William Alexander Percy’s ‘Lanterns on the Levee’ manuscript donated to MDAH

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The estate of Mississippi author William Alexander Percy is donating the original manuscript of Percy’s best-selling autobiography, Lanterns on the Levee, to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The donation to MDAH is fitting as much of Lanterns on the Levee takes place in Greenville, where Percy was born in 1885 and died in 1942. In the book, Percy reflects on pivotal events such as the Mississippi River flood of 1927, as well as societal transformations of the South he witnessed during the Progressive Era, World War I, and the Great Depression.

“MDAH is grateful to the Percy family for this generous donation to the archives,” MDAH director Katie Blount said. “‘Lanterns on the Levee’ is a fascinating and important book, and we are thrilled to be able to offer researchers access to the author’s original handwritten manuscript.”

The donation of the Lanterns on the Levee manuscript, consisting of nine handwritten notebooks, is paired with four original letters from Percy to biographer Gerstle Mack, in which he responds to Mack’s criticisms of the book.

Percy’s estate also donated sheet music with his poetry set to musical compositions to the MDAH, which is already home to the Percy Family Papers.

“This addition complements the Percy Family Papers at MDAH, which also includes the correspondence and papers William Alexander Percy and his father [U.S.] Sen. LeRoy Percy, providing a unique insight into Delta culture and society of the day,” Blount continued.

Percy, who was 56 at the time of his passing, lived an eventful life that included fighting against the Ku Klux Klan in his home state and fighting against the Germans in World War I. He received degrees from Sewanee: The University of the South and Harvard before working in a variety of occupations that included attorney, writer, teacher, and farmer.

While MDAH is processing Percy’s collection, researchers who want to view the manuscript may request access by contacting the archival curator at the William F. Winter Archives and History Building.

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