Billy Ferrell became Sheriff of Adams County in January of 1960. In this episode, he describes the rising tensions brought on by the Civil Rights Movement during the second half of his first term in office. During the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan tried to intimidate anyone they perceived as supporting civil rights. Ferrell remembers countering threats against his family with some intimidation of his own.
While campaigning for a second term as sheriff, Ferrell was asked to give a political speech to a group of local Klansmen. He explains his reasons for agreeing to meet with the group and discusses how completely they had been infiltrated by the FBI.
On September 25, 1964, Klansmen bombed and damaged the home of Natchez Mayor John Nosser. Ferrell recalls going to check on the mayor afterwards and being questioned by the FBI.
THIS EPISODE CONTAINS MILD PROFANITY.
After graduating from medical school in 1947, Dr. Tom Mayer took a temporary job with the Mississippi State Department of Health while waiting to begin his internship. In this episode, he remembers trying to vaccinate school children in Walthall County. Later, he returned to McComb to set up a medical practice at the urging of a friend.
In the mid-1950s, Mayer was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad to be the company doctor. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages of being a railroad physician. At that time, penicillin had only recently been discovered. He recalls the limited number of available drugs and one old doctor’s story of a fifty-cent price limit.
Working around trains has always been a dangerous job and as a railroad doctor, Mayer has seen it all. He recounts some of his more memorable cases and reflects on the many friendships he collected during his career.
(contains a bit of graphic description of a patient's injuries)
Lusia Harris-Stewart grew up in Minter City, Mississippi, the tenth of eleven children. In this episode, taken from her 1999 oral history interview, she recalls how her love of basketball grew from a way to escape chores, to a way to attend college. Her standout abilities as a player on the Amanda Elzy High School girls’ basketball team caught the attention of Delta State recruiter, Melvin Hemphill, and she was invited to join the women’s team, in 1973.
For Harris-Stewart, adjusting to life at Delta State included overcoming her shyness. She remembers the support of her fellow students as the women’s basketball team rose to prominence, becoming national champions in 1975, ’76, and ’77.
In 1976, Harris-Stewart won a silver medal in the first-ever Olympic women’s basketball tournament. She discusses the historical significance of scoring the first points in Olympic history.
After graduating college in 1977, Harris-Stewart coached basketball at the college level and played professional ball before returning to her high school alma mater as a coach and teacher. She recounts her career and the honor of being inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Sean Buckelew and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
In 1959 Dr. Gilbert Mason was the only black physician on the staff of the new Biloxi Hospital. At that time, the 26 mile man-made Biloxi beach, paid for with Federal funding, was designated for whites only, in violation of the original agreement. In this episode, Mason explains his decision to try and integrate the beach.
After he was arrested, Mason and group of black citizens petitioned the Harrison County Board of Supervisors to make the beach available to all citizens. The board refused and the group made a second attempt in April of 1960. Mason describes being attacked by an angry mob while police watched the violence unfold.
In response, NAACP President Medgar Evers gathered citizen complaints to present to the U.S. Justice Department, who then filed suit against the board. Three years later, seventy protesters returned to the beach carrying black flags in honor of Evers who had been assassinated the week before.
The original group arrested for trespassing on the beach in 1960 was awaiting their verdict in county court the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Mason recalls how they honored the slain President. The case eventually made it all the way to the US Supreme Court and in 1968, Harrison County was forced to desegregate Biloxi Beach, making it available for use by all its citizens.
Amzie Moore of Cleveland, Mississippi, had to fend for himself from the time he was fourteen years old. In this episode, he recalls wondering why there was such economic disparity between the white and black communities. To his young mind, there must have been something special about white people that allowed them to attain a higher standard of living than blacks. It was only after serving in Europe during WWII Moore realized this was not the case. He came home determined to work towards a better life for himself and his community. He got financing to open his own Pan-Am service station, the only one between Memphis and Vicksburg that allowed black customers to use the restrooms. And he became politically active, first with the Black and Tan Republicans and later joining the Democratic Party. He also joined the NAACP.
In September of 1955, while serving as NAACP President for Bolivar County, Moore received a call from the grandfather of a boy named Emmett Till. He explains how Till’s death marked a turning point in Mississippi. Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, Southern states used poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise poor minority voters. Moore discusses how they worked to overcome those obstacles through the formation of the Freedom Democratic Party. Later, as leader of Project Head Start, he fought to bring affordable housing and new job opportunities to poor people in the Mississippi Delta. Moore looks back with pride at all they were able to accomplish.
In 1948, Gladys Noel Bates agreed to be the named plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the black Mississippi Teachers Association against the state of Mississippi to demand equal pay for black teachers, knowing that she and her husband would most likely lose their jobs.
