A lifelong Birmingham resident, Andrew Jackson Bethea (1892-1928) wrote novels of the New South noteworthy for their realism. His journalistic writings reflect his concern for overcoming social corruption and for reform.
Bethea was born in Birmingham on September 19, 1892. The son of Augustus and Eugenia Bethea, he attended Phillips High School in Birmingham. In 1909, while still a junior, he became a reporter for the Birmingham Age-Herald. He married Alice Sixbey on August 7, 1912, and they had one daughter. Bethea moved to the position of city editor for the Birmingham Ledger in 1916 and then in 1921 to managing editor of the Birmingham Post. He focused much of his reporting on political corruption in the city of Birmingham.
Bethea wrote five novels in his brief life. Serialized in Collier's Weekly and published in 1923 was Half-Gods. The next three — Bed Rock in 1924, The Deep Seam in 1925, and Honor Bound in 1927 — all dealt with the coal mining industry, and his final one, Cotton (1928), dealt with agriculture. Both Honor Bound and Bed Rock were adapted for the screen, with the latter distributed under the title Coming Through. The film was shot in the town of Brookside, Jefferson County. Bed Rock tells the story of the everyday workings of a mine through its protagonist, a mining camp superintendent. In The Deep Seam, the character of the superintendent is an evil figure who tries to ruin a young woman by destroying her husband. Honor Bound focuses on the brutal and corrupt convict-lease system, which in the novel is finally abolished by a progressive governor. Cotton is the story of the son of a tenant farmer who uses scientific farming techniques to rise above his impoverished life to become a successful landowner and cotton grower. It first appeared as a serialized story entitled "Silver Fleece."
Bethea's social conscience is exhibited in both his journalism and his fiction. Although he shows no longing for the past,
he also writes of the conflict that industrial and scientific developments were bringing to the New South. Suffering health
problems, Bethea committed suicide by hanging on July 2, 1928.
Works by Jack Bethea
Bed Rock (1924)
The Deep Seam (1925)
Honor Bound (1927)
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Published July 7, 2009
Last updated April 5, 2013