The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. Today we dip into an interview conducted in August of 1973. Mrs. Mary Lillian Peters (Ogden) Whitten graduated from Mississippi Normal College (USM) with a degree in Music Education in 1923. She has many fond and entertaining memories of college life in those early days, but in this episode, we focus on her life growing up on a farm in Noxubee County.
1973 – Mary Whitten of Macon, Mississippi was born on her family’s farm in 1904. She remembers selling vegetables and dairy products to the local agricultural high school for extra income. Farm life in Mississippi during the early 20th Century required hard work and self-sufficiency. Whitten recalls hunting wild honey and hickory nuts and smoking meat in winter.
After Whitten’s father died in 1915, the entire family worked to keep their dairy farm going. She describes rounding up the cows for milking and washing clothes in a nearby spring. Part of Whitten’s responsibilities included churning cream and clabber into butter and buttermilk. She recounts feeling heartbroken once after accidentally spilling the contents of the churn.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we dip into a terrific interview conducted in 1972 of William Hubbell, a longtime resident of Biloxi who served as a merchant marine before opening his own business. After retirement, Mr. Hubbell enjoyed collecting and sharing stories of life on the Gulf Coast as an amateur historian.
1972 - William Hubbell moved to Biloxi as a child in 1909. He describes the beautiful wind-powered schooners used by Gulf Coast fishermen in those days and how they would race each other along the shore during the annual regatta, which drew thousands of spectators each year. According to Hubbell, the Fireman’s Parade was another popular event in Biloxi. He recalls the brightly colored trucks and how the firemen were rewarded with copious quantities of beer.
Gulf Coast residents have always traveled to New Orleans for work, shopping, and recreation. Hubbell discusses riding the “Coast Train” before automobiles were common. He also recounts a typical day and riding his pony cart to school along the old beach road.
As a resort town, Biloxi has always been a popular destination for tourists in the summertime. Hubbell remembers the Iowa farmers who chose to spend their winters on the Gulf Coast.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we are happy to share a few memories from Pulitzer Prize winning editor and Hattiesburg native, Robert Woodrow Brown. At the time of this interview on November 3, 1973, Brown was still working as a newspaper editor in a career spanning more than forty years. In addition to several high-profile print positions, he also worked in the news departments of NBC, ABC, and the International News Service. Brown passed away four months after this interview was recorded, on April 2, 1974.
1973 - At a young age Robert Brown decided to pursue a career in Journalism. In this episode, he recalls going to work for the Hattiesburg American while still a high school student in 1930.
In 1936, Brown moved to Greenville to work for newspaper publisher, Hodding Carter, Sr. He explains why their decision to publish a picture of Olympic medalist Jesse Owens was so controversial. Being a proponent of social and economic justice made Carter a fearless newspaper man. Brown reminisces about his mentor and friend.
In the late 1930s, Brown accepted a position with the New Orleans Times Picayune, eventually moving to Washington D.C. for the paper during WWII. He recalls befriending a colorful character known as “The Mystery Man in the Big Red House on Avenue R.”
PHOTO: Tampa Bay Times
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we delve into one of our first POW interviews.
Lt. Commander James W. Bailey (Bill) sat down to share his experiences with us on September 11, 1973, less than a year after his release. His memories of sixty-eight months as a POW were still fresh and raw in his mind.
1973 - Kosciusko native, Bill Bailey, served as a Navy Flight Officer on the aircraft carrier, USS Ranger. In this episode he recalls how his F4 Phantom jet was shot down over North Vietnam on June 28, 1967. When Bailey’s plane was downed by the North Vietnamese, he and his pilot were taken prisoner. He describes being tortured for three days by interrogators trying to obtain information.
As a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, Bill Bailey was subjected to harsh treatment by the camp guards. He remembers how they were replaced by with new, more humane guards in early 1970.
After spending sixty-eight grueling months as a POW in North Vietnam, Bailey was finally allowed to go home. He recounts how conditions in the prison camp improved dramatically about a month before they were released.
CAUTION: CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE.
PHOTO: A plane load of recently released POWs on their way home in 1973. Public domain.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we look back with pride at our interview of civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer. The first part was conducted in Fall of 1972 and focused more on her work with voter registration and the Freedom Democratic Party. In the second part, conducted in January of 1973, Hamer reflects on the current state of the movement, her efforts to provide housing and healthy foods choices for Mississippi’s poor people, and how the Civil Rights Movement was evolving to address new challenges.
