Staff Sergeant Undaryl Allen of the Mississippi Army National Guard was deployed to Iraq in fall of 2004. In this episode, he shares his memories of that time in this interview conducted in May of 2006. Although trained as a mechanic, Allen’s first month was spent as a gunner on escort duty. He explains how his faith and his family helped him handle the stress of going out on patrol.
As an army mechanic serving in Iraq, Allen worked on a variety of combat equipment. He recalls repairing vehicles in which his friends were injured or killed. While serving in Iraq, Allen was assigned to a Forward Operating Base near Bagdad. He describes how he and his tent-mates would pool their resources for “home cooked” meals.
PODCAST EXTRA: Allen and his crew would occasionally be shelled by enemy forces while retrieving broken down vehicles, forcing them to run for cover. Looking back on those dangerous times, he finds humor in their mad scrambles to the bunker.
PHOTO: Hannah Heishman, Pinterest
The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 provided funding for the training of local police officers. In this episode, Tyler Fletcher explains how that funding led the University of Southern Mississippi to develop a curriculum in Law Enforcement. Fletcher retired from the U.S. Army as Chief of Criminal Investigations in 1972. He recalls his decision to accept a teaching position at Southern Miss.
Later, when the decision was made to establish a School of Criminal Justice, Forensic Science and Security, there were several hurdles to overcome. Fletcher discusses the struggle to recruit students, gain academic acceptance, and win the support of law enforcement supervisors.
In the1980s, Mississippi moved to develop a set of educational standards for police officers. Fletcher remembers serving on the advisory board and USM's role in that effort.
Last week, Mississippians remembered Hurricane Katrina on the thirteenth anniversary of the massive storm’s slow march up the length of our state. Considered the most destructive natural disaster in our nation’s history, it sparked a series of recovery efforts that would be measured in days, weeks, months and years. Thousands of lives would be interrupted, many drastically so. Some for only a brief time, some permanently.
While clean-up of the millions of tons of debris left in Katrina’s wake seemed like an effort that would take many years, much of it was accomplished at an astonishing rate. On the surface, a sense of normality crept in and with it, an alleviation of the emotional and mental stress such disasters visit upon the survivors. Feelings of hopelessness, depression and despair are not forgotten, but hard to convey years later.
To fully recall those stressful emotions, revisiting the interviews of first-responders conducted in the days that followed is helpful. In those recordings, the raw angst can be heard in a way not possible with the written word. For this episode, we turn to an in-the-moment account of a key decision maker in the South Mississippi relief effort: Barbra K. "Babs" Faulk.
As Director of the South-Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, Babs Faulk coordinated the relief agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, the Red Cross served over half a million meals to those in need. Faulk discusses the agency's response and the importance of volunteers to the relief effort.
In this interview, conducted just two months after the storm, she recalls how they prepared to meet the challenge. As the head quarter's phones constantly drone in the background, the weariness and heartache of the previous eight weeks is unmistakable as she shoulders the blame for those they couldn't help.
The ferocity and devastation of Hurricane Katrina caught many Mississippians by surprise. Faulk’s frustration with the often lackadaisical response of many to impending disasters is apparent as she emphasizes the importance of hurricane preparedness and personal responsibility.
The disruption caused by the storm took an emotional toll on the survivors, but also on the relief workers and first-responders, themselves. Faulk reflects on the need for mental health workers and the long journey to recovery that lay before them in November 2005.
Hattiesburg native Richard Burger graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1965. In this episode, he recalls returning to Mississippi to work at NASA’s test facility (later renamed the Stennis Space Center) as a computer programmer. Because he was working for General Electric under government contract, Burger’s story was rather unusual for that time, as opportunities for African-American in Mississippi were typically limited to menial or low-level positions.
As a programmer, Burger worked with NASA engineers testing Saturn rockets. He remembers his first assignment working with a “unique” engineer named Charlie Parker to develop a fuel delivery system to speed the test-firing process.
Throughout his career, Richard Burger used a wide variety of computers and programming languages. He compares the NASA main frames of the 1960s to today’s more powerful laptops.
