Back to Basics (for Academic Science Funding)

My article on the importance of funding for basic science appeared in the spring 2017 issue of Emory Magazine (link here). Maybe every politician who denies substantial AND consistent funding for basic science research should be denied advanced medical treatment that grows out of basic science research. Just an idea.

Conversation with Camille Billops and James Hatch

The exhibition is coming down, but the memories stay fresh. So does the interview.

In their SoHo loft, filmmaker/artist Camille Billops and theater scholar James Hatch talk with Randall Burkett and Pellom McDaniels, curators at Emory University's Rose Library (March 28, 2015). This edited interview was featured in the exhibition "Still Raising Hell: The Art, Activism, and Archives of Camille Billops and James V. Hatch" (fall 2016 - spring 2017) at the Schatten Gallery, Emory Library.

Something about Maggie

Filming Maggie Koerner in action at Eddie's Attic last month was a great chance to see Maggie do her thing... which I find incredible... and work with my son, Henry Jacobs, who also filmed  (using our new Panasonic GH5's) and edited.

"See Change" Project for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

It's a simple premise. Talk to people up and down the length of the Chattahoochee River watershed about the changes they're seeing in the environment. Hotter summer? Harder rains? More droughts? Leave politics out of it (for the moment). Just have a conversation about what seems to be changing. Then maybe we can sit down and figure out ways to help the situation.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is sponsoring this project and the short documentary that will follow. See more information here.

Building a Garden Extraordinaire

For over 40 years, Dr. Alan Solomon, researcher and oncologist, has been moving rocks, building stone walls, planting conifers, installing sculptures and water features on his land overlooking the Tennessee River in Knoxville. We spent a weekend with him, walking through his 10+-acre garden, which rivals any botanical garden anywhere, learning more about him and his work. There's something very fitting that a healer like Dr. Solomon should create a garden that has natural healing powers of its own.

We're already looking forward to visits in the spring and autumn to capture more views of the garden.

Affordable Video

For the last couple of years, Campbell Gitomer, a recent Emory graduate in film studies, and I have been providing low-cost video services to the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory. JWJI offers a well-attended weekly lecture series and wants to reach a broader online audience but couldn't afford to pay the usual fees ($300-$400) for recording, minimal editing and export to a Youtube-friendly file.

You'll find their YT playlist at

If there are other centers, arts groups or nonprofits out there who would like occasional help with talks, please let us know and we'll try to help out.

Jontavious and Muddy and Me

A few days ago I uploaded this little interview clip to Facebook... and after two days it had received over 7,000 views and was shared on the official Muddy Waters Facebook page.

Interestingly enough, the first time I heard Jontavious Willis play in spring 2016, he reminded me of Muddy Waters. Not exactly the way he phrased his songs, but the emotion behind the songs. His charisma. Humanity. Soul. He was playing at a little street festival in LaGrange, Ga. My son and his friends were playing in another group right before him. Someone told us we should stick around for the blues player. That he had played a cigar box instrument at a little New Orleans festival a few months earlier. That Taj Mahal had invited onstage in Atlanta a few months before that and was telling everyone he was the real deal (ie, country blues musician). 

After Jontavious played, he carried his guitar over to my son's house, a few blocks away, while talking about the history of the blues like a grad student in musicology.  Then he jammed on the front porch for the next couple of hours with my son and friends. By the way, he knows a bunch of bawdy blues songs and knows how to make them work.

At some point I told him my Muddy Waters story. It was a Sunday afternoon. April 9, 1978. I was working part-time at the Coop record store in Tallahassee, across the street from Florida State University. Muddy Waters was giving a concert on campus that I planned to go to. But then my coworker said he'd heard from a record distributor that Muddy would try to drop by the store after the show. So I stayed. Missed the show. Watched the door. A hard rain fell. One of those Florida afternoon showers. No Muddy. And that was that. Maybe it's good sometimes not to meet your heroes. 

But as I told Jontavious on that spring day about 38 years later, I was feeling Muddy through him. And I thanked him for that.

The Shiloh-Rosenwald School in Notasulga, Alabama

The Shiloh-Rosenwald School sits at the crossroads of talking about the history of civil rights in the South, and it's hoped that future generations of students and visitors will drop by this living museum.

