Rhodes College Acquires Shelby Foote’s Personal Papers and Library

Rhodes College President William E. Troutt announced today that the college has acquired the 2,350-volume book collection, personal papers and diaries, handwritten book drafts and maps, and memorabilia of famed novelist and Civil War historian Shelby Dade Foote Jr. (1916-2005).

According to the official release from the University, many of the books from Shelby Foote’s personal library are rare, including signed first edition novels by William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Walker Percy. Some of these items had been on loan to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After the acquisition, the books were returned and are now part of the Shelby Foote Collection at Rhodes College.



Shelby Foote’s ties to Rhodes College were strong.  They are evident in the 1982 honorary degree that he received from Rhodes, the notes of the lectures he gave at the college in 1988 and the 1991 Rhodes Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society pendant that hung on the bulletin board above his desk. 

Rhodes was approached about the opportunity to acquire the collection and, under the leadership of President William Troutt, moved quickly to develop a proposal that met the needs of Huger Foote, maintained the integrity of the entire collection and enhanced the academic resources at Rhodes. The college took ownership of the collection in November 2010, thus permanently joining Foote’s legacy to Rhodes.

A boon for historians

The papers of Shelby Foote, including his correspondence with his fellow writers, his drafts and notes for both his published and unpublished literary works, and his personal memo books and calendars will be of great use to potential Foote biographers and scholars of American literature. 

Likewise, the large collection of Foote family letters—many from the nineteenth century—will be of tremendous value to historians of the American South.  And the research notes, manuscripts and hand-drawn maps associated with The Civil War will be invaluable to historians attempting to examine the writing of this renowned work.

“How delighted and grateful I am that my father’s collection, which is so dear to my heart, will be housed here in the Barret Library at Rhodes. When setting out to find a permanent home for the collection, I knew one thing clearly that I would be guided by what I believed would be my father’s wishes,” said Huger Foote, son of Shelby Foote.

Adds Foote, “My father’s collection is large and full of treasures. When studying it, one discovers the vast and varied world of my father’s creative and intellectual life. It was important to me that the entire collection be kept intact and preserved in its full integrity to inspire and, I think, amaze this and future generation of scholars. Rhodes shared this vision. . . . There’s an old Irish Proverb which says ‘May the Roads Rise to Meet You,’ and here they have done exactly that.”

He went on to say “I’ve always known that parting one day with my father’s collection, under any circumstances, would be difficult, but now it gives me enormous pleasure and great peace of mind to announce that the collection will be here at Rhodes where I can remain close to it and yet share it with the world. I think we all feel equally blessed to have it here. In short, Rhodes College is the perfect home for my father’s collection. Thank you, Rhodes, and thank you Memphis.”

Location of Foote collection:

All of the items in the Shelby Foote Collection will be housed in the 136,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Paul Barret, Jr. Library on the Rhodes College campus. 

A Rhodes task force is developing the process by which all of the materials will be indexed, cataloged and permanently stored and displayed. This process will provide Rhodes students with fellowship opportunities to participate in the organization and archiving of the materials. Eventually, many of the materials in the collection will be digitized and made available for review online and via other electronic media.

“We are a college that provides students with remarkable opportunities – the best in the classroom, the best beyond the classroom, and access to academic resources that can only be found here at Rhodes and here in Memphis,” says President Bill Trout. “With the acquisition of the Shelby Foote Collection, we take another step forward in the excellence we offer at Rhodes.”

Acquisition Overview

In late summer 2010, Shelby Foote’s son, Huger Foote, actively sought  a permanent place to house the entire collection of his late father’s work, including the author’s personal library, manuscripts, papers, maps and other materials and artifacts. Ideally, Huger Foote wanted to house the collection in Memphis (his father’s adopted hometown), at an institution with a national reputation for academic excellence and where the materials could be appropriately stored, displayed and made available for inspection and academic study in a secure environment.

Shelby Foote’s Personal Library

The book collection, which includes approximately 2,350 volumes, is made up mostly of works of classic literature—everything from Greek tragedies to contemporary Southern writers—as well as works of literary interpretation, American history (particularly the history of the South and Civil War) and European history.  Of particular note are the rare, signed and/or inscribed first-edition novels by Shelby Foote, William Faulkner, Walker Percy and Eudora Welty.

Shelby Foote’s Personal Papers

The papers include handwritten and typed drafts and notes for Foote’s novels, essays, short stories, screenplays, speeches, lectures and his most famous work, The Civil War: A Narrative. Correspondents include friends, associates and family members. Letters from presidents, U.S. senators, governors and other leading figures (Walker Percy, Cormac McCarthy, Allen Tate, Willie Morris, David McCullough and Ken Burns, among others) are also included.  There are decades of personal diaries, memo books and calendars, along with a large collection of hand-drawn maps, photographs, magazines and other memorabilia.

Shelby Foote’s Personal Artifacts

Among the personal artifacts is a large collection of classical music (scores, LP records, cassettes and compact discs), as well as various military artifacts, sculptures, figurines, drawings, prints and posters. Also included are numerous awards and plaques that Shelby Foote received throughout his lifetime.


Shelby Foote was born in Greenville, Miss., in 1916 and was raised by his mother after his father died. An only child, Foote took an interest in reading. When he was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he contributed fiction pieces to the school’s literary journal. After serving in the Army in World War II, he held various jobs, including a stint as a reporter. Foote’s first novel, Tournament, was published in 1949, and works that followed include Follow Me Down,  Love in a Dry Season, Shiloh, Jordan County: A Landscape in Narrative and  September, September, which is set during the 1957 integration of Little Rock’s Central High School. In 1951, what began as a Random House proposal for a short account of the Civil War turned into the more than a million and a half words of The Civil War: A Narrative that took Foote 20 years to write and carries readers from Fort Sumter to Appomatox.

In the late 1980s, writer Robert Penn Warren recommended Foote to filmmaker Ken Burns who was planning his television documentary on the war. Burns and crew interviewed Foote, and after the 11-hour series aired on PBS in 1990, Foote gained national celebrity.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and Burn’s film is scheduled to air on PBS in April.

In 2001, Foote was the focus of an in-depth interview conducted by C-SPAN television founder Brian Lamb. On June 27, 2005, Foote died in Memphis at the age of 88.

Founded in 1848, Rhodes is a private, co-educational college of liberal arts and sciences. For more information, please visit www.rhodes.edu.