PODCAST BONUS: After working in the private sector for over twenty years, Burger returned to NASA in the 1990s with a new mission: taking at-risk African-American youth from inner-city high schools in Los Angeles, on a six week tour of NASA laboratories and Black Colleges. It was a program dubbed “Earth to L.A.”
“The Center for Gifted Studies was established in 1979 and dedicated as The Frances A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies in 1999, its central purpose to further the education of gifted students and those with leadership abilities through teaching, research, and service. Emphasis is also placed on these areas for those interested in the gifted: teachers, parents, administrators, psychologists, counselors, and other concerned citizens.”
In this episode, Karnes shares her memories as an early innovator in the education of exceptional children.
Dr. Frances Karnes began her career at the age of 19, teaching first graders in Illinois. She explains how that experience inspired her to focus on the educational needs of exceptional children. In 1973, Karnes began teaching Special Education classes at Southern Miss and writing descriptions for new courses in Gifted Education. She remembers working to have the State’s Definition of Exceptional Children amended to include Gifted Children as well. Within four years, Karnes had helped develop the Gifted Studies Program for Children at USM. She recalls pitching the idea of a Center for Gifted Studies to Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas and how they secured the funding.
Since 1974 the Mississippi Association for Gifted Children has helped teachers and parents meet the needs of intellectually-gifted students. Karnes reflects on the unwavering support they’ve received. Learn more at: https://www.usm.edu/karnes-gifted
PHOTO: Center for Gifted Studies
To celebrate the recent opening of The Midtowner - Robert St. John's tribute to the classic American diner - we are re-posting this episode from last summer, in which St. John shares his knowledge of a favorite topic: the history of Hattiesburg restaurants.
Lunch counters and cafeterias have long provided time-strapped Americans with fast, affordable food. In this episode, restaurateur and author, Robert St. John discusses the evolution of Hattiesburg dining, beginning with three early Hub City eateries and why they were close to the train station. He also recalls the Frost Top, a franchise fixture from the 50s - 70s, all the times he ate there and what made the Frost Top so special.
Throughout the 20th Century, large companies and boarding houses provided plate lunches for hungry workers. St. John describes some of Hattiesburg’s favorite lunchrooms and their “meat and three” menus. For hungry shoppers, the department store lunch counters provided a ready respite, before eventually being replaced by mall food courts. St. John remembers some of Hattiesburg’s department store food fare and hanging out at the Cloverleaf Mall.
PODCAST EXTRA: Jimmy Faughn, an early Hattiesburg restaurateur, operated several eateries including The Collegian, Le Faughn’s, and the Sea Lodge. St. John reflects on Faughn’s reputation as the fine dining patriarch of Hattiesburg.PHOTO: The Midtowner, Hattiesburg Hotel Indigo Facebook page.
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
The University of Southern Mississippi was still the Mississippi State Teachers College when Bernard Reed Green graduated in May of 1934. In this episode, he recalls his decision to come back that fall as the Freshman Football Coach. According to Green, his coaching style differed from that of Coach Pooley Hubert, the man who hired him, and how that difference had a positive impact on the team’s performance. He explains his philosophy and why he made a practice of recruiting new players from local junior colleges.
In 1942, as the United States prepared for war, Mississippi Southern College as the school was known by then, suspended all intercollegiate sports activities. Green remembers how he found jobs for his football players so they could remain in school. With so many students serving in the military during the war, Mississippi Southern faced the possibility of having to permanently close its doors. Green recounts how he and others lobbied the Pentagon for an officer training school to be located on campus. He explains that hosting the OTS and allowing the officer trainees to live in the empty men’s athletic dorm known as The Rock, enabled the institution to remain solvent during those lean war years.
PHOTO: Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (Wikipedia)
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.
Leatha Jackson learned how to cook ribs and steaks by working in her aunt’s restaurant in Bogalusa. In this episode, she looks back with pride on her fifty-year career as a professional short-order cook. For years, Jackson dreamed of opening a restaurant in her home near Columbia, Mississippi. She discusses the humble beginnings of Leatha’s Barbeque and why looks can be deceiving.
By the time Leatha’s Barbeque moved to Hattiesburg, it had become a destination spot for barbeque lovers around the world. She credits her love of people and the power of word-of-mouth advertising.
