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.
Willie Mac Blaine was born in Ethel, Mississippi, in 1936. In this episode, he shares his family’s long history in Attala County and how he came to live in the town of McCool. Established in 1883, McCool, Mississippi was a thriving railroad town. Blaine recalls the town in its heyday and how his grandfather helped build the train depot.
Like many small-town banks, the Bank of McCool was unable to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s. Blaine explains how skittish depositors and a sympathetic banker led to the bank’s demise. According to Blaine, the town of McCool began to decline when it was bypassed by HWY 12. He discusses life there today and why so many other communities get their mail from McCool.
PHOTO: McCool Post Office by J. Gallagher
Betty McGehee grew up on Scotland Plantation in Vidalia, Louisiana, in the 1930s and 40s. Later, she married a Natchez native and crossed the river for good. In this episode, McGehee shares some memories from her childhood. She recounts raising chickens and selling the eggs to earn extra spending money. She also discusses how they would collect rainwater to drink in an above-ground storage tank and why her father later dug a well on their farm.
The Natchez-Vidalia bridge across the Mississippi river was completed in October of 1940. McGehee recalls crossing the river by ferry and how the bridge made traveling so much easier. When the bridge was first completed, drivers on the Mississippi side had to pay a 50-cent toll. McGehee explains how her Natchez boyfriend would wait for her on his side of the bridge to save money.
Jackie Hancock Schulze grew up in Natchez during the 1930s and 40s, in the house built by her great-grandfather, Natchez Mayor William G. Benbrook. In this episode, taken from her 2004 interview, she shares some precious childhood memories of family and friends and her hometown.
Schulze recounts going to the movies downtown, learning to swim in the Elks Club swimming pool and having “Coca-Cola parties” with her friends. She describes these gatherings as the product of a simpler, more innocent age.
When Schulze was a child, her grandmother would take her to New Orleans each summer to shop. She remembers staying on Canal Street and the amazing things to see and do in the Big Easy.
Years after Schulze left Natchez, she moved back to the family homestead, which by then was unoccupied. After celebrating so many holidays in the dining room, surrounded by her loving family, she found it hard to eat there alone.
Jackie Schulze passed away on September 13, 2005.
Charlsie Mae Graham Hammond grew up in Ethel, Mississippi, just outside of Kosciusko in the 1930s and 40s. In this episode, taken from her 2001 interview, she shares some cherished childhood memories. She discusses her father’s job at the sawmill there and how he would take her and her brothers on business trips occasionally to provide them a real-world education.
Growing up in a large family, Hammond spent much of her free time outdoors. She recounts watching Westerns with her parents and playing “cowboys” with her siblings and friends. As a child, Hammond also enjoyed a close relationship with her maternal grandparents. She recalls her grandfather as a good-natured shopkeeper and her grandmother as an entrepreneur.
Hammond has many fond memories of life in Ethel. She describes how she and her best friend would ride the train to Kosciusko, listen to favorite programs on the radio, or travel to the Delta with her family to visit her paternal grandparents.
Charlsie Mae Hammond enjoyed a long career as a public school teacher. She taught in the Port Gibson Public Schools, the Ethel Public Schools, and the Kosciusko Public Schools. She was a member of Kosciusko First Baptist Church, serving in various departments of the church. She was also active as a volunteer in organizations of her town and community. She passed away on June 3, 2017.