1973 –In 1964, Hamer and ten other civil rights activists travelled to Africa for a much-needed rest. She recalls how the people they met on that trip inspired her to see what was possible for blacks in America. Hamer remembers feeling angry that African Americans had had they culture, and history stolen from them and how they had been made to feel ashamed by the West’s distorted image of their homeland.
One objective of the Civil Rights Movement was to change the old ways of thinking about race. Hamer discusses the importance of realizing that we all need each other. In 1969, Hamer and a group of donors founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She explains how they grow vegetables and other crops to help feed poor people in the Delta.
By 1972, many goals of the Civil Rights Movement had been met and some said the work was finished. Hamer opines on how the Movement has evolved and why the struggle must continue.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we dip into the interview of Dr. William Penn Davis, conducted on March 24, 1972. During the Civil Rights Movement, no white church leader in Mississippi showed more bravery or strength of his convictions than Reverend Davis. His lifelong work towards racial unity—which he called “human relations”—was met at times with threats of violence and scorn by white Christians and non-Christians alike.
1972 - Dr. William Penn Davis was born in Union County, Mississippi, in 1903. In this episode, he recalls how his parents taught him, by example, to treat people with respect, regardless of race. While attending Mississippi College, Rev. Davis served as pastor of a church in the Brownsville community. He explains how a hate crime inspired his work to improve race relations in the state.
From 1957 until 1971, Davis served as president of the Mississippi Baptist Seminary. He discusses their efforts to promote racial unity during the Civil Rights Movement. As an advocate for race relations, Rev. Davis was often targeted by white supremacists. He remembers being beaten and left for dead by a group of masked men.
Because black churches were meeting places for civil rights organizers, dozens were burned in retribution. Dr. Davis recounts how the Citizens of Concern rebuilt fifty-two churches during that time.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND DESCRIPTIONS OF VIOLENCE.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. As the last layperson to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Owen Cooper recognized the need for fundamental changes in the organization’s approach to racial issues. While the nation attempted to build on the tenuous gains of the Civil Rights Movement, Cooper recognized that Baptist churches, too, must evolve in the way they dealt with their black brothers and sisters in Christ. However, his determination to change the old ways of thinking and put those changes into action would require the sacrifice of his political aspirations.
1972 - Like many Mississippians of his generation, Cooper gave little thought to racial equality. He recalls how his daughter’s desire to attend an integrated church sparked a change in his thinking. As President of the Southern Baptist Convention for two terms, 1972 – 74, Cooper recognized the need for churches to be more welcoming of African Americans. He explains the dilemma for church leaders during that time.
As a prominent businessman, Owen Cooper’s work with pro-civil rights organizations created controversy. He remembers how a picture of him eating dinner with NAACP leader Aaron Henry was widely circulated. When Cooper decided to work with black citizens in such groups as Mississippi Action for Progress, he knew it would end his hopes of running for governor. He reflects on that decision.
Forty-eight years after this interview was conducted, the Southern Baptist Convention has made solid progress in the way it handles the issue of race. However, for the nation as a whole, Sunday morning worship services remain the most segregated of hours.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we look at the career of civil rights attorney R. Jess Brown. Brown originally came to Mississippi in 1946 as a public-school teacher. After Gladys Noel Bates was fired and black-listed from teaching in Mississippi for agreeing to be the plaintiff in a landmark civil rights lawsuit, Brown volunteered to take her place. When his teaching contract was not renewed, he left the state to attend law school at Texas Southern University. He passed the Mississippi Bar Examination in 1954 and established his law practice that same year.
1972 – At the time this interview was conducted in the Jackson law office of R. Jess Brown on April 2, 1972, Brown was still an active, practicing attorney. Brown was born in Coffeeville, Kansas in 1912. In this episode, he explains how growing up in Oklahoma inspired him to become a civil rights attorney. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum in the early 60s, activists were often targeted by police. Brown recalls representing these defendants against a variety of charges.
In preparing for the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, workers received training on how to protect themselves both physically and legally. Brown remembers going to Oxford, Ohio, to warn them of the hazards they would likely face.
During the Civil Rights Movement, some black citizens feared reprisals after the activists went home. Jess Brown discusses the strategy of direct confrontation versus a protracted legal battle.
