Skip to main content

Memphis Cotton Makers' Jubilee Collection

Identifier: MSS-4289

Scope and Contents

This collection contains four program books, a diary, and a scrapbook related to the Memphis Cotton Makers’ Jubilee, an annual festival in Memphis, Tennessee, founded in 1935 by dentist Ransom Q. Venson and his wife Ethyl H. Venson to celebrate African American participation in the cotton industry.

The unbound scrapbook was created by Memphis native and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, student Ernestine Jones, winner of the 1951 “Spirit of Cotton” competition sponsored by the Jubilee for girls and women from historically Black colleges in the South. The scrapbook documents the 1951 contest and “Spirit of Cotton” tour (March 25 to April 24, 1951), during which Jones traveled to Washington, DC., Baltimore, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, and Brookhaven and Alcorn, Mississippi, where she was interviewed by the Black press, met with white mayors and politicians, visited many Black colleges and schools, and modeled cotton clothing she had made. The diary by Jones relates the details of her tour, beginning on March 25, 1951, when they left Memphis, and ending on April 16, when they were in Houston. The scrapbook contains photographs, newspaper clippings, business cards, and memorabilia from the tour, including a clipping of Jones and Ethyl Venson meeting boxing heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles in New York, a clipping of Jones with John Sengstacke, editor of the Chicago Defender, and a typed unsigned note from educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, apologizing for her absence from a tour-related luncheon in Washington, as well as materials related to other "Spirit of Cotton" contestants and a few items about Jones's upcoming marriage in summer 1951 to Pine Bluff A. M. & N. instructor Alvin Montero Brown.

The programs range from thirty-six to fifty pages and cover the years 1951, 1952, 1954, and 1955. Each program contains ads for Black-owned businesses in Memphis, items about committee members and the festival's royal court, and photographs and captions depicting many leading African American Memphis citizens, including W. C. Handy, natonal honorary president of the festival, along with some supportive white community members. There are a number of photographs depicting the "Spirit of Cotton" tour for each year. The programs also contain essays by R. Q. Venson, Ethyl Venson, Nat D. Williams, and others, explaining the origin and aims of the Jubilee.


  • 1951-1955

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility.

Biographical / Historical

The annual Memphis Cotton Makers' Jubilee was founded in 1935 by African American dentist Ransom Q. Venson and his wife Ethyl Horton Venson (1908-1998) in Memphis, Tennessee. The festival, which included parades, rides, balls, an essay contest, and the choosing of a royal court, was intended as a way to celebrate African American contributions to the history of the cotton trade; at the time, the Memphis Annual Cotton Carnival, founded in 1931, did not allow significant participation from Black people. The Jubilee also included the “Spirit of Cotton” contest, a beauty, fashion, and talent competition for women ages 17-21 who attended African American colleges in a number of Southern states. The winner would travel on the "Spirit of Cotton" tour, visiting cities around the eastern, midwestern, and southern United States to represent Memphis and the Black community and promote their role in the cotton industry. In 1954, the "Spirit of Cotton" tour's destinations expanded to Cuba and Haiti. R. Q. Venson was the Jubilee director until his death in 1970. After 1970, Ethyl Horton Venson served as the festival's director and continued to be active in Memphis civic life, becoming the first woman and first African American to be named to the Memphis Housing Authority board (in 1966). The Cotton Makers' Jubilee continued into the 1990s, though it became much smaller in scope. The Cotton Carnival and the Cotton Makers' Jubilee merged to become today's Carnival Memphis.

Ernestine Jones, winner of the 1951 "Spirit of Cotton" contest, was a Memphis native. At the time of her win, she was a sophomore at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College (A. M. & N.), Pine Bluff. She had placed second in the contest in 1949. Jones married Alvin Montero Brown of Petersburg, Virginia, a physical education instructor at Arkansas A. M. & N., on July 9, 1951.

For more information about R. Q. And Ethyl Venson and the Jubilee, see: and


3.06 Linear Feet (2 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection contains a diary and scrapbook kept by Ernestine Jones in 1951 when she went on a national tour as winner of the "Spirit of Cotton" competition held by the Memphis Cotton Makers' Jubilee, an annual African American festival in Memphis, Tennessee. It also contains four program books from the festival for the years 1951, 1952, 1954, and 1955.


The scrapbook pages and loose items are arranged in the order they were in when the processor received them, except for one page with a penny affixed to it that the processor separated from the others in order to preserve surrounding materials. Its previous location (in Box 4289.001, Folder 010), is indicated with a separation sheet.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The University of Alabama Libraries acquired the Memphis Cotton Makers' Jubilee Collection in 2019.

Related Materials

See also:

Dr. R.Q. and Ethyl H. Venson Cotton Makers' Jubilee Collection, Memphis Public Libraries,

Processing Information

Processed by Erin Ryan, March 2021.
Guide to the Memphis Cotton Makers' Jubilee Collection
Erin Ryan
May 2021
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266