The school was built in the 1920s, perhaps on the site of the original school building that was one of the first Rosenwald Schools (numbering 5,000) built as a result of a partnership between Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington.

The landowning farmers (former slaves and children of slaves) helped build the school and pay for its operations. Students thrived here under wonderful teachers until they were able to attend integrated schools in the 1960s.

Unfortunately, the school and community also witnessed a tragic event in U.S. history -- the Syphilis Experiment conducted by the government that allowed men and their families in the community to suffer from the disease so that doctors could study its progress.

It wasn't until former Shiloh-Rosenwald student Charlie Pollard (among others) helped to bring the case to light that a U.S. president apologized to the community.

You can find more information about the school at

Update (April 8, 2017): The Shiloh film below was accepted in the Short Documentary category in the 2017 Inspired Faith Film Festival (

Telling the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Story

It's not the biggest success story of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK). That would be winning a $2 billion legal victory against the City of Atlanta which convinced politicians it was time to upgrade an antiquated sewer system that made the waters downstream an extension of its sewers. (It worked. Now the river downstream is healthier than ever.) But it might be the #2 or #3: How CRK responded to an ongoing toxic spill by an asphalt company that refused to stop dumping or clean up the damage... how the contamination flowed down a stream into the Chattahoochee River... and how CRK teamed up with local lawyers and media to force a cleanup. It took many many months for the case to be resolved in the courts—but it's all in a day's work for CRK.

In September 2016, CRK showed the film at their annual membership dinner in which Ambassador Andrew Young received the River Leader Award. A few weeks later the film was chosen as a semi-finalist in the Cause + Effect Georgia Progressive Film Festival, with finalists to be named in late October.

Documenting the Billops-Hatch Story

In early 2015, my son, Henry, and I spent a memorable afternoon filming in the SoHo loft of James Hatch and Camille Billops with Emory archivists/scholars Pellom McDaniels and Randall Burkett, and the Rose Library director Rosemary Magee. One of the results of that day was a short documentary that gives an overview of Camille and Jim's passions and work -- creating art and documenting African American life and culture -- over the last 50+ years. Besides being online (see below), the documentary is playing at the "Still Raising Hell" exhibition (September 15, 2016 through May 14, 2017) that features some of the materials now residing in Emory's Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.

(from left) Pellom McDaniels, Randall Burkett, James Hatch, Camille Billops, Rosemary Magee, Hal Jacobs, Henry Jacobs

(from left) Pellom McDaniels, Randall Burkett, James Hatch, Camille Billops, Rosemary Magee, Hal Jacobs, Henry Jacobs

The Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library is home to the Camille Billops and James V. Hatch collection of materials related to African American life and culture. The current exhibition of this work in the Woodruff Library's Schatten Gallery features some of these materials and highlights the many ways in which the couple has been actively raising hell for more than 50 years through their artistic productivity and collecting.

Teaser for "moat" by Staibdance

A little peek at the upcoming performance of "moat" by Staibdance at Emory's Performing Arts Studio. George Staib and his dancers do it again... and again and again. You can find more info at

Jontavious Willis & The Hillside Front Porch Collective

Just a crazy good show... When you see Jontavious play for the first time, you realize why the blues community is so jazzed about him. He's from the country around LaGrange, Ga., learned to play on his own (with the help of YouTube videos), still plays in church every Sunday, and is starting to get gigs in other countries. My son Henry (the drummer) met him last month at a little festival down the street from his house, then invited Jontavious back to the front porch to jam with him and Nick (bass) and Haden (mandolin). A month later they had this gig at Maggie's Pure Life Studios in LaGrange. I hope it's not the last one.


Friend and neighbor Art Linton, with Marcus Durham, plays Bill Withers's classic "Use Me" on our backporch. That's Art's daughter, Kiki, kicking off the action. Art and Marcus are working out a complete song list, including some great originals by Art, and will start looking for gigs soon.

Miss Ann's Hamburgers

One of the first videos I made involved one of Atlanta's most infamous hamburgers at Miss Ann's Shack Shop on Memorial Drive. Miss Ann was an artist whose medium was ground beef. She was recognized by the "Wall Street Journal" as creator of the best hamburger in the U.S. That honor meant more work -- and 3-hour waits to get one of the 10 or so stools inside (you waited outside in the screened porch until everyone finished their hamburger shift, and she was ready to clock the next crew in).  She passed away a few years ago, but not before selling the place and getting some well-deserved rest.