Podcast Extra: The menu at Leatha’s Barbeque Inn does not offer many choices: only five entrées and two sides. Jackson explains why the selection is limited and discusses the most popular menu items.
Although Leatha Jackson passed away in September of 2013, Leatha’s BBQ is still in business and keeping her legacy alive.
PHOTO: Leatha’s BBQ Inn Facebook page.
Lemuel A. Wilson Junior’s parents were the owners of a weekly newspaper in Richton, Mississippi. In this episode, he shares his memories of working at the Richton Dispatch after school in the 1920s and how the paper served their community. He also recalls how their family’s newspaper survived the Great Depression by running foreclosure notices and accepting food as payment for subscriptions.
After serving in the Air Force during WWII, Wilson worked for the Washington Post and the Star newspapers in Washington, DC. In this 1973 interview he discusses the pressures of working for a large metropolitan paper and his decision to come home to Richton and take over the family business. As publisher of the Richton Dispatch, Wilson pondered the difference between daily and weekly newspapers. While both are important, he felt the weekly format better suited to rural communities.
PHOTO: Richton Dispatch Facebook page
Charles Dunagin began his career in Journalism in 1957 as a reporter for the Jackson State Times. In this episode, he remembers covering the story of the first African-American to attempt to enroll at Ole’ Miss, five years before James Meredith.
In 1963, Dunagin became the managing editor of the McComb Enterprise-Journal. He shares his memories of the newspaper’s publisher, Oliver Emmerich, who he describes as a courageous and intelligent journalist. During the Civil Rights Movement, the paper reported on over two dozen acts of violence and intimidation. Dunagin recalls the feelings of fear and anger in the city, at that time.
PODCAST EXTRA: According to Dunagin the situation in McComb finally came to a head when local business leaders published a Declaration of Principles in the paper calling for an end to the violence.
PHOTO: USM School of Mass Communication and Journalism website
Hodding Carter was the outspoken publisher of the Delta Democrat–Times during the Civil Rights Movement. In this episode, Betty Carter remembers the firestorm of threatening phone calls her husband’s editorials generated.
Hodding and Betty Carter moved to Greenville, Mississippi in 1936 and started their own newspaper. Betty Carter discusses the importance of a Free Press and an educated public to Western Democracy.
As a newspaper publisher, Betty Carter maintained her faith in the good intentions of most reporters. But she does recall times when the words of her husband, Hodding Carter, were distorted by the press.
Because Hodding Carter was such an effective and outspoken critic of segregation, he was often the target of public ire in Mississippi. Betty Carter describes a time her husband was “burned in effigy” by some angry citizens. She also praises the Greenville police department for their unwavering protection of all those involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
For over 55 years, Oliver Emmerich, Sr., was editor and publisher of the McComb Enterprise Journal. In this episode he explains his philosophy of using the editorial page to influence public opinion. During the 1960s, Emmerich used his position as an editor to promote Civil Rights. He recalls publishing a series of articles about local schools to disprove the idea of “Separate but Equal.”
Emmerich also remembers Greenville journalist, Hodding Carter, Jr., an outspoken champion of the Civil Rights Movement. He describes his friend’s refusal to conform as something uniquely American. Podcast Bonus: As an award-winning journalist, Emmerich was never shy about expressing his political opinions. He discusses his opposition to Ross Barnett and Paul B. Johnson, Jr., as well as, Mississippians’ love of demagogues.
Special Event: Please make plans to attend People, Politics and the Press on Saturday, July 14, 2018. This one-day civic engagement summit at the Two Mississippi Museums features nationally recognized names in media, as well as the region’s best reporters for panel discussions, lectures and open format conversations exploring the crucial role journalism plays in creating informed citizens and a healthy democracy. People, Politics and the Press is an unprecedented collaboration between the Mississippi Humanities Council, Mississippi Public Broadcasting, the Mississippi Press Association Education Foundation, the Clarion Ledger and Mississippi Today. For more information go to http://www.peoplepoliticspress.com
This past weekend, June 2-3, 2018, the 89th Annual Blessing of the Fleet was held in Biloxi. As coastal fishermen head out into Gulf in search of shrimp, we decided to revisit the interview of Earl Ross, conducted in 2011. A third-generation fisherman, Ross began shrimping in 1977. In this episode, he discusses his first shrimp boat, the variety of nets he uses and the size of his territory.