WARNING: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we look at the life of George Edward Allen. Few figures of the 20th Century had a bigger impact on American politics and business.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Allen became an attorney, but made a name for himself early as an investment banker with Halsey-Stuart. After a large investment in a hotel company threatened to go bad, the firm took over the company and sent Allen to Washington DC to oversee operations. He did well in hotel management and his continued rise through the ranks of the Democratic Party eventually netted him a position in the Roosevelt administration. His penchant for using humor to diffuse tense situations earned him the nickname “Court Jester,” a moniker that he enjoyed, but his wife did not.
After serving in two administrations, Allen returned to the business world as a consultant. It is said that in his day he held more board of directors positions than anyone on the planet. He amassed considerable wealth and was active in many philanthropic organizations. Allen passed away less than five months after this interview, on April 23, 1973. He is buried in the family plot in Booneville.
1972 - Booneville native, George Allen became interested in politics at a young age. In this episode, he recalls attending his first political convention as an alternate delegate in 1912 at the age of 16.
In 1933, Allen was appointed Mayor of Washington DC by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He then served in the Truman administration as Secretary of Political Appointments. He explains how that position made him unpopular with certain party bosses.
George Allen served in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and was a close personal friend of President Eisenhower. He compares the personalities of the three men.
After serving in two administrations, George Allen returned to the private sector as a paid consultant. He credits luck and opportunity as important factors to his success.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. Another controversial Mississippian takes the spotlight in this week’s episode. Few public figures did more to hinder the cause of civil rights in our state than Judge Thomas P. Brady of Brookhaven.
1972 - In 1948 President Harry S. Truman ordered the desegregation of the US Military. He also supported progressive civil rights legislation that threatened long-established Jim Crow laws of the day. In this interview recorded on March 4, 1972, Judge Brady recalls helping form the State’s Right Democratic Party or “Dixiecrats” in response. In the 1950s, a series of progressive Supreme Court decisions angered conservative whites across the South. Brady states his reasons for wanting Justices to be elected and not appointed.
After school segregation was ruled unconstitutional in Brown versus the Board of Education, Brady railed against that decision in a speech entitled “Black Monday.” He explains how the speech became a book and inspired the formation of Citizens’ Councils across the country. While overtly rejecting the violent tactics of the KKK, the Citizens’ Council covertly worked to destroy the lives and livelihoods of all who openly supported integration and equal rights of black Mississippians.
Judge Brady was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in July of 1963. Despite his record on racial matters, in several cases that came before the court, he demonstrated a fealty to the Constitution beyond his personal beliefs. He discusses his decision to integrate a “whites only” park in Greenwood despite being a segregationist.
PHOTO: actual Citizens Council membership card from private collection.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
1972 - Percy Greene had a terrible secret. When the civil rights pioneer and publisher of the Jackson Advocate newspaper agreed to be interviewed by us in December of 1972, he had been secretly serving as an informant for the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission for years. It was a secret he would take to the grave when he passed in 1977 and not revealed until the Commission’s files were unsealed much later.
So why would a man so nationally respected as a voice for the disenfranchised black citizens of Mississippi agree to share damaging information about the Civil Rights Movement’s leadership with the state?
It is an intriguing question. Perhaps it was Pride—bitterness at having lost his role as the state’s voice for equality under the law—that drove him to do it. Maybe it was his belief that the Movement was a communist plot to overthrow the country: a conspiracy theory that echoes today’s criticism of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Whatever the reason, Greene’s role as an informant has forever overshadowed his legacy.
In 1940, Greene, organized the Mississippi Negro Democrats Association. In this episode, he describes their early efforts to register Black Mississippians to vote. By 1944, over 8,000 African Americans had been registered to vote in Mississippi. Greene recalls Senator Theodore Bilbo’s campaign of black voter suppression.
As publisher of the Jackson Advocate, Greene championed equal rights under the law. Even so, he believed the Civil Rights Movement was in fact, a communist plot. Greene opposed efforts to integrate public schools and the use of the word “Black” instead of “Negro.” He explains how his call for a “New Liberalism” throughout the South would be more tolerable to whites than forced desegregation.
