Oral History: An Interview with Bob Lipscomb
On a pleasant April afternoon, I sat at my grandfather’s house to interview him about our family history. Over the course of his life, my grandfather has worked briefly as a teacher, then for many years as the most well-known local photographer, and since retiring from photography, he has returned to education, now working as an adjunct history professor at a community college in the north Metro Atlanta Area.
My grandfather, who all of his grandkids know as “Papa Bob,” was a natural choice to interview about the history of our family. He has been interested in history all of his life, and about twenty-five years ago he helped my great-great aunts in researching several books on family history and the history of their family church.
Over the course of a very informal interview, we discussed family history, the history of the local community, which is distinctly intertwined with the history of our family, as well as his time in education and his subsequent switch to a career in photography.
Christopher: How exactly did the land you live on come into the family, and when did that occur?
Bob: My grandfather bought it. I don’t know exactly when, but it was about 1915. He bought 80 acres and then a few years later bought another 80 acres.
Christopher: But this wasn’t the first family land in this area was it?
Bob: No. Our family has been in this community since the1840’s or maybe earlier. I know at least the 1840s.
Christopher: What impact did the Civil War have on the family?
Bob: Two of them died of disease up in the Chattanooga area [fighting in the confederate army] and when word reached here that they had died, their mother died just a few days later.
Christopher: And they would have been Jacob Cagle’s brothers?
Bob: No. They were sons of Elbert Keeter. After them and his wife died he remarried a woman named Arminda Evans, and we are descended from them.
Christopher: And what about the Lipscomb side of the family?
Bob: I know very little, except that one of my grandfather’s family had a man who died in the war, and his family took over the Lipscomb farm in Bartow County.
Christopher: And Jacob Cagle was wounded during the war?
Bob: He was wounded up in the Chattanooga area. Some of his friends abandoned him and came home and told his wife that he’s died, and then he showed up alive. He’s the one that was trying to zig-zag during a charge but got shot.
Christopher: Did the Lipscombs and the Cagles (or Tippens) know each other before your parents became acquainted and got married?
Bob: No I don’t think so. My dad, his mother died, and he lived with his Uncle Olin Doss, and Olin Doss lived on the Vanderver Farm. That was on Hickory Log creek, and my mother taught at Chalcedonia school, and my father went with some young men to watch a ball game at the school, and he met her there.
Christopher: What was it like going to a church with such a deep family history and with so much family there?
Bob: When David [my father] was a kid he remembers two-thirds of the people there were from the Tippens family. There were a few other families there too, like the Carpenters and the Callahans, but they didn’t have as many as we did. But they were stable families. But no family as numerous as ours by any means.
Christopher: What about the history of the church in the community?
Bob: It’s an old church, founded in 1848. I’ve noticed that a lot of families around here have belonged to it at one time or another. I’d say it’s been an influential church in the community. There are families that I’ve known of who went there for a long time, like the Reinhardts and the Hastys, who only stopped going to Sardis because they moved away. Some of the history is in my book.
Christopher: Could you talk a little about it?
Bob: I helped Margaret and Marjorie do a history of the church, and I learned that the church was founded by six charter members, and one of those members was a man named John Byrd, and four of the others were my family. And some slaves joined just a few months later, and we later learned that one of those slaves was probably the daughter of John Byrd. It was fairly common back then for men to have children by their slaves, and this is what my book is about. Then after the Civil War those slaves moved away and founded a new church at Hickory Log, right above where Teasley Middle School is now. And then they moved to Highway 140 in the 1950s, and the church is still there today. I took that history as the basis, then fictionalized to fill in the blanks, and that is what turned into my novel [The Slave Daughter].
Christopher: How has Sardis changed over the years?
Bob: It hasn’t changed a lot. They’ve changed the physical facilities greatly. They built Sunday school rooms in the 50’s, the fellowship hall in the 90’s. They’ve added air conditioning, a heating system, and indoor restrooms. When I was a boy we had to open the windows in the summer time. They added the baptismal pool. The style of worship has not changed a lot. Not much. And of course, so much of our family has died that I’m really the only one left of the Tippens family that’s left there, but our family has been there continuously since 1848.