When a shrimp boat leaves home on a fishing trip, it can gone for days or even weeks at a time. Ross describes an average day on the water and how he and his crew prepare for the trip. Searching for the best place to cast their nets is a constant challenge for commercial fishermen. Ross explains how shrimpers work together as rising fuel prices erode profits.
With all the challenges facing the Gulf Coast seafood industry, shrimpers have been forced to look for new ways to remain profitable. According to Ross, many shrimpers are now selling directly to retailers. He also discusses how shrimpers have faced increased regulation at state and federal levels in recent years.
When the United States entered WWII, A.J. Jones of Hattiesburg decided to become a Navy fighter pilot. In this episode, he shares his memories of that experience, beginning with the training he received and all those who died trying to learn to land on an aircraft carrier.
As a navy fighter pilot, Jones was assigned to a carrier group in the Pacific Theater. He recounts targeting Japanese ships and supplies around the Lingayen Gulf in January of 1945. The following month, Jones’s carrier, the USS Bismarck Sea was part of the task force assigned to take the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. He remembers providing air support for the Marines on the ground and how his carrier was sunk by kamikazes during the battle. After the ship went down, the survivors of the 1,000-man crew waited to be rescued as the battle raged on shore. Later, when they witnessed the American flag raised over nearby Mount Suribachi, cheers arose, even as they mourned the loss of their 318 shipmates.
PHOTO: By U.S. Navy - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-240135 from Navsource.org, Public Domain
For this week’s episode, we revisit Coach Sank Powe’s 1999 interview. MSM 496 focused on his successful 25 year career as the men's baseball coach for Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Today, we examine his childhood, growing up on a Delta plantation as the son of a poor tenant farmer.
Powe enjoyed listening to professional baseball on the radio and recalls learning how to swing a bat by hitting rocks and bottle caps with an old hoe handle. He began playing baseball with local adult teams as a teenager in Mound Bayou, working on the farm after school and dreaming of becoming a professional ballplayer.
Mound Bayou was a favorite destination for Negro League baseball teams in those years. Powe enjoyed watching those legendary players and even toured with the Birmingham Black Barons when they needed an extra man. He explains how the public’s perception of the Negro Leagues’ legacy has evolved over time.
Sank Powe never played major league baseball, but he coached high school ball in Cleveland and scouted for the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals. He reflects on his career, the advantages being a professional baseball scout afforded him, and all the young people whose lives he touched.
Coach Powe passed away on January 20, 2013.
Growing up in Sumrall, Eberta Spinks was taught by her parents to care for those in their community. In this episode, she remembers helping her mother deliver fresh-cut flowers and home-cooked meals to sick neighbors. Spinks was five years old when she and a playmate became gravely ill in 1919. She recalls how neighbors sat with her around the clock so her parents could get some rest during the ordeal.
During the Great Depression, many Americans relied on food assistance provided by the government. Spinks describes how her family shared the vegetables and meat they raised with their community. These lessons of working for the betterment of others would later influence her to become active in the Civil Rights Movement.
Spinks was living in Hattiesburg in 1964 when the Freedom Riders came to help black citizens register to vote. She credits her faith in God, and an understanding husband, with her decision to offer free housing to civil rights workers while they were in town.
After the Empire of Japan attacked the US Naval Base in Hawaii and declared war on the United States, Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps, out of fear they would be loyal to the emperor. But, by the time Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-American men were already serving in the US military. In this episode, Herbert Sasaki recalls coming to Camp Shelby in South Mississippi to join the 442nd, a newly formed infantry unit of Japanese-American volunteers.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Sasaki was used to driving the most modern highways in the nation. His memories of Hattiesburg include, waiting in long lines and getting stuck in the mud, a lot.
The 442nd was a rapid deployment force tasked with creating breaks in the German lines. Sasaki explains how early success by the regiment convinced General Eisenhower to use them as much as possible. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is considered the most decorated unit in US history. He looks back with pride at the sacrifices made by these loyal Americans during WWII.
