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Rhodes College Archives and Special Collections

Shelby Foote as a teenager and young adult

Shelby Foote about 16 years old in 1932.

Shelby Foote when he was in high school in Greenville, Mississippi.

Attending one of the best high schools in the region, Foote enjoyed a high school career most notable for Foote’s editorship of the school’s newspaper, The Pica.

Foote came under the tutelage and influence of William Alexander Percy who was a lawyer by trade and a scholar by choice; a bibliophile, a poet, philosopher, and civic leader.  Percy was a monumental influence on Foote, encouraging Foote to borrow and read any of the works in his private library.  It was at Will Percy’s home that Walker and Shelby were exposed to authors such as Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Parker, Stephen Vincent Benet and Langston Hughes and heard about others, such as Shakespeare, Keats and Faulkner.  

It was also at Will Percy's home that Foote was introduced to the world of classical music. His love of classical music is shown in his diaries, where he notes what composer and piece he listened to each day.

In the summer of 1932, Foote befriended Will Percy’s young cousins, Walker and LeRoy, who moved to Greenville to live with William Percy when their mother died.  Walker Percy and Foote became lifelong friends. 


Foote High School Group

Shelby and fellow students at Greenville High School.

Foote edited The Pica, the student newspaper of Greenville High School, and frequently used the paper to lampoon the school's principal.   

 In 1935, Foote applied to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, hoping to join the older Percy boys who were already enrolled.    Foote was initially denied acceptance to UNC because of a negative recommendation from the principal, but after taking extended admissions tests, he was accepted.  


Foote at UNC

As a student at the University of North Carolina from 1935 to 1937,  Foote began contributing fiction to UNC’s literary journal, "Carolina Magazine".

       "I've never gotten over the first time I entered  Wilson Library.   I  never knew there were so many books in the world." 

  Shelby Foote quoted in the UNC Friends of the Library page in the Alumni Review, November/December 2003, p. 58.     

Foote with a mustache

Foote describes this as his first mustache at 21 and a half years old.

Foote at UNC dance

Foote dancing at a formal at University of North Carolina.  When he left UNC in 1937, he returned to Greenville and worked in construction at the and for the Delta Democrat Times.  He began working on his first novel, "Tournament."

Foote in the U. S. Army

In 1940, Foote was commissioned as a captain of the artiliery in the  Mississippi National Guardand. After being transferred from one stateside base to another, his battalion was deployed to Northern Ireland in 1943. The following year, Foote was charged with falsifying a government document relating to the check-in of a motor pool vehicle he had borrowed to visit a girlfriend in Belfast.  This young lady later became his first wife.  He was court-martialed and dismissed from the Army.

Shelby Foote as a teenager and young adult