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.