The Council of Federated Organizations or COFO, was organized in 1961, to promote voter registration in Mississippi. In this episode, Benton County, Mississippi native Ernestine Scott recalls joining the group as a teenager. She also remembers one civil rights worker arrested for attending a basketball game.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act, election officials used reading comprehension tests to prevent blacks from registering to vote. Ernestine Scott describes how they worked to prepare for the test.
Growing up in Benton County, Mississippi in the 1950s, Ernestine Scott had limited contact with white people. Her father would shield his children from visitors to their farm to protect them. Her first impressions of the outside world and the role of African-Americans in it came from television programs of the day. In response to depictions of blacks as porters and maids and personified by such characters as Amos and Andy, Scott’s father would tell her that black people were better than that and someday, whites would understand the need to show them in a better light.
In this episode, Scott shares her memories of that time, like being chastised by a white man for drinking from the wrong water fountain, how her mother warned her of the need to be careful when speaking to a white person, and her father’s prediction for a better future. She also recalls riding 12 miles on an overcrowded bus to reach the county’s one black school each day.
PHOTO: Benton County courthouse
Ocean Springs native Jai Johnny Johanson got his first big break as a professional drummer in 1966 when he joined Otis Redding's band. Over the next couple of years, he played for several big names including Percy Sledge, Joe Tex, Johnny Jenkins and Clarence Carter, but by 1968, found himself struggling to make ends meet. Johanson was about to leave the south and move to New York to pursue a career in Jazz when he heard of a young guitar player named Duane Allman, looking to form a new band. The two men were soon joined by bassist Barry Oakley and that trio would serve as the foundation for the Allman Brother Band.
In this episode, Johanson shares his memories of that time including the phone call he got from Cadillac Henry about joining Otis Redding’s band. He recalls going to see Percy Sledge at the Apollo and how he got the nickname, Jaimoe. Finally, he discusses what made Duane Allman such an exceptional musician and the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
Photo Credits: Carl Vernlund
Born in 1948 in Montezuma, Kansas, Stanley Giesbrecht was the fifteenth of seventeen children. His grandparents were Russian Mennonites who escaped religious persecution by immigrating to Canada where they joined a group who had left the Church’s general assembly to follow the teachings of a Mennonite reformist named John Holdeman. That group became the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite or Holdeman Mennonites.
Giesbrect moved to Brooksville, Mississippi as a young man, searching for a place where he could live the quiet life of a Mennonite farmer. In this episode, he explains the difference between Holdeman Mennonites and other Mennonites. He recounts how their preacher convinced him to serve the Church as a teacher at the Southaven Mennonite School, and explains why they don’t believe in education beyond the eighth grade.
Podcast Extra: According to Giesbrecht, the Church doesn’t allow its members to vote, participate in politics or serve in the military. He recalls how he worked in a hospital for two years during the Vietnam War to fulfill his obligation to the nation.
Growing up in a small town fosters feelings of community through shared experiences. In this episode, Georgia Taylor shares her memories of Macon, Mississippi during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. She recalls the government-issued coupon books used to ration commodities during WWII and how her mother would buy groceries one day at a time. It was a time when people didn’t lock their doors and grocery stores would delivery your food and even put it in the refrigerator for you.
As teenagers in a small town, Taylor and her friends found ways to pass the long summers, together. She recounts the good times at the Dreamland Theater, dances at the American Legion Hut, getting sunburned at Choctaw Lake, and trips to her grandmother’s farm. One of Taylor’s favorite places was Farris Brook’s Book Store. She recalls buying ice cream there and how the children would sit on the floor and read comic books.
When Choctaw Indian Chief Cameron Wesley was arrested for murder in 1939, the story made national headlines. Taylor discusses Wesley’s two trials: the first in a Mississippi court and the second under Choctaw Tribal Law.
The Korean Conflict began in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Aubrey Freshour of Noxubee County joined the Army in October of 1951, as the war was heating up. In this episode, he shares his memories of that time like how his basic training got off to a rough start, the long journey from San Francisco to the front lines, and the importance of wearing dry socks during the harsh Korean winters.
During his sixteen-month deployment, Freshour often experienced times of loneliness and uncertainty. He credits his creator and letters from home with giving him the strength to make it though and shares with us the full experience from beginning to end.
As the son of a Noxubee County sharecropper, Aubrey Freshour learned to be self-sufficient at a young age. During harvest time, he and his six siblings would pick cotton after they got home from school. Then it was time to do the chores and finish their homework by the light of a coal-oil lamp.
