Big Jim: More than 'Just a story'

2014-02-28T00:00:00Z Big Jim: More than 'Just a story'Jim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Here’s something that happened while we were photographing those African-American quilts back in 1979.

My companion was Worth Long, an experienced African-American folklorist who had been sent to Tucson by the National Endowment for the Arts to teach me what he could about how to locate African-American folk artists.

We were in a town in Pinal County and were explaining to a quilt-maker and her husband, a minister, what we were doing and why. We were looking for quilts — not to buy and resell them, but to document them as an exciting form of traditional African-American folk art. We’d like to photograph as many quilts as possible. The photographs would go into the University of Arizona Archives. We hoped to find enough material for a potential exhibition, showing the work of the ladies here in Pinal County.

As we heard ourselves say all this it sounded a little thin, even to us. Here were two strangers — men in their 40s, one black, one white, driving a University of Arizona car, on a self-proclaimed mission of benevolent public service. What were we really up to? Where was the catch in all this? Giving no indication that these thoughts might be going through his head, our new preacher friend told us the following story:

One hot day, Lie asked Truth to go swimming with him. Truth, being Truth, accepted the invitation and off they went to the river or pond or whatever. While they were swimming, and while Truth was diving around, Lie got up on shore, put on Truth’s clothes, and started walking back to town. Truth came to the surface, and didn’t see Lie. He called out. No answer. But then he looked down the road and saw Lie walking into town with Truth’s clothes on. Truth looked down at Lie’s clothes, in a heap by his feet, looked at Lie in the distance, and said “No! Before I’d put on Lie’s clothing, I’d go into town as the Naked Truth!”

That was all; the subject was changed soon after. But the message came across loud and clear: “I don’t know what you fellows are up to in my community, but it had better be what you say it is.” A bit indirect, of course, but there are many different ways to convey a meaning, just as there are different ways to piece a quilt. And they all add beauty to the tapestry of American culture.

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About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at

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