As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper in the early 1950s, Hubert Wesley had limited opportunities to further his education beyond the basics. In this episode, he recalls how a Missionary Baptist preacher, Willie Nix and his wife Ethel brought him from Mashulaville to Birmingham. The couple took him into their home and found him a job at a local service station. Her brother, Charles Wells, an accountant with Hayes Aircraft Company, began tutoring young Wesley and teaching him the skills required to land a good paying job.
It was Wells’ determination to instill confidence in Wesley that led him to suggest they apply to be contestants on Strike it Rich, a controversial TV gameshow that pitted people with hard-luck stories against each other for the chance to win $500. Wesley describes their trip to New York City to compete on the gameshow in March of 1954. His story touched the nation and donations and job offers poured in, afterwards.
Wesley accepted a job with Hayes Aircraft on Wells’ recommendation and details his career with the company until his retirement at the age of 55. His story is remarkable for the way people responded to his earnest efforts at self-improvement.
Hubert Wesley was only five when his family left the Choctaw reservation and became sharecroppers. In this episode, he shares his memories of how they came to live in Noxubee county and the hard times they endured. As the son of a Choctaw sharecropper, Wesley worked year-round, cutting timber and chopping cotton. He recalls the primitive lifestyle and the spirit of cooperation it fostered within the Choctaw community.
After Wesley’s family harvested their crops each fall, they were paid to help the white farmers. He explains how the Choctaws were treated differently from their white coworkers and recounts paying ten cents for a ride to Macon and sitting with black customers at the cinema.
Photo: Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History
Mr. F.L. Mills of New Augusta, grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. In this episode, he recalls how his father made sure their friends and neighbors had enough food to eat. As the son of a yeoman farmer, Mills learned to make do with hand-me-down shoes and homemade toys, but even through the worst of times, he remembers the family always got new clothes for Easter.
During the 1930s, farmers depended on credit provided by furnish merchants until their crops could be sold. Mills recalls a humorous story about one shopkeeper in New Augusta who apparently had selective hearing.
When Mills’ father died from a stroke in 1935, the family learned that he had mortgaged the farm to help out his relatives. The family ended up losing the farm and suffered great financial hardship. Mills discusses his decision to run away from home at the age of 16 and join the Civilian Conservation Corps.
PHOTO: Life Magazine
Becky Stowe, of Lucedale, is the South Mississippi Director of Forest Programs for the Nature Conservancy. In this episode, she explains how they work to restore biodiversity to their longleaf pine preserves, the important role fire plays in controlling the underbrush in a longleaf forest and how foliage lies dormant, waiting for the opportunity a fire creates.
Maintaining a longleaf forest through prescribed burnings, improves habitats for birds and wildlife. Stowe reveals how animals avoid being harmed when the underbrush is burned away. She also discusses how the Nature Conservancy works with Camp Shelby to protect its wildlife and natural resources and why they call gopher tortoises the chicken McNuggets of the forest.
Extended conflicts in the middle east have meant extended deployments for our troops. Time spent away from home, often in combat situations, can be stressful for soldier and family alike. In this episode, Brigade Commander Trent Kelly discusses a variety of challenges faced by the modern military family. Since joining the army in 1985, Kelly has been deployed to Iraq multiple times. He shares how growing up in Union, Mississippi, his family and his church inspired him to serve, the periods of adjustments that soldiers and their families face once they are reunited, and why it is so important for them to have a core support group of family and friends.
Additionally, Kelly offers his prospective on the needs of our veterans, including an overhaul of the VA medical system and problems related to PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learning to recognize the symptoms of PTSD has taught him that the soldiers who need treatment the most are the least likely to ask for help.
In 1969, two professors from Millsaps and Tougaloo, Jim Loewen and Charles Sallis, decided to write a Mississippi History textbook with the help of their graduate students. Mississippi: Conflict and Change was considered a ground-breaking textbook when it was published in 1974. Despite receiving universal critical acclaim, the book was banned from use in Mississippi classrooms by the State Textbook Purchasing Board.
In this episode, Dr. Jeanne Middleton Hairston, a member of the team of graduate students who assisted in writing the book, discusses the felt need for a more inclusive narrative in teaching Mississippi history. She also recalls their efforts to convince the State to reconsider its ruling and the decision to file a lawsuit against the Board.
