Bill Booth’s grandfather, Tom Booth, came to Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1912. There, he opened a hardware store on Main Street. “Pappy” Booth soon sold the business to his son, George H. Booth who changed the name to Tupelo Hardware. Owned and operated by the Booth family since 1926, it remains for many, the go-to place for hard-to-find tools. Famously, Gladys Presley bought her son Elvis, his first guitar there.
In this interview, conducted in 1991, Bill Booth shares with us some memories of his grandfather and of life growing up in Tupelo. During the early days of automobile travel, most Mississippi roads were primitive, unpaved wagon trails. Booth recalls how his grandfather once stopped to help a friend who was stuck in a stream.
As a lifelong citizen of Tupelo, Booth witnessed a lot of important changes over the years. He discusses the city’s first traffic light and one cantankerous driver’s reaction to it. For many Mississippians, their first time behind the wheel of a car was on a secluded country road. Booth recounts learning to drive his grandfather’s 1925 Buick on a trip to Shreveport.
PODCAST BONUS: President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Tupelo in 1934 to deliver a speech on the Tennessee Valley Authority. Booth remembers how his boy scout troop lined the path to the President’s car, and being patted on the head by FDR, afterwards.
PHOTO: MDAH - FDR in Tupelo 1934.
Senator Thad Cochran was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, on December 7th, 1937. In this episode, he discusses his family’s long history in Mississippi and his parents’ careers in Education. As the son of public school teachers, Cochran was expected to excel in academics, sports and music. He explains how their emphasis on education and hard work made theirs an achievement-oriented family.
Even though Cochran’s parents worked hard to provide for their family, money was always scarce. He remembers how they scrimped and took on extra jobs to make sure he and his brother could attend college.
Cochran got his first experience in politics when his parents campaigned for various candidates and got him involved, as well. He also recalls his poker-playing grandmother’s run for county supervisor.
Mississippi Moments is written and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
Macon, Mississippi, county seat of Noxubee County, has a long and storied past. It served as the state capital during the second half of the Civil War and was the place where the Treaty of Dancing River was signed. When longtime resident, Joseph Maury, Jr. and his wife, Selma, sat down to share their memories in September of 1999, it was obvious they both had a great love for the town and the life they had shared together.
Joe Maury’s father became the Night Marshall in Macon during the 1910s when the city had a thriving saloon district. He describes how his father dealt with the rowdy, “over-the-river” crowd when they had too much to drink.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a scarcity of jobs forced people to find creative ways to earn a living. Maury remembers how the citizens of Macon got through those tough economic times and why the 8th of the month was so important to the town’s merchants.
While attending high school in Macon, Maury worked part time at a local grocery store. He recalls how a discarded cigarette and a basket full of fireworks caused a panic one Christmas Eve. In the late 1930s, he and two other young men were hired to help install river gauges in the Noxubee river. He explains how their enthusiastic use of dynamite to blow a cofferdam resulted in a hail of debris at the nearby Chevrolet dealership.
PHOTO: recent shot by Morgan Adams of the building where W.P. Chancellor's store was located.
Growing up on his father’s plantation near Clarksdale, Marshall Bouldin, III, dreamed of being a commercial illustrator like his hero, Norman Rockwell. Encouraged by his mother to pursue his love of art, he left Clarksdale in 1939 to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and there began a career that would gain him notoriety around the nation, even as it brought him home again.
In this episode, taken from our 1974 oral history interview, Bouldin details his evolution as an artist. During the year and a half spent at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, felt he learned from more by studying the Institute’s collection of paintings than he did attending class. When WWII broke out, he was forced to leave school. Deemed unfit for military duty due to a birth defect that left him with a limp, he worked as an illustrative draftsman for the Vultee Aircraft Company in Nashville, Tennessee.
After the war, Bouldin became the apprentice of a commercial illustrator in Connecticut where he honed his skills as he learned from the best in the business. He soon had his own studio and a New York agent who secured magazine work for him with publications like Colliers and Outdoor Life. It was after attending an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh, Bouldin realized that he envied the freedom of expression that differentiated artists from illustrators. He explains why he decided to come home to Clarksdale and become a portrait painter.
Throughout his career, Bouldin rejected the stereotypes associated with professional artists. He discusses why it’s important to stay connected to the rest of society. As a portrait painter, he was required to sell his services like any other professional. However, he maintained it was always about making new friends, not money. Of the hundreds of portraits he was commissioned to paint, many of the subjects were famous, including, President Nixon’s daughters, William Faulkner, William Winter and Mike Espy.
Dorothy Fraley of Macon grew up in the rural community of Fairview, outside of Brooksville. In this episode, she shares some of her memories of that time, like how they used to ride a mule and buggy to the store every morning to catch the school bus, and the telephone “party” line they shared with their neighbors.