After news of the suit made headlines, Bates remembers the other teachers avoided being seen with her for fear of reprisals. She describes how being blacklisted by the state prevented the couple from teaching anywhere in the South.
Bates and her husband left Mississippi in 1960 and became teachers in Denver, Colorado. She recalls how their plan to keep a low profile was thwarted by a desire to improve racial relations. Soon, Bates had developed a reputation in the Denver public school system as someone who could work with people of all races. She gives several examples of the strategies she used to unite parents and students in the common goal of a better education for all.
CONTAINS RACIAL EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
In October of 1966, Father Peter Quinn became pastor of Holy Rosary, a small, black, parish in Hattiesburg. Interested in working with the youth of the community, he formed a group that would later become the Catholic Youth Organization. In this episode, he describes how their young people participated in picketing and boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement.
As an activist priest in Hattiesburg in the 1960s, Quinn often received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. One night, his station wagon was fired on by men in two pickup trucks who tried to force him off the road. Afterwards, he was protected by a group of volunteers called the Deacons of Defense.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept a grueling schedule of personal appearances during the Movement. Father Quinn recalls how on King’s last trip to Hattiesburg, just ten days before his assassination, he borrowed Quinn’s bed for a much-needed nap. After King was killed, violence erupted across the nation. Quinn describes leading a protest march through downtown Hattiesburg after pleading with the kids to leave their knives and guns at home.
PHOTO: Huffington Post
Henry Walton of Mendenhall, Mississippi, grew up in Waycross, Georgia, the son of a high school principal. He was seven years old when his father took him to see a performance by Birch the Magician and it inspired him to take up magic as a hobby.
In this episode, Walton discusses that experience and the Gilbert Mysto Magic Sets he later received for Christmas. He began collecting books on magic, learning card and coin tricks to fool his friends and family. Walton also recalls how a high school variety show gave him the chance to debut as a magician before a large audience.
After WWII, Walton traveled the South, installing telephone office equipment for Western Electric. While stationed in Tampa, he met a man well-known by magicians for building quality magic apparatus. He remembers how Warren Hamilton offered to build him an entire magic show and sponsored his membership in the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
After moving to Mississippi and getting married, Walton decided to take up magic, again, as a hobby. When Birch the Magician came to Jackson to perform, Walton took his wife to see his childhood inspiration. It was there he met Jackson magician, Gene Grant, and the two men became friends. He recalls how they formed a Mississippi chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (local chapters are called “rings” after the famous linking rings trick). Soon, “Ring 98” was attracting members from across the state to their monthly meetings where they performed for each other and the public at special events.
PHOTO: Walton performs at Jackson Mall, 1974.
Mississippi author Shelby Foote, best known for his three volume history of the American Civil War, was born in Greenville, Mississippi in November of 1916. In this episode, we revisit his oral history interview, conducted by Dr. Orley B. Caudill on March 4, 1975, at his home in Memphis.
Foote discusses growing up in Greenville, how everyone attended the same school and what they did for fun during the Great Depression. He was just five years old when his father passed away, leaving him and his mother alone. He recalls how his mother always supported his decisions and never said hurtful things.
Anticipating America’s entrance into WWII, Foote left college after two years, returned to Mississippi and joined the National Guard. He remembers writing his first novel while waiting to be deployed, and selling short stories to the Saturday Evening Post. He also talks about his style of writing, which he describes as a slow, deliberate process.
David Baria and his wife decided to move their family to Bay Saint Louis in the spring of 2004. In this episode, taken from his 2008 interview, he recalls their idyllic life on the Gulf Coast, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina the following year.
On August 28, 2005, people began fleeing the Gulf Coast area as Katrina approached. Baria remembers the challenges his family faced as they prepared for its arrival. After riding out the storm at his brother’s home, Baria, his brother and uncle rode down to Bay Saint Louis to survey the damage. It was then he realized their historic home, which had withstood many storms since 1875, had been completely wiped away.
They quickly developed a plan to help survivors by setting up a distribution network of water, fuel, food, clothing, medicines and cleaning supplies and then got to work. Unfortunately, just ten days later, Baria’s son was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. The child was in a coma for over a week before succumbing to what turned out to be rabies.
The family was determined to remain on the Gulf Coast and rebuild their lives. Baria began attending meetings of local citizen groups concerned with such issues as insurance companies that refused to honor homeowner policies and proposed building codes. He explains how a perceived lack of leadership inspired him to run for the State Senate.
David Baria served in the Mississippi Senate from 2008 to 2012 and is currently a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from the 122nd district.