Former Governor William Winter was first elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1947. In this episode, he remembers how the verdict in Brown versus the Board of Education solidified opposition to desegregation throughout the South. Gov. Winter was running for State Treasurer in 1963 when he learned of the assassination of civil rights activist, Medgar Evers. He recalls being shocked by the news and even more shocked by the reaction of a respected church elder.
In 1997, Gov. Winter was appointed to President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race. He reflects on his work with the Board and the things that are important to most Americans.
Today, the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at Ole Miss, supports harmony and wholeness among all Mississippians. He explains how each of us have a role to play and why it’s so important.
In March 2008, Governor Winter was given the Profile in Courage Award by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for his work in advancing education and racial reconciliation.
Clara Watson has many pleasant memories of growing up in Biloxi during the 1940s. The status quo nature of segregation so thoroughly permeated life that it wasn’t given much thought. In this episode, she explains how the city’s liberal atmosphere shielded her from the racial tensions faced by other black Mississippians. For instance, before the Civil Rights Movement, black customers were often turned away from white-owned businesses, but for Watson, the large number of black vendors and business-owners in her Biloxi neighborhood, blunted the impact of those imposed restrictions.
According to Watson, black residents of Biloxi had always been allowed to go to the beach and it was only after she was grown that property owners began trying to enforce a whites-only policy. On April 24, 1960, Dr. Gilbert Mason led a group of 125 black citizens to protest the “whites-only” policy at Biloxi Beach. In response, local white leaders organized a mob to attack the group and turn them back. Watson recalls the events of that day and some whites who were on opposing sides of the issue.
When civil rights workers came to the coast in 1964, Clara Watson helped them and participated in marches. She describes Biloxi as a safe haven activists could use as a base of operations.
CAUTION: CONTAINS FRANK AND RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
Most people have heard of Leontyne Price, but there was another talented soprano from Mississippi, whose name is not so well known. That is because Kathleen Roberts Striegler chose to move to Germany in the late 1960s to pursue a career in opera, where some sixty state-funded opera companies provided steady income for professional singers.
Born in Hattiesburg in 1941, Striegler began studying music in Jackson, Mississippi, at young age. In this episode, she recalls her decision to move to Europe and become an opera singer. When Striegler arrived in Switzerland to study at the International Opera Center, she faced many challenges, like learning to speak German and how to make a living while getting established. She describes some of the highs and lows she experienced before finding a home in Darmstadt.
When she sat down to be interviewed by us in 1973, Striegler was a soprano with the State Opera House in Darmstadt, West Germany. She explained how the government supported the sixty opera companies that existed there, then. For Striegler, success as a professional opera singer required a clear-eyed assessment of the voice she’d been given. She discusses finding happiness as a Mississippi soprano in Germany.
PHOTO: Darmstadt Staatstheater By: Andreas Praefcke - Own work (own photograph), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14606479
Johnny Balser’s grandfather moved to McComb in the 1880s and took a job with the railroad. In this episode, he discusses his family’s long history with the Illinois Central maintenance shop there and why there was never any doubt he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
When Balser graduated high school, his father insisted he follow the family tradition and work for Illinois Central railroad. He explains how that experience, as a machinist apprentice, kept him out of a foxhole during WWII.
After the war, Balser returned to McComb and his job at the railroad maintenance shop. He reflects on how quickly the new diesel locomotives replaced the steam engines and how older workers resented the change.
Balser eventually decided to leave the railroad and become a photographer. He remembers Illinois Central became a steady customer after he opened his studio.
PHOTO: McComb Railroad Museum
Reverend Robert Hartenfeld’s father ran a small country store in northwestern Ohio. In this episode, he explains how watching his dad interact with customers in an intimate and personal way taught him the importance of listening—a skill he would come to appreciate in later years as a Lutheran minister.
In 1983, Hartenfeld came to Long Beach, Mississippi, to help establish a new Lutheran congregation. He describes the anxiety of being a Yankee in the deep South and falling in love with the Gulf Coast. Again, it was his ability to listen and offer support that helped him to gain acceptance and respect in Mississippi.
After Hartenfeld retired from fulltime ministry in 1992, he began volunteering with the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi. As coordinator of the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, he feels his most important job is listening to those in need.
PHOTO: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Dailyherald.com
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