Biking Around New Orleans

New Orleans in April... Cool and sunny... Perfect for biking around, attending a friend's wedding (congrats Thomas and Emily Middour!) and getting away from viewing the world through a screen... except for looking through the viewfinder every now and then.

Documenting the Shiloh-Rosenwald School of Notasulga

This week we've started documenting the ongoing work of the Shiloh-Rosenwald school, located in Notasulga, Alabama.  Rosenwald schools , a collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears & Roebucks, are landmarks in the history of African-American education. Many of these schools have faded from the landscape, but thanks to efforts of people in the Notasulga community, the Shiloh school ( ) has been restored and is now welcoming students and educators. (photo by Henry Jacobs)

This week we've started documenting the ongoing work of the Shiloh-Rosenwald school, located in Notasulga, Alabama. Rosenwald schools, a collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, CEO of Sears & Roebucks, are landmarks in the history of African-American education. Many of these schools have faded from the landscape, but thanks to efforts of people in the Notasulga community, the Shiloh school ( has been restored and is now welcoming students and educators. (photo by Henry Jacobs)

Promoting Emory's Art History Dept.

One of my last projects at Emory involved showcasing the Art History Department in a short video they could use on social media. The department has always been one of my favorites at Emory, especially with its strong connections to the Carlos Museum and Rose Library (formerly MARBL). (One of the students in the video (Kate) talked about how impressed she was with the intimacy of the Carlos -- it's on a scale that was common among private collections before the big public institutions took over.) After interviewing faculty and students, it's easy for me to see why so many first-year students take the Introduction to Art History class and decide they want to stay around the department for a major or minor.

Documenting the Color Line in Atlanta

If you want to really understand -- see and feel -- the color line that existed in Atlanta prior to desegregation in the 1960s, there may be no better starting point than the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Turns out it wasn't so fabulous for black patrons during the first 30 years of its existence.

This is the subject of a NEH-sponsored summer workshop directed by Dr. Tim Crimmins, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Neighborhood and Metropolitan Studies at Georgia State University. He wants to document the color line in segregated Atlanta, as well as find people who experienced it firsthand.

In this video, we enter the Fox with Gwen Middlebrooks and Dr. Crimmins via the colored-only entrance -- the steep outside staircase that hugs the building on Ponce de Leon Ave. -- and sit in the nose-bleed section of the balcony while she recounts her experience on a date in the late 1950s. Her father later castigated her for going in through the "back door," something he told to never do again.

Then we approach the Fox from its grand (formerly whites-only) Peachtree Ave. entrance, stepping in through the front doors, as did Gwen and friends, a few years later, wearing sari's and passing as Indians as they accompanied a visiting Indian professor at Spelman. Yes, she was a risk taker. She later participated in the Atlanta sit-ins.

We edited two versions of the video. The longer version includes more background on Ms. Middlebrooks' parents (re their working-class background and attitudes towards segregation) and also show the separate-AND-unequal restroom facilities. A stark contrast there.

8-17-16 UPDATE:  he GSU Creative Media Industries Institute referred to the Fox video in its blog today: "The issue [how race, class, poverty, and discrimination] is of central importance for Atlanta. Despite progress, the historical legacy of segregation has been deeply persistent; e.g., watch this powerful video tour of the Fox Theatre, which features Gwen Middlebrooks and GSU historian Tim Crimmins and tells the story of historically segregated entertainment...."


Capital Campaign for Youth Baseball Park

This was a project near and dear to me. The baseball park where my sons played... and where I coached and served on the board -- Druid Hills Youth Sports (DHYS) at Medlock Park... is launching a capital campaign soon and needed to stir up some excitement. So I produced two videos -- a short 60+-second attention grabber and a longer 4+-minute version that goes into details about the park's needs. I also enlisted my colleague Joe Boris to help grab some exciting visuals. The final pieces evolved over many weeks and consultations with DHYS volunteers. And I got extremely lucky one evening by being at the park during one of the best sunsets of the fall.