When Claude E. Ramsay sat down with us in April of 1981 to discuss his career and tenure as President of the Mississippi AFL – CIO, the three main topics of that series of interviews were: worker’s rights, voting rights, and civil rights. Forty years later, those same three issues are still grabbing headlines across the nation. Whether it is Amazon employees in Alabama trying to unionize, GOP efforts to restrict voting after the 2020 election, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the uptick in violence against Asian, Hispanic, and Jewish communities, the struggle for better working conditions, access to the ballot and freedom from discrimination continues against the same forces using the same tactics and reasoning.
1981 - In 1939, Claude Ramsay went to work for the International Paper Company in Pascagoula. In this episode, he recalls joining the paper-workers union and rising through the ranks to become president. Ramsay was elected President of the Mississippi AFL – CIO in 1959. He discusses working with Medgar Evers to secure voting rights and labor rights for all Mississippians. Ramsay also details his meeting with President Kennedy the day after Evers’s assignation.
In 1964, after years of complaints about the anti-union, anti-civil rights biases of WLBT, the AFL – CIO joined the United Church of Christ in petitioning the FCC to revoke the Jackson television station’s license. Ramsay explains why they felt it was important to take a stand against “right wing propaganda.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed employment discrimination based on gender and ethnicity. Ramsay discusses how the law also aided efforts to organize Mississippi’s workers.
Through the years, we have delved through our large collection of veteran oral histories, many times, to find impactful war stories that really bring home the hardships and sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors during WWII. This is not one of those episodes. For while Albert Russell did escape calamity on multiple occasions during his service as a navigator aboard a Navy patrol bomber in the Pacific theater, the man clearly had more fun and more good fortune that most during the war. In training, Russell frequently enjoyed the nightlife in Atlanta, Washington DC, and San Francisco. While serving in the Pacific, he met and cavorted with one of Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses of the day, Carol Landis, who was touring with a USO group in Australia at the time. Clearly, the man knew how to enjoy his downtime.
1977 - Albert Russell joined the Navy in 1942 and served as a flight navigator in the Pacific. In this episode, he describes basic training and the methods of navigation in those early days. As young Navy ensign during WWII, Russell was assigned to a base near Pacific fleet headquarters. He remembers taking an early morning swim in the private pool of Fleet Admiral Bull Halsey.
While on leave in Australia, Russell met and befriended two USO performers: actress Carol Landis and singer Martha Tilton. He recalls a month of dancing and dining and being the envy of his commanding officer.
During WWII, bad weather was a constant source of danger for patrol planes in the Pacific. Russell recounts how a typhoon forced him to change course repeatedly for nineteen hours.
Besides cotton, the timber industry generated more money and jobs in Mississippi during the early 20th Century than any other. When European settlers came to the territory, they found vast stands of virgin long-leaf yellow pine trees. But it took until the late 1800s before the technology was developed to harvest these giant trees for their high-quality lumber. By WWI, hundreds of sawmills covered the Piney Woods and their tree-cutting and turpentine camps often attracted a rough breed of men from around the country, drawn by the lure of plentiful work. Our storyteller for this episode helped build many of the sawmills and railroads used to process and transport this valuable commodity.
1976 - Charles Ainsworth was born in 1885 near Sontag, Mississippi. In this episode, he describes the hard, dangerous work of cutting timber in the Piney Woods. During the timber boom years, logging camps harvested trees from across the state. Charles Ainsworth remembers the men who worked these camps as “some of the meanest people in world.”
As a young man, Ainsworth helped construct sawmills throughout the Piney Woods. He recalls earning the respect of the mill owner in D’lo through determination and hard work.
Ainsworth moved to Hattiesburg in 1916 and began building houses. He recounts gaining a reputation for working smarter and saving his clients money in the process.
As we continue our 50th Anniversary celebration, we turn our attention this week to Public Health. COVID-19 has given most of us a fresh appreciation for our healthcare professionals. We look at how far public health in Mississippi has evolved by dipping into this interview from 1975 when Ms. Edith Reece ended her thirty-five-year career as a public health nurse by sitting down to record her oral history.
1975 – Edith Reece of Woodville became a public health nurse in 1940. In this episode, she recalls the challenges of working for rural county health departments in those early days. At that time, sexually transmitted diseases were common and there were no effective treatments. Reece explains that public health nurses were required by law to report and roundup members of the community who refused treatment for their STDs. She explains that spinal taps were often necessary for diagnosis of syphilis and babies often contracted congenital syphilis from their parents.
In 1942. Reece volunteered to become an Army Nurse and was sent to England. She describes caring for wounded soldiers and how she put on a brave face for her patients. After serving as an army nurse, Edith Reece returned to her public health job in Mississippi. She remembers convincing county officials to replace the dilapidated health department in Woodville.
Edith Reece retired from the Mississippi Department of Health in 1975. She discusses the changes in public health she witnessed during her thirty-five-year career as a nurse.
PHOTO: Public health nurse, Floridamemories.com
O.C. McDavid never wanted to be THE Editor of the Jackson Daily News because he didn't want to be the face of the paper at official functions, nor did he want to be a firebrand "pulpiteer" in the image of Fred Sullens or Hodding Carter, Jr. Instead, he wanted to be the man who put out the "best newspaper in the world."
1975 - As a boy, O. C. McDavid knew he wanted to pursue a career as a newspaper reporter. In this episode, he remembers going to work for Oliver Emmerich at the McComb Enterprise in 1925, sweeping up in the print shop and learning how to run the press.
In the late 1930s, McDavid became a reporter for the Jackson Daily News. He recalls the fiery relationship between editor, Fred Sullens, and Senator Theodore Bilbo. After serving in the military and working at several other newspapers, McDavid returned to the Jackson Daily News in 1957 as the News Editor. He discusses the role of editor as a community opinion maker and how his style differed from that of Emmerich and Sullens.
McDavid took up painting on the advice of his doctor to relieve stress. He became an accomplished painter and sculptor. He explains how that hobby led him to write an art column for the Jackson Daily News.
O.C. McDavid passed away on March 12, 1998, at the age of 86.
PHOTO: The Clarion Ledger