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.
Prior to the end of slavery in the United States, educating African-Americans was discouraged or prohibited by law throughout the South. After emancipation, opportunities for blacks to attend school were still scarce, but began to improve during the Reformation. Lounett Gore’s father was born a slave, but emancipated while still an infant. In this episode, she describes how he was educated by his mother’s former master.
As the youngest child of a sharecropper’s family, Gore was kept by her big sister while their parents worked. She remembers sitting in a classroom, as a toddler, while her sister attended school, and learning along with the older children.
During WWI, many African-Americans migrated from the southern states, northward, in search of better jobs. Gore recalls how her father went to St. Louis and earned enough money to buy his own farm. This gave them the chance to: improve their diet by growing their own food, keep all the profits their farm produced, and raise their standard of living. Even so, because black children were needed during planting and harvesting, their school year was only three months long.
PODCAST EXTRA: Prior to WWI, Home Demonstration Clubs were established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These clubs taught young women food preparation and other homemaking skills. Gore explains how belonging to a Home Demonstration Club gave her the opportunity to attend Tougaloo College—a historic black school, founded just north of Jackson, Mississippi in 1869 by New York–based Christian missionaries for the education of freed slaves and their offspring.
PHOTO: The Mansion at Tougaloo College, Mississippi. http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/FreedomNow/scans/TJ0071.jpg
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.
Yvonne Arnold of Hattiesburg dropped out of high school to get married in 1955. In this episode, she remembers her decision to get a General Equivalency Diploma or GED, some thirty years later. When Arnold took the GED test in 1985, she scored the highest of anyone in the Hattiesburg area. She explains how a story in the local newspaper led her to enroll at USM as a 48-year-old freshman.
Arnold continued to work fulltime while taking night classes at USM. After two years, it became increasingly difficult to get all the courses she needed at night. She recalls how her son convinced Dr. Aubrey K. Lucas to give his mother a special needs scholarship. After graduating in 1990, Arnold continued working as a USM Archivist until her retirement in 2008.
PODCAST EXTRA: Arnold grew up in Hattiesburg in the 1930s and 40s. She shares her earliest memories of Southern Miss and Dr. R.C. Cook.
BONUS: To learn more about Yvonne Arnold, check out this 2007 story from the Hattiesburg American https://www.newspapers.com/image/279342429
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American
Last week, Mississippi lost a legend of the Civil Rights Movement. Peggy Jean Connor of Hattiesburg owned a beauty shop on Mobile Street in the early 1960s. In this episode, she shares some of her memories of joining the Movement, like becoming a citizenship teacher after hearing a speech by Fannie Lou Hamer, being arrested in Hattiesburg for picketing for voter rights and spending a week in jail, and going to visit Civil Rights activist, Vernon Dahmer at Forrest General Hospital after his home was firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1966.
After Mississippi’s public schools were forced to integrate in 1970, Connor enrolled her daughter in a white Hattiesburg school. She recounts the experience as a positive one.
Peggy Jean Connor passed away on January 13th, 2018
Transport pilots ferried soldiers and supplies between the Pacific Islands during WWII. While the pilots of fighter planes and bombers garnered all the glory, it was the transport pilots whose bravery kept the war going—bringing in cargo, taking out the wounded, delivering mail, escorting fighters to new locations—all while under the constant threat of attack from the enemy and mother nature. In this episode, Nevin Sledge of Cleveland, Mississippi, remembers flying his primitive cargo plane through all kinds of hazardous conditions.
Sledge shares several stories with us about the daily challenges they faced. He recalls how delaying a scheduled flight to Guam until the next morning resulted in the loss of forty wounded men. And how the US Navy construction battalion known as the See Bees, built a landing strip on that island in just ten days.
PODCAST BONUS: On the remote islands, far from US repair facilities, transport crews found creative ways to keep their planes in the air. Sledge recounts having to replace one of his wings using coconut logs and handful of tools.
