Mississippi’s Country Comedian, Jerry Clower, described himself as having “backed into showbusiness.” Clower began his career as an assistant county agent in Oxford before taking a job selling seed corn and then fertilizer for Mississippi Chemical Corporation. It was while calling on customers, he began telling stories about his rural upbringing in East Fork, Mississippi. The homespun humor, combined with Clower’s gregarious personality, led to more and more speaking opportunities at churches, trade shows, and civic clubs until finally, he was convinced to cut a record in 1970. The unlikely success of that recording, sold by mail order and out of the trunk of Clower’s car, and the airplay it received by supporters like country DJ Big Ed Wilkes, led to a recording contract with MCA. By the time Clower was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1973, he was appearing on television programs nationwide and performing live at rodeos and state fairs.
In this episode, his daughter, Katy Clower Johnson shares her memories of the man she called Daddy. She recalls being introduced to the audience of the Grand Ole Opry at the age of three by country music legend, Roy Acuff. At the peak of his career, Clower performed over two hundred shows per year. Johnson remembers travelling with her father and how he used those trips as educational opportunities.
During his twenty-seven year career, Clower amassed a large collection of memorabilia. Johnson and her mother, Homerline Clower discuss their decision to open a Jerry Clower Museum. Johnson also considers her father’s legacy and how it compares to the man she knew.
Bill Stallworth was a Biloxi city councilman when Hurricane Katrina hit the Coast in August 2005. In this episode, he recalls the shock and fear in the eyes of his constituents as he viewed the devastation. Basic necessities like food and water were unavailable for days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Stallworth gets emotional when he recounts early efforts to feed the survivors.
Before the storm even ended, relief workers from across the country began making their way towards the Gulf Coast. Stallworth remembers how two volunteers from Oxfam America helped him fund and organize relief efforts throughout the city.
Three years after Hurricane Katrina, Stallworth reflected on the rebuilding efforts to date. He shares his hopes for the future and the lessons to be learned from that experience.
PHOTO: Linda VanZandt
Linda VanZandt began working for the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage in 2003, shortly after graduating from USM with a degree in International Studies. During a trip to Vietnam, she recounts being deeply affected by the generous spirit of the Vietnamese people and their culture. In this episode, VanZandt explains her decision to reach out to the East Biloxi Vietnamese fishing community after Hurricane Katrina.
While assisting with relief efforts on the Gulf Coast, VanZandt befriended many of the Vietnamese-Americans living in Biloxi. She recalls being led to conduct an oral history project to preserve their stories for future generations. VanZandt developed a traveling exhibit documenting the stories of the Gulf Coast Vietnamese fishing community. She remembers the impact it had on second and third generation Vietnamese-Americans.
Developers of the Two Mississippi Museums made extensive use of the oral history collection at USM. VanZandt discusses assisting the exhibit designers and how the Center’s Vietnamese-Americans of the Gulf Coast Oral History Project impacts how this community is represented there.
Dr. Stephen Sloan accepted the position of Assistant Director of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage in 2003. In this episode, he discusses those years and how his tenure was shaped by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005. Sloan begins the conversation with memories of how his family survived the storm and the cleanup that followed.
Soon after Katrina, the COHCH began conducting oral history interviews of the survivors. Sloan describes the need for such a project and the positive response it received. Based in part on those experiences, Sloan co-authored a book on conducting post-crisis oral history projects. In Listening on the Edge: Oral History in the Aftermath of Crisis, he reflects on the need to protect the mental health of interviewers, as well as the interviewees.
In 2007, Dr. Sloan left the Center to become Director of the Institute for Oral History at Baylor University. He recalls fondly his time at USM and how it shaped his career.