Viola Goode Liddell A resident of Alabama’s Black Belt for nearly all of her life, Viola Goode Liddell (1901-1998) recounted the stories of many Wilcox County residents, including her own, in three memoirs. These works tell the story of her home and, through her own life experiences, the story of the South during the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, and into the 1970s. Liddell also published several short stories and a book of poems.
Viola Jefferson Goode was one of nine children of Robert and Annie (Gaston) Goode and was born on December 18, 1901, in Gastonburg, Wilcox County. The town had been named for her maternal grandfather, David Finis Gaston. After high school graduation at age 16, Viola followed in the tradition of her older sisters, attending Judson College in Marion, Perry County. She graduated in 1922 and married Oxford Stroud. The couple lived briefly in Demopolis, Marengo County, where Viola gave birth to their son (and future Auburn University professor and literary figure) Oxford Stroud Jr. Soon after, the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her father, apparently having misgivings about her newly chosen spouse, handed Viola $100 as train fare home if the marriage ended badly. Indeed, in 1931, Goode divorced Stroud and moved with her son to Linden, Marengo County, where she taught French. The following year, they settled in Camden, Wilcox County, the birthplace of her father and the residence of her oldest sister, Mary, whom she called Mamie.
Bagby-Liddell-Burford House There, she resumed her literary career with the publication of an essay in Holland‘s Magazine entitled “Self-Expression: The Modern Mother’s Sesame to Happiness” under the name Viola Goode Stroud. In it, she exhorted mothers to take up forms of self-expression even while at home with children. In 1933, she took a job as a teacher in the Camden schools. The following year, Viola met and married Will Liddell, whose family owned and operated the town’s new power plant, and the couple had two more children.
In 1944, Liddell published a collection of poetry, Reflections in Rhyme, which she dedicated to her son Oxford, who was serving in England in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Four years later, she published her first work of nonfiction, With a Southern Accent, a memoir of her youth in Gastonburg. Over the next several years, she published short stories in The Georgia Review, The Southern Literary Messenger, and The Saturday Evening Post. She also completed a first draft of her third memoir, which would become the published work Grass Widow: Making My Way in the Great Depression after her death. In the mid-1950s, Will Liddell came down with a debilitating illness, and Viola was forced to put her writing career on hold. Her focus shifted to caring for him and devoting her energies to her local community. She began writing for the Wilcox County Historical Society and working with local organizations, including the Camden Culture Clubs, for which she earned the distinction of Outstanding Clubwoman of the Year (1980) by the Alabama Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Her vast knowledge of Camden’s history and her active involvement in her community provided ample material for her second memoir, A Place of Springs (1979), which chronicles the struggles of the Black Belt during the Great Depression and the turbulence of the civil rights era through the experiences of the residents of Camden. She then began working on a memoir of her early years in Camden and her relationship with her husband but died on May 16, 1998, before it was published. Grass Widow was released posthumously in 2004.
Selected Works by Viola Goode Liddell
Reflections in Rhyme (1944)
With a Southern Accent (1948)
A Place of Springs (1979)
The Collected Works of Viola Jefferson Goode Liddell (2003)
Grass Widow: Making My Way in Depression Alabama (2004)
Tutwiler Collection of Southern History and Literature, Linn Henley Research Library, Birmingham, Alabama.
Special Collections and Archives, Ralph Brown Draughon Library, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.