No soldiers faced more hardships than the infantry, during WWII. In this episode, James Mulligan details his time with the 103rd Infantry Division, known as the Cactus Division, as they fought their way across Europe in the winter of 1945.
In the harsh cold, the uniforms the men depended on were barely adequate, according to Mulligan. He describes his army-issued weapons and clothing, as well as, the ready-to-eat meals known as “K-rations” and the four cigarettes each contained. During both world wars, tobacco companies provided free cigarettes to US soldiers and encouraged the families back home to send cartons of ‘smokes’ to the men as well. A practice Mulligan describes in his interview as a “life sentence.”
Mulligan made friends with several of the men he served with on the front lines. He discusses sharing a foxhole and his regret of losing contact with those soldiers after the war.
Podcast Extra: In March of 1945, Mulligan was shot in the leg during a firefight with the Germans in the Upper Rhine Valley. He shares his memories of the hospital in Dijon, France where he was still recovering when Germany surrendered.
Growing up in the Delta, Gail Goldberg celebrated all the traditional Jewish holidays with her family. In this episode, she describes some of the foods associated with certain holidays such as Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah and Passover and why some foods are forbidden.
Since marrying into the Goldberg family and moving to Greenwood in the late ’70s, Gail and her mother-in-law have worked together to make sure the Jewish traditions are not forgotten. She reflects on how family recipes and practices have evolved as their family has grown.
Of all the Jewish holidays Gail Goldberg’s family observes, Rosh Hashanah is her favorite. She discusses the weeks of planning required to feed all the family and friends who come to celebrate.
PHOTO: Wiki Commons
Growing up in Ruleville, Lisa Burnett learned the basics of southern cooking from her family. In this episode, she remembers helping her grandmother make biscuits and how “Papaw” smoked meat in an old refrigerator.
Burnett moved from Ruleville to New York after college, but she still loves southern cooking. She marvels at how many New Yorkers don’t cook and how much her co-workers love her pimento cheese sandwiches and pulled pork sliders.
Now that she is an adult, Burnett helps plan and prepare the family holiday meals. She explains how three generations work together to make their Christmas Eve dinner a special event. But it’s about more than home cooking and time spent with family and friends. She also makes time to visit as many restaurants as possible, during her trips to Mississippi. Because while New York has plenty of great places to dine out, there’s no place like the South for unique eateries.
Josie Wilson and her new husband moved to Richton, Mississippi in the spring of 1915. Like so many towns built around the sawmills that sprang up during the timber boom, Richton was a small primitive place with no paved streets or sidewalks. In this episode, Wilson remembers how the townspeople were scandalized when she sat with the men at the drugstore soda fountain. When her first child was born nine months to the day they married, she was jokingly thankful the baby had not come early and further damaged her reputation.
Wilson and her husband Lemual purchased the local newspaper soon after moving to Richton. She explains how publishing the paper created connections and opportunities within the community. After Lemual developed a heart condition and was no longer able to work, Josie and her son pitched in to keep the newspaper going. She recalls bartering their printing services in exchange for her daughter’s college tuition.
In her 1973 interview, after 50 + years of publishing the Richton Dispatch, Josie Wilson looked back with pride on their accomplishments. She described how they invested their money, not in the stock market, but in their family and community.
Boe McClure grew up in the Hudsonville community in Marshall County. For decades, he and his father rented farmland from Ruth Finley, owner of the Davis Plantation in Holly Springs. Growing up in the Coldwater River basin, McClure spent a lot of time riding his horse through the woods, hunting and fishing. He remembers how the rich bottomland on Davis Plantation became unusable as beavers began to dam creeks along the basin in the mid-1960s and Miss Ruth’s decision to let nature take over. He discusses the springs that feed the Coldwater River Watershed and how the beavers have made it a haven for wildlife.
Ruth Finley and her sister, Margaret Finley Shackelford, donated their Holly Springs plantation to the National Audubon Society in 1998. McClure details the return of wild turkeys and other game to the area since the Strawberry Plains Sanctuary opened and why it’s important for people to develop a relationship with nature at an early age.