Podcast Extra: Thirty-five years after winning their lawsuit against the State Textbook Purchasing Board, Hairston reflects on the judge’s ruling and the importance of history in making Mississippi a better place to live.
Prior to desegregation in 1968, black students in Ocean Springs, Mississippi attended Keys High School. In this episode, Jeanne Meggs remembers the dedicated teachers there and how they pushed her to succeed. She also recalls how the schools were separate, but not equal when it came to resources. And she explains how issues still arose as to the treatment of black students, even after the schools in Ocean Springs integrated.
Even so, Meggs looks back favorably on her childhood in Ocean Springs. Despite the turbulent social upheaval of the 1960s, the one constant she recalls, was the caring and charitable nature of the people who lived there. Since retiring, Meggs has returned to Ocean Springs. She describes it as a community with a historically progressive outlook. Finally, she reflects on how growing up there gave her the confidence to achieve her goals.
PHOTO - msmohp.com
Sidney Land of Los Angeles joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 after graduating high school, so he was well into his military career by the time he came to Vietnam in the mid-60s. He eventually became a patrol officer on a PBR (patrol boat river) working to disrupt enemy supply lines along the upper Saigon river. Because of his experience and interest in Vietnamese culture, he became an advisor for several of the South Vietnamese boat crews that patrolled alongside the U.S. Navy crews.
In this episode, Land discusses how he earned the respect of the Vietnamese by learning their culture, recalls being the guest of honor at a funeral for a Vietnam boat captain, and recounts a moonlight river battle with the Viet Cong that landed him and two of his crew in a MASH unit.
This interview was conducted in 2002 at the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport, MS that Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005.
Photo: Aad Born, Flickr.com
In 1938, two aspiring young writers, Greenville native Shelby Foote and his best friend Walker Percy, drove to Oxford in search of legendary author William Faulkner. Percy refused to get out of the car, but Foote walked up to the front door of Rowan Oak, knocked and introduced himself. Thus began a friendship that would last until Faulkner’s death in 1962.
In this episode, Foote describes Oxford’s native son as a gracious and interesting host and yet a deeply unhappy man who struggled with drinking and depression. Someone who was a deep thinker and yet preferred the company of the common man over the intellectual – a hunting story over a critical analysis of his work.
Foote concludes by sharing what, in his opinion, makes Faulkner such an exceptional writer and relates a humorous story about one of his famous binges.
Irene Smith was 17 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As her older brother prepared to go off to fight for his country, Smith began to search for some way she too could serve during this time of national crisis. When the women’s branch of the U. S. Naval Reserve, known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was established in July of 1942, she went to the recruiting office to enlist, but was turned away because the minimum age at that time was 20.
In this episode, Smith recalls biding her time until she met the age requirement by going to business school, working nights in a factory and picking up shifts at the local five and dime. When she was finally old enough to join, Smith trained as a mechanic. She explains that although women were allowed to perform many important jobs during WWII, old sexist attitudes remained. Smith details how gender bias affected her role as an aviation machinist’s mate. She also looks back fondly at the Chief Petty Officer they called Pappy Vaughn.
For many of us, family holiday traditions become cherished childhood memories. In this episode, Robert St. John recalls the Hattiesburg Christmas Parade, his family’s traditional Christmas Eve meal, the annual shopping trip to New Orleans and Maison Blanche’s perennial snowman, Mr. Bingle.
Family Christmas traditions cover everything from how the tree is decorated to when the presents are opened. St. John remembers his Christmas mornings growing up and reflects on how couples blend old traditions together to form new ones.
Season’s Greetings from Mississippi Moments!
PHOTO CREDIT: Mr. Bingle in the Krewe of Jingle parade. (Photo: Julie Dermansky) GoNOLA.com
The term “comfort food” is used to describe those dishes that remind us of home and family.
In this episode, Randy Yates co-owner of the Ajax Diner in Oxford discusses his idea of comfort food. He shares his memories of dishes his mother prepared for the family growing up as well as the wide variety of foods they enjoyed at the Neshoba County Fair every year.
When Yates and his business partner opened the Ajax Diner in Oxford, they decided to offer a quality plate lunch. He discusses what the average college student wants, the large variety of home-style dishes they offer and explains why the term “comfort food” is no misnomer.