Greene’s characterization of young civil rights workers as communists and militants made him a pariah of the Movement. He discusses how his newspaper’s circulation dropped as a result and how he has worked to gain more subscribers.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE
PHOTO: State Sovereignty Comm. file photo - MS Dept. of Archives and History
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we delve into an interview conducted in August, 1971 of famed Southern writer, Erskine Caldwell. Perhaps no single work of fiction influenced the world’s view of the American South more than Caldwell’s breakout novel, Tobacco Road, published in 1932.
The interview, conducted by USM English Professor Jac Lyndon Tharpe, is a classic battle of the “Lits” versus the “Langs.” Throughout the almost six hour recording, Tharpe repeatedly attempts to draw Caldwell into a discussion of Literary Theory, while the exasperated author focuses on the process of writing—seemingly dismissive of all Tharpe holds dear.
1971 Growing up poor in the South, Caldwell had limited access to books and magazines. In this episode, he recalls how the wide variety of literary journals at the University of Virginia inspired him to write. As a sophomore in college, Caldwell only took courses related to his goal of becoming a writer. He remembers convincing an English professor to let him take a graduate-level writing workshop.
Even though Caldwell’s novels were inspired by his memories of growing up in the South, he insists he never knew how the story would end before it was finished. A prolific writer, Caldwell wrote 25 novels and 150 short stories. When asked which book was his favorite, his only reply: his next one. He also confesses that he is never satisfied with the final story.
PHOTO: By Giorgio Lotti (Mondadori Publishers) - http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/american-writer-and-journalist-erskine-caldwell-smoking-a-news-photo/186170230, Public Domain.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
1971: Luther A. Smith came to Hattiesburg as a young attorney in 1908. In this interview, conducted on June 18, 1971, Smith shares his memories growing up in North Georgia. As the son of a Methodist minister, Smith was taught to avoid certain groups and activities. He recalls how his mother found him at a party one night on the Chattahoochee River.
Even though Smith’s family did not have a lot of money, he was determined to attend law school. He recounts how a chance reunion with a childhood friend provided the means to pay his tuition. While attending law school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Smith became friends with Hattiesburg native, George Curry.
Smith moved to Hattiesburg with his classmate to establish a law firm in 1908. He shares his initial impressions of the town and the story of how he met his future wife, Lorraine McInnis. The Hattiesburg National Bank of Commerce expected the Curry-Smith law firm to provide the bank with fulltime support. Smith explains how the partners flipped a coin to divvy up the work.
PHOTO: National Bank of Commerce facade, Hattiesburg, MS.
As the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage approaches its 50th Anniversary in 2021, we continue our Mississippi Moments Decades Series by starting at the beginning and working our way through the collection, year by year. This week we look at Volume 1.
1971 New York Times Editor Turner Catledge began his newspaper career at the Neshoba Democrat in 1921. In this episode, he recalls those early days and how publisher Clayton Rand helped him get started. Newspaper reporters and publishers have often been attacked for writing unflattering stories. Catledge remembers two fearless Mississippi journalists: Clayton Rand and Fred Sullens.
In 1971, the New York Times published a secret document on the US war in Vietnam known at the Pentagon Papers. Mississippi native, Turner Catledge, discusses their decision to run the story.
Even though Turner Catledge left Mississippi as a young man to purse a Journalism career, he was always proud of his home state. He opines on the state’s reluctance to change and expresses hope for the future.
PHOTO: New York Times
1971 One year after the courts forced Mississippi to fully integrate its K -12 public schools, the newly-formed Mississippi Center for Oral History at the University of Southern Mississippi sat down with former governor Ross Barnett to discuss his life and career in politics. Barnett was a good storyteller and had much to share about his childhood and career as a young attorney. During his tenure as governor from 1960-64, Barnett worked hard to bring much needed industry to Mississippi and had several large-scale construction projects of which to boast. But his views and actions as an unrepentant segregationist have rightfully defined his place in history. This episode focuses on his memories and opinions surrounding that time.
Barnett campaigned as a diehard segregationist, promising to maintain the status quo in Mississippi as the winds of change in America began to blow in earnest. That promise would soon be put to the test when a young African American named James Meredith attempted to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi. After a Supreme Court ruling in his favor, Meredith was finally allowed to enroll at Ole’ Miss in 1962. When President Kennedy sent in troops to enforce the court’s ruling, the standoff turned into a riot. Three years after the riot at Ole’ Miss, it was revealed that Barnett had been in secret negotiations with the Kennedy Administration. He shares his version of those events.