In this episode, Freshour recalls how his family grew their own food and cured their own meats. In the 1940s, living in the country meant finding creative ways to have fun. He remembers how they would swim during the summers, hold impromptu dances and spend New Year’s Eve serenading the neighbors.
As a teenager, Freshour looked for opportunities to make extra money. He remembers helping to build a new highway near his house and the primitive roadbuilding equipment they used.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
As the son of a WWII Marine fighter pilot, Hardy Stennis of Macon, Mississippi was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. In this episode, Stennis discusses his military career spent as a combat pilot during the 1950s & 60s. Determined to see the world, he requested to be stationed in Suga, Japan immediately after graduating flight school. At that time, regulations required that new graduates be assigned to a stateside training squadron, but somehow Stennis was granted his request. He remembers how a veteran pilot named Trigger Long took him under his wing and gave him the chance he needed.
According to Stennis, there were plenty of ways for a young pilot to get into trouble in Japan in those days. He credits the fatherly advice of a major who encouraged him to stay away from wild living and stay in shape if he wanted to excel as a fighter pilot. It was the major who convinced Stennis to try out of a local rugby team in Yokohama.
Stennis goes on to detail his involvement in the Vietnam War. He remembers a mission to destroy a ferry in Laos, wiping out a large group of North Vietnamese soldiers attacking the Fifth Marines, and an altercation afterwards with an overbearing reporter.
Ernest Potter boarded a troop ship bound for Italy on September 5, 1944, the same day his daughter was born. In this episode, he shares his memories of receiving the news a month later and meeting boxing legend Joe Louis. He also describes the luxurious accommodations of his first post and the primitive conditions of his second.
Working an air traffic controller with the Allied Forces, Ernest Potter’s group supported the British 8th Army. He discusses how much tea the British drank during the course of a day, how the Germans would shell their positions at night and recounts a couple of opportunities he had to aid a young Italian girl and a German POW.
As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper in the early 1950s, Hubert Wesley had limited opportunities to further his education beyond the basics. In this episode, he recalls how a Missionary Baptist preacher, Willie Nix and his wife Ethel brought him from Mashulaville to Birmingham. The couple took him into their home and found him a job at a local service station. Her brother, Charles Wells, an accountant with Hayes Aircraft Company, began tutoring young Wesley and teaching him the skills required to land a good paying job.
It was Wells’ determination to instill confidence in Wesley that led him to suggest they apply to be contestants on Strike it Rich, a controversial TV gameshow that pitted people with hard-luck stories against each other for the chance to win $500. Wesley describes their trip to New York City to compete on the gameshow in March of 1954. His story touched the nation and donations and job offers poured in, afterwards.
Wesley accepted a job with Hayes Aircraft on Wells’ recommendation and details his career with the company until his retirement at the age of 55. His story is remarkable for the way people responded to his earnest efforts at self-improvement.
Hubert Wesley was only five when his family left the Choctaw reservation and became sharecroppers. In this episode, he shares his memories of how they came to live in Noxubee county and the hard times they endured. As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper, Wesley worked year-round, cutting timber and chopping cotton. He recalls the primitive lifestyle and the spirit of cooperation it fostered within the Choctaw community.
After Wesley’s family harvested their crops each fall, they were paid to help the white farmers. He explains how the Choctaws were treated differently from their white coworkers and recounts paying ten cents for a ride to Macon and sitting with black customers at the cinema.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
Mr. F.L. Mills of New Augusta, grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In this episode, he recalls how his father made sure their friends and neighbors had enough food to eat. As the son of a yeoman farmer, Mills learned to make do with hand-me-down shoes and homemade toys, but even through the worst of times, he remembers the family always got new clothes for Easter.
During the 1930s, farmers depended on credit provided by furnish merchants until their crops could be sold. Mills recalls a humorous story about one shopkeeper in New Augusta who apparently had selective hearing.
When Mills’ father died from a stroke in 1935, the family learned that he had mortgaged the farm to help out his relatives. The family ended up losing the farm and suffered great financial hardship. Mills discusses his decision to run away from home at the age of 16 and join the Civilian Conservation Corps.
PHOTO: Life Magazine
Becky Stowe, of Lucedale, is the South Mississippi Director of Forest Programs for the Nature Conservancy. In this episode, she explains how they work to restore biodiversity to their longleaf pine preserves, the important role fire plays in controlling the underbrush in a longleaf forest and how foliage lies dormant, waiting for the opportunity a fire creates.