After graduating pharmacy school, Louise Lynch and her husband purchased a drugstore in her hometown of Waveland. In this episode, she discusses a variety of topics including her time at Ole’ Miss during WWII, the challenge of being accepted as a pharmacist by those who knew her as a child, and issues related to civil rights.
When Lynch’s husband passed away in 1963, leaving her to raise seven daughters alone, she found comfort, continuity and invaluable assistance within the tightknit community. Lynch passed away on July 12, 2016 at the age of 93.
No one has more of a passion for good food than Hattiesburg’s own Robert St. John. As a food writer and restaurateur, St. John has found the recipe for successfully translating his love of cooking into a successful career. Through the popularity of his eateries, cook books and food columns, one readily sees his complete understanding of the southern palate. An understanding he credits to his upbringing.
In this episode, St. John discusses his Hattiesburg roots and how his family’s Thanksgivings have changed through the years. He remembers his grandmother as a great cook and hostess. And he explains how the smell of a roux still reminds him of Thanksgivings at her house.
Many of the recipes St. John prepares on Thanksgivings today have been passed down from his mother and grandmother. Even so, he still manages to add his own touches.
Podcast extra: Even though he knows he could do a lot of business on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, St. John feels it’s more important for his employees to be at home with their families on those days.
Happy Thanksgiving from Mississippi Moments.
Growing up in Cataula, Georgia, Helen Grant was always involved in sports. In this episode, she remembers her parent’s unwavering support through high school, college, and beyond. Helen Grant began her college career at Berry College in North Georgia. It was there she met Coach Kay James, who encouraged her to play volleyball and softball, in addition to basketball. When James took a job at Southern Miss after Grant’s freshman year, Grant decided to come along the ride.
Before Kay James came to Southern Miss, women’s basketball had been largely ignored. Grant describes how Coach James built up the team and generated excitement. After graduation, Grant remained active in sports, first as coach and later as an administrator. She credits Coach James for giving her a chance and looks back with pride on her role in building up women’s sports at USM.
Helen Grant was inducted into the Southern Miss Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Keith Coursey of Hattiesburg was trained to be an industrial forester—learning how to grow trees like any other crop. Now a prescription forester for the De Soto National Forest, he explains how prescription forestry requires a much broader scope of knowledge.
The clear cutting of Mississippi’s longleaf pine forests during the period between 1870 – 1930, radically altered our state’s ecosystem. After the longleaf forests were clear cut, loblolly pines were planted in their place because they were easier to cultivate and reached maturity faster. In this episode Coursey details the new plan to restore our biodiversity, discusses how fire helps the longleaf flourish and how the two species battle for dominance.
As a machine gunner in the U.S. Army during WWII, Robert Leslie survived some of the bloodiest battles of the European Theater. In this episode, he shares some of those memories that still haunt his dreams. He recalls his company’s first battle to take Saint Dié, France in November of 1944 and how his soldiers were saved from a booby-trapped roadblock by a herd of pigs.
Later, as the Allied Forces pushed across the Siegfried Line, a defensive wall along Germany’s western border, Leslie endured bitter cold, deprivation, and the anguish of losing so many of his fellow soldiers to the horrors of modern warfare.
The podcast ends on a high note as he remembers the 761st Tank Battalion, the first armored combat group comprised of African-Americans. Even whites from the segregated South recognized the bravery and skills of these tankers and Leslie credits them with saving his life on more than one occasion.
Art Cissell became a professional drummer in St. Louis during the Big Band Era. In this episode, he remembers the St. Louis music scene of the 1930s & 40s. Cissell began drumming at the age of five when his father gave him a real snare drum to pass the time while quarantined with the measles. He joined his first Big Band in 1936 at the age of 16. Cissell describes working full time during the day and playing the drums, nights and weekends.
Even though the country was racially segregated during the Big Band Era, musicians often crossed color lines to play together. Cissell recalls sitting in with some of the most famous musicians of the day and playing the St. Louis Harlem Club until the sun came up.
After years of playing in Big Bands, Cissell took a job at Keesler Air Force Base as an electronics instructor. He recounts how he and other Gulf Coast musicians formed The Star Dusters in 1968.
Photo: Cab Calloway, FSU World Music Online.
