On Friday morning, Feb. 2, 2018, an unveiling ceremony was held on the USM campus for a new historical marker detailing the efforts of Clyde Kennard to enroll at Mississippi Southern College.
Kennard had tried to enroll as a student at Southern Miss multiple times in the late 1950s, but was denied admission because of his race. He was later arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to seven years in prison. In this episode, Raylawni Branch of Hattiesburg recalls Kennard’s attempts to integrate the all-white college. Branch was active in the Civil Rights Movement between 1959 and 1965. She describes her work with the NAACP and the limited opportunities for black people in Hattiesburg.
In 1965, Branch was a young mother, trying to make ends meet. She remembers being offered the chance to become one of the first African-American students at Southern Miss. Shortly afterwards, Vernon Dahmer, a popular businessman who led the local effort to register black voters, died from injuries he sustained when the Ku Klux Klan firebombed his home at Kelly Settlement. Branch recalls Dahmer’s generosity and how he died fighting back.
When Elaine Armstrong and Raylawni Branch became the first black students at USM, they were assigned six bodyguards for protection. Branch reflects on how they were accepted by the other students.
In the Jim Crow South, African-Americans had limited access to doctors and hospitals. One of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement was to improve healthcare for blacks in segregated states like Mississippi. In this episode, taken from a series of interviews conducted in 1998, Dr. Gilbert Mason recounts conditions as they existed in 1955, when he came to the Gulf Coast as a young doctor. He explains how black patients were crammed into a two-room annex in the New Biloxi Hospital. As a black physician, Mason was prevented from becoming a member of the hospital staff or joining the Mississippi State Medical Association. He recalls the struggle for recognition by his white colleagues.
As a civil rights activist, Mason is best known for leading a series of wade-ins on segregated Biloxi beach, but he also worked to improve healthcare for black Mississippians. He remembers Dr. Bob Smith, who led the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP Medical Committee for Civil Rights.
In 1965, the Biloxi School District was ordered to completely desegregate all its schools. Mason describes being attacked by a white man with scalding hot coffee after the ruling came down. When asked why he became a civil rights activist, Mason would credit his training as a boy scout and a physician. In his view, medicine and civil rights share an inseparable bond.
In this episode, we hear from Jobie Martin, a Jackson broadcasting pioneer who broke through the racial barriers of the day with his smooth vocals, jovial personality, and kindhearted nature. The only child of a single mom, Martin grew up in Mississippi at a time when job prospects for African-Americans were limited largely to menial labor. He takes us through his unlikely journey into broadcasting, gives us a sample of his disc jockey radio persona, discusses the challenge of selling advertising on the first black-hosted TV show in Mississippi, and lists some of his famous guests like Mohammad Ali, James Earl Jones, and Mahalia Jackson.
Jobie L. Martin was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1919. His father, George Martin, died in a car accident when Jobie was an infant. His mother, Leona Scott Martin, scrubbed floors to provide for her son and Jobie recalls her as a strict and protective single parent, not allowing him to play sports for fear of injury. He spent time growing up in Gulfport and Hattiesburg, attending Eureka High School.
While waiting to be called into service during WWII, he traveled to Chicago and enrolled in Worsham mortician school. After his military service, he returned to Chicago and graduated as a mortician, but didn’t like the work, taking a job at St. Luke’s Hospital as an assistant pathologist. He also joined Pilgrim Baptist Church Gospel Choir, under the direction of famed composer Thomas A. Dorsey, and sang with such notable gospel singers as Mahalia Jackson.
The following excerpt is from an article published in the Clarion Ledger on April 1, 2011:
“After returning home to Mississippi to assist family, Jobie worked as an airport porter, but his smooth voice drew the attention of supervisors' who had him announcing the airport's flights over the loud speaker.
From there he sought the job of a radio announcer. Instead, he was sent out to sell ads to black businessmen. He did so well, he was hired for the same job at Jackson's WOKJ. It was in Memphis that Jobie auditioned again for a disc jockey's job and was on the air for eight months until new owners came and spun Jobie back to Jackson.
He settled in as a Disc Jockey at WOKJ where he was known as "the loud mouth of the South". At the urging of his wife, Dorothy, Jobie enrolled in Jackson State College and earned his undergraduate degree. He also played on the Jackson State College football team earning the nickname "the Flash". [at the age of 39!]
Jobie taught school for ten years at Westside Elementary School where he taught Special Education and rehabilitation.
He opened two restaurants in Jackson, Valerie's and Jobie's Restaurant. He also hosted the Jobie Martin Show, becoming the first African American to have a commercial paid television show in Mississippi. He has served on the Board of Hinds Community College for the past 20 years.
His awards includes, Jackson State University Alumni Association Hall of Fame, Jackson State University's Sports Hall of Fame, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Mu Sigma Chapter, L. T. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award, Living Legend, and Mississippi's 2007 Outstanding Older Worker, just to name a few. However he was most proud of his work after retirement as a substitute teacher for the Jackson Public Schools where he continued to be a drum major for a whole new generation of students.”
Jobie Martin died in a car crash in March of 2011, at the age of 93.
Powell Ogletree was hired as the first Southern Miss Alumni Association Secretary in 1953. In this episode, he shares his memories of those early days spent recruiting new students, compiling alumni rolls with current contact information, and raising money for scholarships. One of Ogletree’s first tasks was to organize the group into local chapters. He explains why they chose March 30th as the day each chapter holds its annual meeting.
According to Ogletree, a successful athletic program plays an important part in recruiting new students to a university. He remembers the many hours spent driving Coach Pie Van to various events and how the Alumni Association pushed for radio and tv coverage of Southern Miss football.
The USM Foundation was formed on October 29, 1959 to raise money for academic and athletic scholarships. Powell Ogletree discusses serving as its Executive Secretary and how the foundation has grown over time.
PODCAST EXTRA: USM celebrated its 75th Anniversary with a 2 ½ yearlong fundraising campaign between 1985 and 1987. Ogletree highlights the goals, preparations and outcome of the extended event, as well as, his decision to retire afterwards.