Learn more at http://strawberryplains.audubon.org
PHOTO: Mitch Robinson
As the son of a tenant farmer, Boe McClure of Holly Springs would help his father preserve meats in the family smokehouse. In the episode, he explains how to smoke a ham and remembers how good the final product tasted. Before the days of refrigeration, people would can foods in glass jars to keep them from spoiling. McClure recalls how his family would make their own sausage and can some of it for an easy breakfast.
Sorghum is a type of sugarcane used throughout the South to make molasses. McClure describes the sorghum milling process and how his mother would serve the molasses on biscuits.
PODCAST BONUS: McClure’s family grew peanuts on their farm as a dietary supplement for themselves and their dairy cows. He discusses feeding the peanut vines to the cows at milking time and how his mother would parch the nuts to use in baking.
PHOTO: Horse-powered sorghum mill- http://tnhomeandfarm.com
Like many of their friends and family, McComb natives Glover May and his twin brother Eddie, went to work for the Illinois Central Railroad at the McComb maintenance facility, in 1942. Their father, Glenn May was the boiler foreman in the locomotive shop. Nicknamed “The Storm” by his workers, who would call out “All right, y’all straighten up, here comes the storm,” when he walked into the shop, their father was a strict, task-oriented, company man. In his 2006 interview for the McComb City Railroad Depot museum, Glover May recounts how he and his brother worked seven days a week for 32 cents per hour, with no days off. Even so, his father thought nothing of making his sons work all night to finish a job or to fill in for a sick employee for no extra pay. “He was tough, Glenn May was tough. He was a railroad man, sure was.”
In this episode, Glover May takes us through his 43-year career with IC. He recalls their first job, testing the water in the steam locomotives to see if the boiler needed cleaning. When the May boys were promoted to positions in the boiler shop, their father became their supervisor. May remembers how his dad would try to treat the men’s minor injuries to keep from filing an accident report.
After a train derails, specially-trained crews work until the wreckage is cleared and the tracks repaired. May discusses how he and his brother would cook for such a crew, in a rolling kitchen car. When a railroad maintenance crew is dispatched to the scene of an accident, they stay until the job is done. Glover and Eddie always made sure their crew had lots of good food at every meal. According to May, after the twins retired on August 1, 1985, the kitchen car was retired as well, the end of an era in the age of fast food.
PHOTO CREDIT: McComb City Railroad Depot Museum, http://mcrrmuseum.com/
Mississippi author, Willie Morris, was living in Austin when he was offered a job as Editor of Harper’s Magazine. In this episode, he recalls his decision to move to New York and the magazine’s reputation at that time. When Morris took over as editor in 1967, circulation and revenues were down. He discusses the challenges of overseeing an older staff and his strategy to turn things around. Morris assumed he would be able to continue his career as a writer, even while working as an editor. He explains why the demands on a New York editor’s time made it impossible for him to write.
Willie Morris looks back with pride on his time as the Editor of Harper’s. He reflects on the distinguished authors and journalists who contributed to the magazine’s successful return to its former glory and the role he played.
PHOTO: copyright David F. Morris.
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.
The U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions, known as the Seabees, built roads and airfields across the Pacific Theater during WWII. In this episode, James Smith recalls his service with the Seabees beginning in 1943. Smith shares his memories of training with the Marines and the trip through the Panama Canal on the first large ship he ever saw. He also discusses how the Seabees would distill their own bootleg whiskey and his unconventional way of doing laundry aboard their small transport ship.
PODCAST EXTRA: Smith’s last assignment as a Seabee was repairing an airfield on the recently-liberated island of Okinawa. He discusses the Okinawans’ history with the Japanese and the devastating cost of “liberation.”
In 1950, Dr. Sam Spinks began teaching school in Jones County, Mississippi. In a career spanning thirty-five years, he worked to expand the curriculum available to high school students. From his first job as a teacher at Soso and later as the Superintendent of Hattiesburg Public Schools, he developed innovative programs to help children from all backgrounds prepare for life after school.
