"He was walking around like one of the guys. You're a kid, you've just beaten Arkansas, somebody says, 'Congratulations' and you say, 'Thanks, buddy!' and start slapping backs, not realizing it's the president of the United States."
James H Street, Game Day, Texas Football
James Howell Street was born in Lumberton, Mississippi, on October 15, 1903, to John Camillus, a lawyer, and William (Willie) Thompson Scott Street, his mother. Street's family moved to Poplarville and then Hattiesburg before finally settling down in Laurel, Mississippi. At the age of fourteen, Street began working at the Laurel Daily Leader, a local newspaper. He became a reporter in Hattiesburg at nineteen.
In 1923, Street (nicknamed Jimmy) married Lucy Nash O'Briant, who was a Baptist minister's daughter. Street, raised a Roman Catholic, decided to to follow in the footsteps of his father-in-law and became a Baptist minister. He studied at Fort Worth's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and became the minister of a church in St. Charles, Missouri in 1924. While attending Howard College in Birmingham, Street preached at churches in Lucedale, Mississippi, and later Bayles, Alabama. While he was in the ministry, his wife gave birth to their three children: James Jr., John, and Ann. After his children were born, he gave up preaching and returned to being a newspaper reporter first at the Pensacola Journal in Florida and then in 1926 at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. He was twenty-three when he went to work for the Gazette as a reporter and state editor, but he later said that he added four years to his age to get the job.
In 1928, Street went to work for the Associated Press. He moved to New York in 1933 and was hired away from the Associated Press by the New York World-Telegram in 1937. Street sold the short story, A Letter to the Editor, to Cosmopolitan magazine, which caught the eye of film producer David Selznick and who turned it into a hit film, Nothing Sacred. The Broadway musical, Hazel Flagg, was based on his short story, as well as the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film, Living it Up.
His success allowed him to write full-time. The first of his five historical novels, Oh, Promised Land, appeared in 1940. Together with Tap Roots (1942), By Valour and Arms (1944), Tomorrow We Reap (1949), and Mingo Dabney (1950), these novels chronicled the Dabney family in Lebanon, Mississippi, from 1794 to 1896. Street's five-novel series explored classic Southern issues of race and honor and strongly characterized Street's struggle to reconcile his Southern heritage with his feelings about racial injustice. The series was a critical and popular success, with several of the books being made into feature films.
Street also published two popular novels about boys and dogs, The Biscuit Eater and Good-bye, My Lady. Good-bye My Lady was published by the Saturday Evening Post as Weep No More, My Lady. The book rapidly became an American best-seller and was made into a film after the Second World War. A set of semi-autobiographical novels about a Baptist minister, The Gauntlet and The High Calling, were also purchased by Hollywood but never produced.
Street's short stories and articles appeared regularly in Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and Holiday. In all, Street wrote thirty-five short stories, seventeen novels and twenty magazine articles.
In 1945 Street moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and purchased a house and farm where he experimented with organic farming.
Street died of a heart attack in Chapel Hill, N.C. on September 28, 1954, just moments after presenting a journalism award to a colleague. Street was fifty years old. His colleague, Scott Jarret, who had shaken Street's hand after receiving the award, wrote a letter about the incident which was recorded by professional actors and made into the short film, A Colleague's Tribute to Southern Author James Street. Included in the film is a gallery of 32 private family photographs. It can be seen in full on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLFwGQW-ZwE.
James Street's South, a collection of essays about the South published posthumously by Doubleday & Co. in 1955, contained stories about Arkansas and a long tribute to the Gazette and its editor, John Netherland Heiskell. Street's son, James H Street Jr., wrote in the introduction: "He always thought of the Gazette as his school and of its editors as his teachers. He thought of it as the embodiment of the qualities of Arkansas that are to be admired and he was quick to defend it."