Book Review Archives

The Works of Matthew Blue, Montgomery

By: By Mary Ann Neeley, ed.; Foreword by Edwin C. Bridges
Reviewed by: Julia Oliver
NewSouth Books, 2010
$45, Hardcover

This compendium is a brilliantly enhanced reproduction of a nineteenth century historian’s chronicles of Montgomery, Alabama, during the city’s formative era. The writings of that journalist, Matthew Powers Blue, have been edited and annotated by Montgomery’s current keeper of the flame, Mary Ann Neeley. With enthusiastic participation and encouragement of publishers Suzanne La Rosa and Randall Williams, Neeley has refreshed and amplified the source material with lucid analysis and additional information.

As the Alabama Department of Archives and History Director Edwin C. Bridges observes in an eloquent Foreword, Mary Ann Neeley’s work over twenty-four years as Director of Landmarks Foundation “spilled over into almost every area of community life, which she enriched by adding historical perspective and a generous spirit. In her retirement, she has continued a full-time schedule of research, writing, speeches, tours, and special programs.” A graduate of Huntingdon College, Neeley earned a master’s degree in history from Auburn University, and she is the author and co-author of several previous books.

Matthew Powers Blue, born in 1824 to early settlers of this area, worked at various times as a mail clerk, postmaster, columnist, and newspaper publisher. He was involved in politics and got into scrapes. Neeley notes, “A complex individual, he sometimes brought troubles upon himself." Early on—in the Preface—she addresses the issue of race: "Only on rare occasions did antebellum newspapers carry news of the slave or free black communities. Matthew Blue’s background materials, as did he, overlooked an important facet of Montgomery life. Thus the capital city’s first published history was not comprehensive, for it did not capture the rich story of a major part of the population."

The Contents are grouped into sections. Part I contains Blue’s narrative History of Montgomery and Events in the History of Montgomery, which were published in the 1878 City Directory of Montgomery. Originally grouped by the months of the calendar, the Events have been “chronologically rearranged” for this edition. The narrative text is accompanied by Neeley’s essays and succinct side-bar notes and captions. Illustrations abound: maps, lithographs, daguerreotypes, photographs, paintings, and sketches of Montgomery scenes and landmarks. Portraits of early residents include those of Mary Ann Neeley’s ancestors, William Graham, who was the city’s first intendant, and his wife Sara Ann. Other titled sections are The Churches of Montgomery (1878), Genealogy of the Blue Family (1886), both of which had been privately published, and the charming, previously unpublished diaries of Matthew Blue’s sister, Ellen Blue Jones.

Anyone who loves to read and has a deep connection with Montgomery, Alabama, should own this book. April 2010

Julia Oliver lives in Montgomery.