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