In this episode, Spinks recalls how he used to take his eighth classes on educational trips at the end of each school year. He explains how HPS developed the State’s first “Alternative School” to help kids with behavioral problems avoid expulsion, hired the first staff psychologist and expanded the special education program.
As times change and maintaining discipline becomes more of a challenge, Spinks feels it is not the students who have changed, but rather, the environment in which they are being raised. He reflects on how that negatively impacts their behavior and recalls one Alternative School success story. He also identifies two trends: one he considers to be a positive for public schools and one negative.
PHOTO: By Woodlot - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21544903
Founded in 1941, Church Women United is an ecumenical group with local chapters across the US. In this episode, Jane Schutt of Florence, Mississippi, recalls how the group's progressive stand on racial equality caused many chapters in the South to fold. Schutt served as state president of Church Women United from 1960 to 1963. She describes the group’s national program for racial reconciliation introduced by the Methodist members called “Assignment Race” and the daunting task assigned to the Mississippi delegation.
In 1962, Schutt was appointed to the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. Later, when she was named chairperson of the Advisory Committee, her name began appearing in national and local news stories. Schutt explains how that exposure made life difficult for her husband and children. She also remembers the support she received from the Episcopal Church and Church Women United.
Jane Schutt received many awards including the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from the Prentiss Institute, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference Award, and the Church Women United’s Valiant Woman Award.
Born in 1906 in Himera, Indiana, Esther Stanton was just 14 years old when she began playing piano at the local nickelodeon. These were the days of silent movies, when musicians set the mood for the flicking images on the big screen. In this episode, she explains how live music was used to enhance the movie-going experience before “talkies” came along.
It was this experience that prepared Stanton for a career as a professional pianist. Along the way, she met several famous entertainers, like Red Skelton, one of the most beloved comedians of the Twentieth Century, who grew up in nearby Vincennes, Indiana. Stanton recalls playing piano for Skelton in home talent shows and discusses his meteoric rise to fame.
When WWII erupted, Stanton joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp or WACS, serving as director of the female dance band. When the WAC became part of the regular army, Stanton chose not to reenlist because of the limited opportunities being offered them. After leaving the WAC, Stanton formed an “all-girl” jazz band with several of her former band-mates. She credits the band's popularity to the shortage of male musicians during the war.
PODCAST EXTRA: While touring with her band in the 1940s, Ester Stanton met, and became friends with, popular pianist and showman, Liberace. She remembers his friendly demeanor and devotion to his mother.
In 1954, as half of a performing duo with her husband, Stanton moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She played and performed until 1966, when she retired in Biloxi.
Lawrence Semski was the Biloxi City Attorney when Hurricane Camille struck on August 18, 1969. In this episode, he recounts how the city government struggled to provide basic services after the storm. After Camille devastated the Gulf Coast, offers of assistance poured in from around the world. Semski remembers how Biloxi Mayor Danny Guice’s professional contacts were the first to arrive with aid.
Next, according to Semski, hundreds of professional contractors descended on Biloxi looking to make some quick money. He explains the process of screening and monitoring these companies to prevent fraud and waste.
Semski characterizes the days following Hurricane Camille as bringing out the best and worst in people. He describes the storm as an equalizer that kindled a spirit of determination to recover and rebuild.
PHOTO: Wiki Commons
Dr. Paul Cotten enrolled at Southern Miss in 1954 with the idea of being a choral director. In this episode, he explains how that led him to a career in music therapy for the treatment of the intellectually challenged. In 1960 Cotton started a music therapy program at Ellisville State School. He describes the how music was used to develop motor skills, affect mood and instill confidence.
One of the major challenges the mentally impaired face is being isolated from the rest of society. Cotten recalls how the Ellisville State School choir helped ease racial and intellectual segregation.
PHOTO: William Carey University http://www.wmcarey.edu