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
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