2011 News

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Rhodes College Acquires Shelby Foote’s Personal Library and Papers

Publication Date: 3/4/2011

Shelby Foote, 1978

Rhodes College President William E. Troutt announced today that the college has acquired the 2,350-volume book collection, personal papers and diaries, handwritten book drafts and maps, and memorabilia of famed novelist and Civil War historian Shelby Dade Foote Jr. (1916-2005).

The core elements of the collection possess significant value for researchers, including students. Many of the books from Shelby Foote’s personal library are rare, including signed first edition novels by William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Walker Percy. Some of these items had been on loan to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After the acquisition, the books were returned and are now part of the Shelby Foote Collection at Rhodes.

The papers of Shelby Foote, including his correspondence with his fellow writers, his drafts and notes for both his published and unpublished literary works, and his personal memo books and calendars will be of great use to potential Foote biographers and scholars of American literature. Likewise, the large collection of Foote family letters—many from the nineteenth century—will be of tremendous value to historians of the American South. And the research notes, manuscripts and hand-drawn maps associated with The Civil War: A Narrative will be invaluable to historians attempting to examine the writing of this renowned work. 

“How delighted and grateful I am that my father’s collection, which is so dear to my heart, will be housed here in the Barret Library at Rhodes. When setting out to find a permanent home for the collection, I knew one thing clearly that I would be guided by what I believed would be my father’s wishes,” said Huger Foote, son of Shelby Foote.

“My father’s collection is large and full of treasures. When studying it, one discovers the vast and varied world of my father’s creative and intellectual life. It was important to me that the entire collection be kept intact and preserved in its full integrity to inspire and, I think, amaze this and future generation of scholars. Rhodes shared this vision . . . There’s an old Irish Proverb which says ‘May the Roads Rise to Meet You,’ and here they have done exactly that.”

He went on to say “I’ve always known that parting one day with my father’s collection, under any circumstances, would be difficult, but now it gives me enormous pleasure and great peace of mind to announce that the collection will be here at Rhodes where I can remain close to it and yet share it with the world. I think we all feel equally blessed to have it here. In short, Rhodes College is the perfect home for my father’s collection. Thank you, Rhodes, and thank you, Memphis.”

All of the items in the Shelby Foote Collection will be housed in the 136,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Paul Barret, Jr. Library on the Rhodes campus. A Rhodes task force, made up of members of the Library and Information Technology Services division and faculty representatives from the History, English and Religious Studies Departments, currently are developing the process by which all of the materials will be indexed, cataloged and permanently stored and displayed. This process will provide students with fellowship opportunities to participate in the organization and archiving of the materials. Eventually, many of the materials in the collection will be digitized and made available for review online and via other electronic media.

“We are a college that provides students with remarkable opportunities—the best in the classroom, the best beyond the classroom, and access to academic resources that can only be found here at Rhodes and here in Memphis,” said Troutt. “With the acquisition of the Shelby Foote Collection, we take another step forward in the excellence we offer at Rhodes.”

Shelby Foote’s Ties to Rhodes

Shelby Foote’s ties to Rhodes College were strong. They are evident in the 1982 honorary degree that he received from Rhodes, the notes of the lectures he gave at the college in 1988 and the 1991 Rhodes Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society pendant that hung on the bulletin board above his desk. 

More About the Materials in the Collection

Shelby Foote’s Personal Library
The book collection, which includes approximately 2,350 volumes, is made up mostly of works of classic literature—everything from Greek tragedies to contemporary Southern writers—as well as works of literary interpretation, American history (particularly the history of the South and Civil War) and European history.  Of particular note are the rare, signed and/or inscribed first-edition novels by Shelby Foote, William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty.

Shelby Foote’s Personal Papers
The papers include handwritten and typed drafts and notes for Foote’s novels, essays, short stories, screenplays, speeches, lectures and his most famous work, The Civil War: A Narrative. Correspondents include friends, associates and family members. Letters from presidents, U.S. senators, governors and other leading figures (Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Allen Tate, Willie Morris, David McCullough and Ken Burns, among others) are also included. There are decades of personal diaries, memo books and calendars, along with a large collection of hand-drawn maps, photographs, magazines and other memorabilia. 

Shelby Foote’s Personal Artifacts
Among the personal artifacts is a large collection of classical music (scores, LP records, cassettes and compact discs), as well as various military artifacts, sculptures, figurines, drawings, prints and posters. Also included are numerous awards and plaques that Shelby Foote received throughout his lifetime.

Shelby Foote, January 1951

About Shelby Foote

Shelby Foote was born in Greenville, Miss., in 1916 and was raised by his mother after his father died. An only child, Foote took an interest in reading. When he was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he contributed fiction pieces to the school’s literary journal. After serving in the Army in World War II, he held various jobs, including a stint as a reporter. Foote′s first novel, Tournament, was published in 1949, and works that followed include Follow Me DownLove in a Dry Season, Shiloh, Jordan County: A Landscape in Narrative and September, September, which is set during the 1957 integration of Little Rock′s Central High School. In 1951, what began as a Random House proposal for a short account of the Civil War turned into the more than a million and a half words of The Civil War: A Narrative that took Foote 20 years to write and carries readers from Fort Sumter to Appomattox.

In the late 1980s, writer Robert Penn Warren recommended Foote to filmmaker Ken Burns who was planning his television documentary on the war. Burns and crew interviewed Foote, and after the 11-hour series aired on PBS in 1990, Foote gained national celebrity. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Burn’s film is scheduled to air on PBS in April.

In 2001, Foote was the focus of an in-depth interview conducted by C-SPAN television founder Brian Lamb. On June 27, 2005, Foote died in Memphis at the age of 88.

Founded in 1848, Rhodes College is a private, coeducational college of liberal arts and sciences. It aspires to graduate students with a lifelong passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in their communities and the world.


Rhodes College President William E. Troutt and anthropology/sociology major Cassi Bails-McLeod ′12 don white protective gloves to examine the bound manuscript of Shelby Foote′s novel September, September. Also pictured here are Foote′s detailed hand-drawn maps that helped him track troop movements and battles from the Civil War. Many of the maps served as guidelines for his publisher and appeared in Foote’s Civil War trilogy.







Updated March 8, 2011: Items that were temporarily displayed for the March 4th announcement have been returned to secure storage. The Shelby Foote Collection will be available for further viewing and use after items have been carefully preserved and catalogued using Society of American Archivists standards.

Tags: Faculty, Honors, President, Staff, Students


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Dianne Altman April 9, 2011

Mr. Foote,
You gave the southern people honor!
What a great human!

Janice Chapin Buchanan March 16, 2011

What a great donation for Rhodes to receive!  Bravo, bravissimo.

Dr. William C. Barnwell ′65 March 16, 2011

Congratulations to Rhodes on such a successful catch. I know I would have enjoyed many hours of curling up in the library with the books in such a collection.

I trust all future students at Rhodes will take advantage of the Foote collection. I look forward to its being digitized and so available at a distance.

Hardy Green March 16, 2011

This is truly wonderful. I′m wondering if there are any "archives" for other Memphis treasures, less likely to have left written records: blues legends Bukka White and Furry Lewis, for example, and I will try to think of others....

Virginia Bare March 16, 2011

A wonderful acquisition!