Born in 1918, the year of the great flu pandemic, Fraley blames the large number of deaths that year for there being so few students her age. Before modern vaccines and drugs, infectious diseases could only be controlled by limiting exposure. Fraley remembers the time her sister was quarantined after contracting Diphtheria.
A popular hairstyle for girls in the 1920s and 30s was known as the Buster Brown. Fraley describes how she and her sister wore their hair as children and her first perm. During the Great Depression, many Mississippians survived by being self-sufficient and growing their own food. Fraley explains how her mother made their school uniforms using wool from her father’s sheep.
David Baker loved Tupelo. Aside from time spent serving his country during WWII and a year in New York, Baker lived his entire 93 years in his hometown as a tireless promoter of the Arts and Humanities. In this episode, he looks back at the people and events that shaped his life with a keen and engaging wit.
Baker’s father opened a furniture store in downtown Tupelo in the 1920s. He recalls how they stayed open late on Saturday nights, and describes the downtown farmer’s market where his mother would shop for produce, haggling with vendors through the car window while he watched.
Not all of the memories were pleasant. On the evening of April 5th, 1936, a tornado struck Tupelo, killing 216 and injuring 700 more. Baker recounts how the storm ripped the roof off their house, and a neighbor’s cry for help.
In this interview, conducted in 2000, Baker discusses some of Tupelo's most notable characters, including Ms. Pledge Robinson. When Baker was growing up, Tupelo was known as the Jersey Cow capital of the world. He describes the cattle drives through downtown and Robinson’s crafty way of cashing in.
PODCAST BONUS: The success of Elvis Presley was always a source of pride for the residents of Tupelo. Baker remembers the Presley family and awarding Elvis his first prize as a singer.
PHOTO: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal obituary 2-12-16
Helen Rayne grew up living in her grandfather’s antebellum home in Natchez during the Great Depression. In this episode, she remembers the genteel lifestyle and how they entertained themselves without a lot of money. She also describes the dedication of her teachers and how much they were respected by everyone in the community.
During her lifetime, Rayne witnessed many changes, both in her hometown and the world in general. She recalls taking walks with friends, stargazing with her grandfather, and the lessons he tried to teach her. And Rayne reflects on how the depression affected the way people socialized as they looked for ways to hang on to beloved traditions in the once prosperous river town.
Podcast Extra: The Historic Natchez Tableaux was started in 1932 as a way to attract tourist dollars and celebrate the city’s cultural heritage. It features a tour of the city’s antebellum homes, plays and musical performances, and the crowning of a king and queen. Rayne reflects on the humble, early days of the tableaux.
PHOTO: Landowne, Natchez, 1938, by Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, Library of Congress. Wikipedia.
In 1917, Mississippi passed the Bone Dry law, prohibiting the sale and consumption of all forms of alcohol. In this episode, LeGrand Capers remembers Vicksburg’s fifty saloons, and how the city reacted to their closing. After alcohol was outlawed in the U.S. in 1920, bootleggers began making and selling homemade liquor. Capers describes Vicksburg’s moonshine marketers and how police looked the other way.
Until it was shut down during WW I, Vicksburg was also home to a thriving red-light district. Capers recalls the city’s ornate palaces of gambling and prostitution. Born in Vicksburg in 1900, Capers came of age as the glory-days of the red-light district were waning. He discusses selling shoes to the ladies of #15 China Street as a boy, and spending time there when he was older.
May not be suitable for young historians.
PHOTO: Washington Street, Vicksburg, 1915
On August 7, 1975, LeGrand Capers sat down with the Center for Oral History for the first part of a two-day interview. A lifelong resident of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Capers or “Doc” as he was known to his friends, was considered the town historian. His natural curiosity, love of the Arts, and memory for details made him the right person for the job. Born in 1900, Capers knew many Civil War veterans and folks who had survived the months-long siege of the city President Lincoln considered essential to a northern victory. In this episode, Capers remembers the hours spent as a young man, listening to stories of battles fought and hardships endured.
The Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899 to commemorate the siege of the city during the Civil War. Capers remembers the construction of the various state monuments and searching for relics on the battlefield as a boy. In 1916, a movie about the Civil War was filmed in the park. Capers describes joining the Mississippi National Guard in order to work as an extra on the film. After filming was completed and the country prepared to enter WWI, Capers’ father had to pull strings to get his under-aged son’s enlistment in the Guard struck so he could return to school.
In 1917, a joint reunion of Confederate and Union veterans was held at the national park in Vicksburg. Capers recalls the raucous arguments between the former foes and one old-timer who was a little too frank for polite company. There is a bit of profane language in this last story so parents beware.