The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission tried to maintain racial segregation by investigating civil rights workers and through public relations campaigns. Barnett discusses traveling the country presenting his views and the hostile reception he received in Michigan. Segregationists claimed the Civil Rights Movement was really a plot to destroy America. In the interview, Barnett argues why integration would ultimately fail and how the communists were involved.
Caution: this episode of Mississippi Moments contains racially derogatory language.
In 1971, Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, became the first black Mississippian to run for governor in modern times. That same year, he agreed to be interviewed by a new group of scholars at the University of Southern Mississippi called the Mississippi Oral History Program.
At the time of the interview, Evers was forty-nine years old and had lived through a lot. He was frank about his early days in Chicago, describing how he worked in illegal gambling and prostitution before opening a series of successful night clubs. Evers stated he had always intended to return to Mississippi eventually, but his plans were upended when his brother was assassinated in 1963. He returned home the next day and took over Medgar’s duties as field secretary for the NAACP. From there, he became politically active, running for and becoming mayor of Fayette, Mississippi in 1969.
The interview is a snapshot in time, taken exactly halfway through his ninety-eight years. In this episode, Evers recalls how a white lady named Mrs. Paine became like a second mother to him and Medgar. He discusses how his life in Chicago was interrupted by Medgar’s death and how he tried to share his brother’s fate by actively provoking confrontations with law enforcement and the Klan upon his return to Mississippi.
He describes his reasons for going into politics, his vision for a better, more inclusive Mississippi, and why more black citizens needed to run for political office at all levels.
Charles Evers passed away on July 22, 2020. Now in our forty-ninth year, the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage is proud to share with you excerpts from the seventh volume in our collection: The Honorable Charles Evers, Mayor of Fayette, Mississippi.
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.
Malcolm White became interested in the local music scene as a student at Booneville High School. In this episode, he remembers his early career booking bands and managing music venues in Hattiesburg and Jackson. In 1985, White opened Jackson’s largest music venue, Hal and Mal’s. He recalls the wide variety of bands that played there and how casinos affected their business.
After Hurricane Katrina, White became involved in rebuilding the state’s cultural centers. He discusses becoming Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission and the formation of the Culture Club. During his time with the MAC, White has worked to develop the state’s cultural economy. He explains how the Mississippi Blues Trail promotes cultural tourism.
After nearly 15 years of public service to the state of Mississippi, Malcolm White will retire as executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission on September 30, 2020.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was established in 1933 to create jobs for young single men. In this episode, Charlie Odom of Gulfport recalls learning to operate heavy equipment as part of the CCC.
Odom learned to drive large trucks while working with the Civilian Conservation Corps. He explains how that ability proved useful after being drafted into the Army during WWII.
During the war, Odom was a motor pool sergeant, hauling men and materials to the front lines. He discusses his service in the European and Pacific theaters. After the war ended, Odom spent six months serving in Yokohama, Japan, as part of the occupying force. He remembers befriending several of the Japanese soldiers assigned to his motor pool.
Robert Darville grew up working in his father’s café during WWII. In this episode, he shares his memories of the food service business in the days before chain restaurants. His father was a welder at the McComb Railroad Maintenance Shop in the evenings and ran his own lunch counter in the mornings. Darville explains what made the hamburgers at the old Taste and Sip Shop so special.
According to Darville, his father’s café had lots of competition. He discusses some of the town’s classic eateries of the 1940s and 50s.
After serving in the Korean War, Darville returned to McComb and opened the Hollis drive-in restaurant with his father and uncle. He remembers fondly how the community supported their business. Darville and his father sold hamburgers and hotdogs to the McComb Railroad workers for decades. He recalls how many of their customers ate the same lunch every day, year after year.
Ruth Colter attended school in Natchez from the first grade through high school during the 1930s. In this episode, she shares her memories of those days and life in Natchez during WWII.
During the war, thousands of young men from across the country came to Mississippi for basic training. Colter recalls how the Military Maids assisted these new recruits. After graduating high school in 1942, Colter went to work for a Natchez trucking company. She explains how she and her friends still managed to shop and socialize despite wartime shortages.
PODCAST BONUS: During her lifetime, Ruth Colter witnessed many changes to her hometown of Natchez. She remembers shopping downtown, buying produce from street vendors, and the low cost of groceries.