Maintaining a longleaf forest through prescribed burnings, improves habitats for birds and wildlife. Stowe reveals how animals avoid being harmed when the underbrush is burned away. She also discusses how the Nature Conservancy works with Camp Shelby to protect its wildlife and natural resources and why they call gopher tortoises the chicken McNuggets of the forest.
Extended conflicts in the middle east have meant extended deployments for our troops. Time spent away from home, often in combat situations, can be stressful for soldier and family alike. In this episode, Brigade Commander Trent Kelly discusses a variety of challenges faced by the modern military family. Since joining the army in 1985, Kelly has been deployed to Iraq multiple times. He shares how growing up in Union, Mississippi, his family and his church inspired him to serve, the periods of adjustments that soldiers and their families face once they are reunited, and why it is so important for them to have a core support group of family and friends.
Additionally, Kelly offers his prospective on the needs of our veterans, including an overhaul of the VA medical system and problems related to PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learning to recognize the symptoms of PTSD has taught him that the soldiers who need treatment the most are the least likely to ask for help.
In 1969, two professors from Millsaps and Tougaloo, Jim Loewen and Charles Sallis, decided to write a Mississippi History textbook with the help of their graduate students. Mississippi: Conflict and Change was considered a ground-breaking textbook when it was published in 1974. Despite receiving universal critical acclaim, the book was banned from use in Mississippi classrooms by the State Textbook Purchasing Board.
In this episode, Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, a member of the team of graduate students who assisted in writing the book, discusses the felt need for a more inclusive narrative in teaching Mississippi history. She also recalls their efforts to convince the State to reconsider its ruling and the decision to file a lawsuit against the Board.
Podcast Extra: Thirty-five years after winning their lawsuit against the State Textbook Purchasing Board, Hairston reflects on the judge’s ruling and the importance of history in making Mississippi a better place to live.
Prior to desegregation in 1968, black students in Ocean Springs, Mississippi attended Keys High School. In this episode, Jeanne Meggs remembers the dedicated teachers there and how they pushed her to succeed. She also recalls how the schools were separate, but not equal when it came to resources. And she explains how issues still arose as to the treatment of black students, even after the schools in Ocean Springs integrated.
Even so, Meggs looks back favorably on her childhood in Ocean Springs. Despite the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, the one constant she recalls, was the caring and charitable nature of the people who lived there. Since retiring, Meggs has returned to Ocean Springs. She describes it as a community with a historically progressive outlook. Finally, she reflects on how growing up there gave her the confidence to achieve her goals.
PHOTO - msmohp.com
Sidney Land of Los Angeles joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 after graduating high school, so he was well into his military career by the time he came to Vietnam in the mid-60s. He eventually became a patrol officer on a PBR (patrol boat river) working to disrupt enemy supply lines along the upper Saigon river. Because of his experience and interest in Vietnamese culture, he became an advisor for several of the South Vietnamese boat crews that patrolled alongside the U.S. Navy crews.
In this episode, Land discusses how he earned the respect of the Vietnamese by learning their culture, recalls being the guest of honor at a funeral for a Vietnam boat captain, and recounts a moonlight river battle with the Viet Cong that landed him and two of his crew in a MASH unit.
This interview was conducted in 2002 at the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport, MS that Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005.
Photo: Aad Born, Flickr.com
In 1938, two aspiring young writers, Greenville native Shelby Foote and his best friend Walker Percy, drove to Oxford in search of legendary author William Faulkner. Percy refused to get out of the car, but Foote walked up to the front door of Rowan Oak, knocked and introduced himself. Thus began a friendship that would last until Faulkner’s death in 1962.
In this episode, Foote describes Oxford’s native son as a gracious and interesting host and yet a deeply unhappy man who struggled with drinking and depression. Someone who was a deep thinker and yet preferred the company of the common man over the intellectual – a hunting story over a critical analysis of his work.
Foote concludes by sharing what, in his opinion, makes Faulkner such an exceptional writer and relates a humorous story about one of his famous binges.
Irene Smith was 17 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As her older brother prepared to go off to fight for his country, Smith began to search for some way she too could serve during this time of national crisis. When the women’s branch of the U. S. Naval Reserve, known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was established in July of 1942, she went to the recruiting office to enlist, but was turned away because the minimum age at that time was 20.
In this episode, Smith recalls biding her time until she met the age requirement by going to business school, working nights in a factory and picking up shifts at the local five and dime. When she was finally old enough to join, Smith trained as a mechanic. She explains that although women were allowed to perform many important jobs during WWII, old sexist attitudes remained. Smith details how gender bias affected her role as an aviation machinist’s mate. She also looks back fondly at the Chief Petty Officer they called Pappy Vaughn.