Kent Wyatt’s dad became the Delta State football coach in 1945, when Wyatt was 10 years old. In this episode, he recalls how their entire family lived in the Men’s dormitory while all the boys were off fighting in WWII. After the war was over, enrollment numbers spiked as returning veterans took advantage of the GI Bill. Wyatt discusses how the older men would play tricks on the young freshmen and sophomores.
Having attended the Delta State Demonstration School as a child and later, Cleveland High School, it was only natural that Wyatt would pick Delta State when it was time for college. He remembers playing basketball and becoming a cheerleader to spend time with the girl he liked. In 1956, the Delta State men’s basketball team won the regional tournament and advanced to the Nationals as Wyatt and his fiancé, Janice, tried to make time for a wedding and honeymoon between quarters. After postponing the honeymoon and preparing to compete in the Nationals in Kansas City, they were devastated when the Governor forbid them from participating because they might have to play against racially integrated teams.
PODCAST BONUS: Dr. Kent Wyatt served as President of Delta State University from 1975 until 1999. He reflects on how the school has grown since he first moved to Cleveland.
Founded in 1889, the Neshoba County Fair is the largest campground fair in the nation. In this episode, Mac Alford discusses his family’s long history with the fair beginning with the story of how his grandparents built their first fair cabin in the early 1900s. According to Alford, the early fair cabins were primitive structures built with reclaimed materials. He explains why the cabins require yearly maintenance and recalls how his father enjoyed the work.
Alford began coming to his family’s cabin when he was just a toddler. He recounts his earliest memories and the family food traditions that made their time at the fair so special. One of the traditional entertainments at the fair is harness horse racing. Alford remembers how his family would travel to different events to watch their friends compete.
One of Alford’s favorite things to do at the Neshoba County Fair is to sit on the front porch of his family’s cabin. He describes the peaceful mornings there and the joy of watching friends and former students pass by.
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
The Illinois Central railroad and eight affiliated Harriman lines had traditionally dealt separately with each craft union (boilermakers, blacksmiths, etc.) giving the companies an unfair advantage during contract negotiations in the minds of the unions. When the unions formed a "System Federation" in June of that year, the companies refused to recognize the group and began preparing for a system-wide strike.
Harry Marsalis was a seventeen year old machinist apprentice working at the Illinois Central railroad maintenance shop in McComb when the strike began on September 30th. In this episode, he describes how the company prepared in advance of the strike by building walled compounds and hiring northern strikebreakers. According to Marsalis, when the strikebreaker train arrived in McComb three days later, 100 strikers responded to the rock-throwing strikebreakers by shooting the train cars to pieces before the train would escape to New Orleans. Reports of 30 dead and 100 wounded strikebreakers were denied by the company
Marsalis describes how the town became an armed camp as martial law was declared by the governor, complete with hundreds of state militiamen, machine gun towers and searchlights around the company offices.
After two long years the strike was considered a failure and many of the strikers including Marsalis were forced to leave town looking for work.
Carl Walters was born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1904. In this episode, he recalls life growing up there and covers a variety of topics including the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art (which opened in 1923 as a memorial to Lauren Eastman Rogers), as well as, the town’s leading families and their connection to the timber industry.
Walter’s best friend growing up was a boy named James Street, author of Tap Roots and The Biscuit Eater. He discusses his famous friend’s career as a newspaper man and novelist.
In 1963, Pete Johnson’s uncle, Paul B. Johnson, Jr, ran for Governor of Mississippi. In this episode, he discusses how his father managed his uncle’s campaign and the strategy they successfully employed. He also recalls his uncle's unflappable demeanor.
Because of term limits in place at that time, Gov. Johnson was unable to run for a second term and decided to run for Lt. Governor, instead. That year, Pete Johnson campaigned with his uncle. He shares some humorous stories of the characters he met as they went around the state like “Stiff” McCaffrey and “Blowtorch” Mason.
PHOTO: Moncrief Collection - Miss Dept. of Archives & History
F.W. Bishop was born on a farm near Shaw, Mississippi in 1897. In this episode, he recounts how as a boy, his job was to chase bears out of the cornfield. He remembers a steady diet of smoked bear meat. Growing up, Bishop worked a variety of part-time jobs to make ends meet. After high school, he married and spent his life in Cleveland. He discusses opening the town’s first filling station and being elected mayor.
During WWII, women took jobs traditionally held by men. Bonnie Stedman of McComb began working for the railroad at the age of 17. In this episode, she shares her memories of working nights in remote railroad offices around Mississippi and Louisiana, relying on a toy gun protection and catching a ride on a troop train to get back home.
In a podcast extra, Stedman remembers when the dairy strike of 1945 turned violent, resulting in broken cameras and spilled milk.