PHOTO: Camp Shelby Military Museum
Tom Johnson was a student at Baylor University when he started working for his father as a hotel manager. In this episode, he recalls how that job led him to pursue a career as a corporate trainer for Holiday Inns in Memphis. By the early 1970s, Holiday Inns, Inc. had grown from a few dozen hotels to over 1300 locations worldwide. Johnson remembers the decision to build the company’s new training facility in Olive Branch.
As the travel industry evolved during the 1960s and 70s, the skills needed to run a hotel changed as well. Johnson explains how Holiday Inns expanded the training they offered company employees.
The Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management at the University of Memphis prepares students for a variety of careers in the hotel industry. Johnson discusses his decision to become the General Manager of the school’s hotel and conference center.
Gene Stork of Big Point, Mississippi, became a commercial fisherman in 1954. In this episode, he recalls working on a “mother boat” for Clark’s Seafood and how they used four skiffs to catch fish. Commercial fisherman like Stork would release redfish over a certain size because those were the egg layers. He explains how the popularity of blackened fish led to a reduction in the redfish population.
Fishing boats sometimes haul in sharks and poisonous species of fish, unintentionally. Stork remembers falling overboard once as he tried to release two sharks from his net. During his time as a commercial fisherman, Gene Stork witnessed many changes. He discusses those changes and compares the nets of today with those of the past.
The brutal death of Emmett Till in 1955, shocked the nation and ignited the Civil Rights Movement. In this episode, civil rights icon Cleveland Sellers, Jr. recalls how he and other students were inspired to confront systemic racism.
In 1964, after his sophomore year at Howard University, Sellers left school to devote himself fulltime to the cause of racial equality. He became active in SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Sellers discusses how they would often protest in front of the White House and the importance of SNCC’s DC office in planning the Mississippi Freedom Summer.
After four years of working in Mississippi and other segregation hotspots, Sellers moved to Orangeburg, South Carolina to attend school at South Carolina State University. Soon after moving there, students began protesting at a local bowling alley about their “whites only” policy. On February 8, 1968, State Troopers opened fire on a group of 200 unarmed protesters on campus. Sellers and thirty others were shot and three died. He explains why he was the only person charged in the incident.
After serving seven months in prison, Sellers found it impossible to find a job due to his record. He remembers how one white woman looked past his FBI file and gave him the opportunity to rebuild his life and his reputation.
Cleveland Sellers, Jr. was pardoned by the State of South Carolina in 1993.
When J.E. Yarbrough of McComb became a train engineer, Illinois Central was still using steam engines. In a career spanning several decades, Yarbrough witnessed many changes as the nation’s transportation demands evolved. In this episode, taken from his 2006 interview, he reflects on those changes. He begins by discussing the switch from steam to diesel in the 1950s.
Before the development of two-way radios, railroads depended on synchronized watches to keep the trains running on time. Yarbrough explains the importance of keeping to a schedule. On average, there are 5,800 collisions between trains and road vehicles per year in the United States. Yarbrough recalls how people would risk their lives to avoid waiting for a train.
After working for decades as a freight train engineer, Yarbrough was promoted to passenger trains, running the famous Panama Limited between McComb and New Orleans. He remembers how a near collision with a log truck convinced him it was time to retire.
This Memorial Day, we salute all our service men and women who have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, with the story of Marine demolition man, Alvy Ray Pittman. A Columbia, Mississippi native, Pittman volunteered to join the U.S. Marine Corp in November of 1942. After bootcamp, he went to demolition school for training in the use of high explosives and landmine removal. In this episode, Pittman explains the hazards of being on a demolition team and why their casualty rates were so high.
During WWII, the campaign to take the Pacific Islands held by Japanese forces, resulted in thousands of casualties. Pittman recalls how so many of his friends died in combat.
On February 19, 1945, U.S. Marine and Navy forces attacked the island of Iwo Jima. During five weeks of constant fighting, the Marines endured heavy artillery barrages from the entrenched and fortified positions of the Imperial Japanese Army. Pittman describes a phenomenon he calls “Combat Wisdom.”—a combination of battle experience and premonition that helped him and his team escape death on multiple occasions.
Given the human cost, some have questioned the strategic value of taking certain Pacific Islands during WWII. Pittman discusses why the battle of Iwo Jima saved more lives than were lost.