931-32, when articles based upon personal interviews he conducted with her appeared in USC's Carolinian and in the Columbia Sunday Record. Among the treasures here is an original copy of the photograph of Peterkin taken by Doris Ulman that had appeared in the Carolinian article.

In 1954, when Durham decided to begin work on a biography of Julia Peterkin, he wrote to her asking if she would be interested in discussing it with him. On 16 December 1954 she replied—"It's nice to hear from you and it would give me pleasure to have you come to Lang Syne so we could catch up on what has happened since the old Town Theater days....As for your making a `book-length study' of me, both you and I would be embarrassed, for I'm no longer a writer, nor have I ever been a literary person, and there's little indeed that you'd find to say....However, I appreciate your interest and will be glad to see you whenever you can come just for a visit." Peterkin's own assessment of her work and her fear that Durham would have little to say appeared to have been misjudged. As late as 11 February 1990, an editorial clipping from The State lamented not only the difficulty of getting reprint editions of Peterkin's work, but also that Durham's Collected Short Stories of Julia Peterkin, published in 1970, had "disappeared from print and is overdue for paperback release."

Durham also corresponded with Dorothy [Hartzell] Heyward on several occasions throughout the 1940s and 1950s while researching and writing drafts of his dissertation and book on the life of her husband, Dubose Heyward. Evidence of a mutual respect and friendship is reflected in Mrs. Heyward's letters to Durham—"I am so happy to hear that the dissertation nears completion. Needless to say I am most eager to see the book and I am so glad that you are the first to write about DuBose" (24 July 1952). Mrs. Heyward prefaced her remarks on a nine-page draft of his dissertation by writing—"I will state any errors of fact that I find but they are surprisingly few. Perhaps some of my items are wholly unimportant but I will include them because I know you want to get as near the truth as possible" (9 September 1953).

Durham's teaching career included positions at both Clemson and The Citadel, where he had the opportunity to serve as a Fulbright visiting professor in Australia, 1958-1959, and as a Smith-Mundt lecturer in Vietnam, 1961-1962. The material in the collection regarding these academic tours illustrates not only a South Carolina professor's experiences in foreign lands, but an American's introduction to Far Eastern animosity and hostility at a critical juncture in U.S. military involvement in that part of the world. A scrapbook of photographs of the trip to Australia initially reveals an American family enjoying an adventure; letters to his sister and mother tell of the wonder of their experiences in foreign lands. However, in an undated essay written upon his return to the U.S. from Australia, Durham acknowledges a darker truth—"A year abroad, which included a trip around the world with a nine-month stopover in Australia, has brought home to me the sad fact that no matter how much America and we Americans think we love the rest of the world, we are not unqualifiedly loved in return....And sometimes the attitude toward us is considerably more than indifference; it can be downright contempt or hatred....Much of the dislike of America stems from misunderstanding."

Durham attempted to quell some of that misunderstanding by accepting a lectureship in Vietnam for the 1961-62 academic year. As evidence of his optimism about the lectureship, he took his wife and teenaged son with him, just as he had to Australia. As a Smith-Mundt lecturer under the Department of State, he was expected to submit "an interim and a final report concerning [his] project and related activities...to be forwarded to the Department through the American Embassy at Saigon," as a 19 May 1961 letter from the "Professional Division, Office of Educational Exchange" directed. In correspondence to relatives and friends, he indicated the deteriorating state of affairs, as in this letter to his mother of 8 September 1961—"Today I received Anna's [his sister] note with the clipping about the imminent invasion of South Vietnam." Again, on 14 September, in a letter to "Cousin Francis," he wrote—"Saigon is a beautiful city, its French veneer beginning to peel off and to show the solid and eternal Oriental base that was there all along." And ominously, in a 6 October 1961 letter to USC professor Dr. Havilah Babcock, he observed—"Somehow, surrounded by an undeniable war, isolated from the countryside, Saigon seems to ignore what may be its not-too-long-delayed fall to the Viet Cong forces." Yet, although he was aware of the politics of his situation, Durham refused to use his position politically, as this excerpt from a letter of 28 September 1961 to close friend Henry Wells indicates—"The people at USIS, to which we are vaguely attached, are all `public relations['] oriented. I get notes: `It would be well for you to cultivate Dr. Phung at the Conservatory of Music. He is important and presents a challenge.' What the hell! My function, as I see it, is to teach, to live here as a typical American family."