Christopher: You’d mentioned that a cousin traced our family back to Robert the Bruce. What can you tell me about this?
Bob: That’s all I know. Johnny Lipscomb did that. This thing about us descending from him, I don’t know how they knew that and I can’t promise its true.
Christopher: You started out your career as a teacher. What sparked your initial interest in education?
Bob: Really my family had.
Christopher: How long did you teach for?
Bob: For four years before I set up my studio.
Christopher: What led you to quit teaching and take up photography?
Bob: Because I didn’t just enjoy teaching. I didn’t feel like I was cut out for elementary or high school teaching, and photography had been my hobby.
Christopher: When did you first start getting into photography?
Bob: I started in 1972, working part time out of my house for three years. I had a job with the state of Georgia at the same time, then in November of 1975 I lost my job with the state and I decided to set up a full-time studio. I rented the space in Canton and stayed in business from November of 1975 until January of 2005. Lee Tippens was my landlord from 1975 to 1983, then he died. After Lee died, James Cannon got the building and rented my space out for someone else, and word got back to Roy [my other grandfather] what had happened, and he called me up and rented me a new space in a better building. I stayed with him until he sold it to Doug Flint, and I stayed with Doug until I closed the studio.
Christopher: Where was the original studio?
Bob: On North street, roughly across the street from the fire station. The building was called the Tippens building…it had three slots, and I was in the middle one. It went to James Cannon after Lee died, because he was married to a Tippens. His wife was my mother’s first cousin. He rented our office to General Telephone company and didn’t tell us, but then he went to Sunday School and talked about it, and word got back to me what had happened. I called the telephone company to find out because I didn’t think Lee would tell me. They told him that I had called, and he came back to me and told me there wasn’t a word of truth to it, but there was. When Roy found out, I had a new office within a day.
Christopher: What is your favorite memory of your time as a photographer?
Bob: I photographed Jimmy Carter and Lester Maddox. Another would be when the Georgia Botanical Society had a mushroom photography contest. I entered it and won hands down, and my prize was a stationery pad that had a little drawing on it of a frog riding a little bicycle through a mushroom patch.
Christopher: And how many weddings did you photograph during your career?
Bob: Maybe fifteen hundred. That’s a wild guess.
Christopher: What made you decide to go back into education after closing the studio?
Bob: I didn’t go back at first. I took a couple of years off, but then I found out about some adjunct positions at Chattahoochee tech. I went back into education, but not back into elementary.
� The story of my grandfather as tradition-bearer relates to the past and the present of the community because he is a bridge to the past of the community. Coming from one of the predominant families in the region, and being familiar with all of the familiar history and much of the local lore, he knows the past of the community as well as anyone, if not better. This relates to me because, even though I do not live in the community, the history of the community and the history of my family are richly intertwined, and one cannot be had without the other.
My understanding of the big picture of the community’s history did not really change, however I became much more familiar with small details. I became more familiar with the history of Sardis Baptist Church, which my grandfather and his family have attended since it was founded, as well as with how my family came to be in the community. This inspired me to learn more about my family and the community because I realized that although I may already know a considerable amount, especially about my family’s history, there is still much that I do not know, especially regarding the intricate little details of the people.
The biggest challenge I had anticipated was communication because my grandfather is very hard of hearing because of an accident, and because of this I was concerned about conducting the interview over the phone. I wound up overcoming this because I made an (unrelated) last minute decision to go home this weekend, so I was able to conduct the interview face-to-face, rather than over the phone.
If roles were reversed and I found myself as tradition-bearer, I would talk about growing up being as close to my grandparents as I have been, and about growing up in a small church. But mostly I think I would focus on the closeness of my relationship to my grandparents, and the experiences I have had with them.�2�tc