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
Vernon Dahmer was a Hattiesburg businessman and civil rights activist who helped blacks register to vote. Dahmer’s house was riddled with bullets and firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan on the night of January 10, 1966. Holding off the attackers while his family escaped out the back of the house, Dahmer’s lungs were damaged by the flames and he died the next day. After confessing to Dahmer’s murder, one of the Klansmen agreed to turn state’s evidence against the rest. Buck Wells served as a juror in one of the trials. In this episode, Wells discusses why Dahmer’s efforts put him at odds with the Ku Klux Klan despite being well-liked within the community. He recalls some details of the crime and how the district attorney built an ironclad case.
Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, all-white juries rarely convicted whites of crimes against blacks. Wells explains how their jury drew inspiration from a higher power to reach a guilty verdict. After the jury voted to convict the defendant, the names of the jurors were published in the newspaper. Wells describes the harassing phone calls, as well as, words of support.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American – Ellie Dahmer holds photo of her late husband
During the first part of the Twentieth Century, Mississippi experienced a timber boom as Northern business interests bought up huge tracts of virgin pine trees and began harvesting the wood with little regard for the future. All that remained when they left, were fields of stumps as far as the eye could see and unemployed timber workers.
When the Hercules Powder Company opened a plant in Hattiesburg in 1925, they brought jobs and a renewed sense of hope to the area. The company put men back to work digging up the seemingly endless supply of stumps and limbs the sawmills left behind to extract the resin the wood contained. The resin was then processed and shipped around the world for use in the manufacture of a variety of products.
In 1925, Buck Wells’ father went to work for the Hercules plant in Hattiesburg. In this episode, he remembers how the town struggled during the Great Depression and the way Hercules looked out for its workers. When he turned 16, Wells went to work for the company, himself, harvesting stumps. He recalls how clear-cutting had devastated the land and how Hercules turned those stumps into gold.
Prior to World War II, Germany and Japan were important customers for the Hercules Plant in Hattiesburg. Wells explains how the loss of that business hurt the local economy until America entered the war. The boom that followed would grow the company into a giant of industry, and continued until the end of the 1950s, when tree stumps became increasingly hard to find. Wells discusses the company’s cost-cutting efforts and how the move to management led him to a second career. He retired from Hercules in 1980, after 45 years with the company.
Founded in 1889, the Neshoba County Fair is the largest campground fair in the nation. In this episode, Mac Alford discusses his family’s long history with the fair beginning with the story of how his grandparents built their first fair cabin in the early 1900s. According to Alford, the early fair cabins were primitive structures built with reclaimed materials. He explains why the cabins require yearly maintenance and recalls how his father enjoyed the work.
Alford began coming to his family’s cabin when he was just a toddler. He recounts his earliest memories and the family food traditions that made their time at the fair so special. One of the traditional entertainments at the fair is harness horse racing. Alford remembers how his family would travel to different events to watch their friends compete.
One of Alford’s favorite things to do at the Neshoba County Fair is to sit on the front porch of his family’s cabin. He describes the peaceful mornings there and the joy of watching friends and former students pass by.
Judge Harvey Ross grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the 1920s when racial segregation was absolute and unquestioned. After college, Ross joined his brother’s law firm and represented many black clients. During this time, his own views on race and segregation evolved. As demand for civil rights began to grow, a Japanese Episcopal priest, Daisuke Kitagawa, came to Clarksdale to help ease racial tensions. In this episode, Ross remembers the meetings Kitagawa hosted between white and black community leaders and how those meeting laid the groundwork for future projects.
Ross was served in the State House of Representatives from 1948 to 1956. During that time, the White Citizens Council was formed by Robert “Tut” Patterson, to maintain segregation in the South. Ross recalls the group’s initial popularity and their office in Greenwood.
Coahoma Opportunities, Inc. was organized in 1965 with grant money from a Community Action program, set up by the Kennedy administration. Ross discusses the challenges of dealing with the all-white county board of supervisors. And he looks back with pride at the positive effect that C.O.I. has had on the entire community.
Hattiesburg restaurateur and author Robert St. John had been majoring in Communications when he took a job managing a small delicatessen. In this episode, he recalls how that experience lead him to a career. While working at the deli and as a waiter, St. John returned to college, studying Hospitality Management, where he preferred to spend his time designing restaurants. He opened his first one in the late 80s, the Crescent City Grill where he began to establish a reputation as a chef and food writer.
After 29 years in business, Robert St. John knows what it takes to be a successful Hattiesburg restaurateur. With five unique restaurants, currently in operation and another opening soon, he discusses what makes his home town special and how to give customers what they want. He also describes two of his newer dining concepts and the process of creating them.
Whenever St. John is on the road, he always seeks out locally owned places to eat and shop. He believes these one-of-a-kind businesses are what gives a town its unique identity.
PHOTO: Hattiesburg American
Lunch counters and cafeterias have long provided time-strapped Americans with fast, affordable food. In this episode, restaurateur and author, Robert St. John discusses the evolution of Hattiesburg dining, beginning with three early Hub City eateries and why they were close to the train station. He also recalls the Frost Top, a franchise fixture from the 50s - 70s, all the times he ate there and what made the Frost Top so special.
Throughout the 20th Century, large companies and boarding houses provided plate lunches for hungry workers. St. John describes some of Hattiesburg’s favorite lunchrooms and their “meat and three” menus. For hungry shoppers, the department store lunch counters provided a ready respite, before eventually being replaced by mall food courts. St. John remembers some of Hattiesburg’s department store food fare and hanging out at the Cloverleaf Mall.
PODCAST EXTRA: Jimmy Faughn, an early Hattiesburg restaurateur, operated several eateries including The Collegian, Le Faughn’s, and the Sea Lodge. St. John reflects on Faughn’s reputation as the fine dining patriarch of Hattiesburg.
PHOTO: Coney Island Café in the same location since 1923.
As the cost of a college degree soars and the debate between a classical versus career-oriented curriculum rages, corporate recruiters are beginning to recognize the value of a Liberal Arts degree in the business world. In this episode, Donald Drapeau recalls his interest in History and the decision to attend Southern Miss.
After receiving an undergraduate degree from USM, Drapeau studied Economic History at West Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania. He explains how that experience landed him a job with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Focusing on Financial History led Drapeau to became a successful currency trader. He details his work with the International Monetary Market and using supercomputers to spot trends.
Drapeau looks back fondly on his undergraduate days at Southern Miss. He remembers how lunch with President Emeritus Aubrey K. Lucas led him to establish an annual Liberal Arts Symposium at USM and explains how the spirit of cooperation within the university has inspired him to give even more.
Growing up in Rosedale, Mississippi, Stanley Ferguson’s house was surrounded by cotton fields. In this episode, he remembers watching the airplanes fly overhead and his decision to become a crop-duster.
In the early days of crop-dusting, the airplanes were usually small, re-purposed military surplus. Ferguson describes how crop-dusting equipment has grown in size, complexity, and price. He also explains how crop-dusters have adopted new methods to increase efficiency and quality.
Podcast Extra: Even though cotton production has evolved over time, some aspects of farm life remain unchanged. For those who didn’t grow up next to a cotton field, Ferguson defines the term “Boll Wars.”
PHOTO: By Stefan Krause, Germany - Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28262700