Samuel Olden had just graduated Ole’ Miss in the Spring of 1941 with a Masters in History when he saw a notice posted on a bulletin board that the State Department was seeking candidates for service in South America. When the Japan bombed Pearl Harbor seven months later, he was stationed at the legation in Quito, Ecuador.
After serving in the Navy during WWII, Olden returned home to Yazoo City. He recalls being invited to join a new government agency called the Central Intelligence Agency in 1948. In this episode, Olden discusses his first field assignment spying on the Russians in Vienna and why he finally decided the life of a spy wasn’t for him.
Glenn Hughes is the Extension Forestry Professor at Mississippi State University. In this episode, he discusses the importance of the Longleaf Pine to our state’s history.
Up until 1890, harvested trees were transported by teams of oxen. Hughes explains how advances in technology led to the clear-cutting of our pine forests. He also reveals South Mississippi's connection to America’s most famous battleship – the USS Constitution –commissioned in 1797 and known as Old Ironsides.
PODCAST EXTRA: Early in our state’s history, pine tree sap was harvested for a variety of uses. Hughes defines the term “naval stores” and explains its importance.
Fewell Thompson was born in Hattiesburg in 1891. In this episode, he recalls how, as a child, he frequented the home of his neighbor, Captain Hardy and his wife, Hattie Hardy, the town’s founder and namesake.
Thompson’s father had a horse and mule business in downtown Hattiesburg in the early 1900s. He discusses how his father would have the livestock shipped by train from Saint Louis and how people would come to town for supplies and spend the night camping in the "wagon lot" on Main Street.
During WWI the US Cavalry still rode horses into battle. Thompson remembers serving in the Army’s Veterinary Corps and the first time he tried to give a horse ether.
Hattiesburg’s role as a transportation hub earned it the nickname “The Hub City.” In a podcast extra Thompson recalls the many railroads that crisscrossed the town.
Charlie Barrett is the former Mayor of Shuqualak (Sugar Lock). It this episode, he recounts the story of how his great grandfather donated the land for the train station. He also recalls how the farmers would bring their cotton to be ginned on Saturday mornings and stay all day.
As a boy, Barrett knew all of the merchants in Shuqualak. He remembers one who would speak to him in Choctaw. Years later, Barrett, now a young business owner himself, struggled to make ends meet until one day, an old merchant made him the offer of a lifetime.
Photo credit: hickoryridgestudio49.blogspot.com
John Ellzie Carr joined the Tupelo Police Department in 1921 and served as the town's chief of police from 1925 until 1952. In this episode, Dudley Carr remembers his father’s natural talent for law enforcement. He recalls the city’s primitive jail and even more primitive alarm system.
In 1932, the infamous bank robber, Machine Gun Kelly held up the Citizen’s National Bank of Tupelo. Dudley Carr explains how the robbery inspired the city to buy its own Thompson submachine gun.
In a podcast extra, Carr looks back with pride at his father’s legacy and what it’s meant to his own career.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Italian emigrants were encouraged to come to the Mississippi Delta to farm. In this episode, John Bassie of Bolivar County shares his family’s story of coming to America and how they taught him to love their adopted country.
For those Italian emigrants who made a home in the Mississippi Delta, the Fourth of July was always a big deal. Bassie recalls how his family celebrated with lots of eating and singing. He remembers those Independence Day celebrations as a cultural melting pot of food, music, and fun that involved the entire community.
Photo: Digital Public Library of America
Dr. Rodney Bennett was named President of The University of Southern Mississippi on February 7, 2013. In this episode, he discusses how he felt when an EF-4 tornado decimated the campus three days later.
Bennett was happily serving as Vice President of Student Affairs at the University of Georgia when he was selected as USM’s 10th President. He recalls accepting the position with a sense of purpose.
The morning after the tornado struck, Bennett addressed the 900 students, faculty and staff that had gathered to assist with the cleanup. He remembers searching for the right words to say on the ride over.
Podcast Extra: Bennett credits USM’s recovery since the storm to loyal alumni like Chuck Scianna. He stresses the importance of graduating eagles returning to the nest.
Stone Barefield of Hattiesburg ran for the State House of Representatives in 1959. In this episode, he remembers his campaign committee and the only speech he ever wrote. He also discusses the days before televised debates, when politicians relied on “stump speeches” to get their message to the voters.
Running for state representative of Forrest County meant doing a lot of walking. Barefield remembers meeting good folks and eating good food.
According to Barefield, South Mississippi was not being fairly represented in those days. In this podcast extra, he discusses House Speaker Walter Sellers and the fight for reapportionment.
In later years, Barefield pushed legislation for the establishment of the Longleaf Trace fittness trail, a rails-to-trails conversion of 41 miles of abandoned railroad track between Hattiesburg and Prentiss.