But Durham did become emotionally involved when Saigon's Presidential Palace—just blocks away from his apartment—was bombed, and when his apartment, along with the other American professors, was searched during the investigation that followed. Unlike one of his colleagues, he refused to allow himself to be extensively interviewed about the incident because he "did not wish to be a party to the printing of anything that might hurt my government's relationship with Vietnam" (Chicago Tribune, 11 March 1962).

Durham's concern with Vietnam did not end upon his return to the States. His collection of numerous publications regarding Vietnam comprises one and a quarter linear feet and includes several issues of such periodicals as Viet-Nam Bulletin, The Times of Vietnam, Extreme Asie, Free Front, and Viet-Nam Hinh-Anh between 1961 and 1971. He also wrote several essays, speeches and letters to editors in support of Vietnam. In his undated notes, Durham wrote that he considered Vietnam "more than just a piece of real estate we are trying to save. It is, first, a symbol, a test—if we let it fall, our significance as the world's great free nation and protector of freedom is canceled." In an article which appeared in the Charleston News & Courier of 20 March 1963 he was quoted as saying that "the Western idea to `stir in men, money and munitions' to eliminate the communist threat would cause the West to lose the nation to Communism." By 1966, Durham attempted to publish an essay to present, as this letter to Curtis Brown, Ltd., of 3 March 1966 explains—"a story that will help Americans at home to visualize the country and the people their sons, fathers, brothers, and friends are fighting and dying to free." Durham's experiences as a visiting lecturer thus provided him with firsthand insight into one of the most controversial U.S. conflicts of this century.

On the domestic front, Durham's academic and professorial material presents a candid view of the administrative workings of the institutions with which he was associated. After nearly twenty-five years at The Citadel, Durham expressed his disillusionment to his friend Henry Wells in a letter of 9 July 1963—"This has been a most unhappy and dissatisfying year. Many changes have occurred subtly and, I think, furtively, and the atmosphere in which I live and work has become increasingly miasmic. The president, General Mark Clark, more and more assumes the prerogatives of a `benevolent' Oriental potentate, issuing noble statements of policy and then almost immediately flagrantly violating them to reward some flattering suppliant. The result is a morally corrupt chaos, and I, frankly, have had enough of it." On 28 August 1963 USC Dean William H. Patterson wrote to Durham—"As you know, for years I have felt that you belonged here....We, of course, expect department heads to take the initiative in appointments but I have told Doctor [Havilah] Babcock that a recommendation concerning you would meet with approval here and in the President's office." Durham confided to Patterson in a letter of 31 October 1963 that, in corresponding with Babcock over a period of three months, he felt he had been receiving "the good old brush off," which caused him to doubt whether he would indeed be offered a job. Nevertheless, by the fall of 1964 Durham was teaching at USC.

Six scrapbooks, compiled between 1934 and 1961, provide a glimpse into Durham's creative life and mind. One of the marginal notes in the earliest scrapbook explains his intent—"Most scrapbooks are to me merely a collection of programs, pictures and clippings and are decidedly impersonal. However, with my eye on posterity (if there should be one that cares) I have decided to make random notes that will hold interest if I accomplish the something, big, and grand and wonderful which I have set as my goal. If I fail in this, those notes may be of interest as the self-conscious jottings of a young egotist who strove for something beyond his reach." The scrapbooks contain stage and scene photographs, clippings, playbills and individual notes and letters from mentors and friends such as Mrs. Peterkin, Dorothy Heyward, Belford Forrest, Katherine Drayton Mayrant Simons, Elizabeth Boatwright Coker, Archibald Rutledge and Louis D. Rubin.

The correspondence and letters of condolence sent to Durham's wife, Kathleen Carter Durham, and to Anna Durham from the date of his death, 10 October 1971, through the early months of 1972, supply evidence that his life was rich in accomplishment, as he left friends and colleagues around the world who admired his educational, literary, theatrical, and diplomatic talents. Colin Horne, Durham's longtime colleague at the University of Adelaide in Australia, perhaps best summarized the legacy of Frank Durham when he wrote to Kathleen on 15 October—"Wherever you have traveled throughout the world, your route will now be marked by a long line of mourners for a most lovable friend and admired colleague, and scholar."

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