Imogene Borganelli of Greenville graduated from Ole’ Miss with dreams of becoming a medical technician. “My father had been a superintendent and my mother had been a teacher and I said, I did not intend to teach school. I didn’t want to starve to death.” It was the chance to coach girls’ basketball at Shaw High School in 1950 that lead her to become a teacher, anyway. In this episode, she remembers when her team beat the team of her friend – coaching legend Margaret Wade.
The Mississippi Humanities Council was founded in 1972 with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Borganelli details the first Scholar-In-Residence Program. Borganelli served on the Mississippi Humanities Council for six years. She looks back with pride on her time with the Council and reflects on its importance to the state.
Podcast Extra - Dr. Cora Norman was the founding Executive Director of the Humanities Council and served on it for 24 years. Borganelli describes her friend as the epitome of the what is good about the Humanities.
To celebrate Rosh Hashanah, this week’s MSMO features Carolyn Katz discussing her Jewish grandmothers. She begins by sharing her memories of how the small Jewish community in Kosciusko would always gather to celebrate traditional holidays like Rosh Hashanah.
Katz then recalls her great grandmother, Helene Mayer, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, who ran a boarding house in New Orleans to support her children after the untimely death of her husband. Katz remembers her as a matriarch who was loved by many.
During the summers growing up, Katz would often travel by train from Durrant to New Orleans to visit her grandmother. She remembers Grandmother Carrie as fun-loving and untraditional except when it came to her Jewish faith.
Katz’s mother, Edna, quit school at the age of 16 to open her own stenography business in New Orleans. She describes how Edna adjusted to small town life in Kosciusko.
Yoset Altamirano grew up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. After graduation, she spent five years teaching music at a private school, but felt frustrated that music education was not emphasized more in her native country. In this episode, she recalls trying to instill an appreciation of music in her students and in their parents as well.
Altamirano soon received a scholarship to attend university but because music was not offered as a major, studied marketing instead. She still made time to perform in plays and opera and while working on a production of an opera by Verdi she met her husband who was a classical musician studying at the University of Southern Mississippi. After they married in 1998, she travelled with him to Hattiesburg where she auditioned for the choir and was awarded a scholarship.
According to Altamirano, studying music in the United States was a great opportunity. At the time the interview was conducted in 2002, she related feeling torn between staying here and returning to Honduras.
As a third generation fisherman, Clyde Brown grew up hunting and fishing on the Gulf Coast. Even as he pursued a career with International Paper, he worked to preserve the natural resources of the Gulf and protect the interests of fishermen. In 1982, Brown worked to dredge out an access canal into Bayou Heron after it became filled-in through disuse. He recalls how they raised the funds for a landing to make Bayou Heron accessible for everyone.
Due to his interest in preserving our marine resources, Brown was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Program for Fisheries. He describes his work with the program and how his desire to establish a reserve in Jackson County led the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or NERR. Brown credits his wife’s pecan pie for sealing the deal.
Clyde Brown was awarded NOAA’s Environmental Hero Award in recognition of his thirty-year commitment to coastal conservation. He looks back on the occasion with humor and humility.
Sank Powe of Mound Bayou became the head baseball coach of Cleveland High School in 1971, one year after school desegregation. In this episode, he recalls the resistance he encountered both from white parents and the black community. As a coach of high school boys and girls for twenty-five years, Powe developed a coaching style that he describes as a mixture of enthusiasm, motivation and fear.
Looking back on his career, Powe points with pride to the impact he has had on his students and the importance of chemistry between a coach and his players. He also explains his philosophy of walking the walk in all aspects of life.
As Hurricane Katrina churned across the Gulf of Mexico in late summer of 2005, Steve Grimm of Picayune was busy attending to the daily challenges of running Highlands Community Hospital (then Crosby Memorial Hospital). While the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, he and his staff tried to save medical records and equipment as the roof blew off the building.
In the episode, Grimm describes the situation they faced the morning after including, no security, only backup generators for power and shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities of life. He explains how they began to pick up the pieces and prepare for the next time even as they struggled to return to something close to normalcy.
According to Grimm, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina will not be wasted. He is proud of how his hospital staff stood up to adversity and confident that they will be better prepared moving forward.
Prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African-Americans across the South were denied the right to vote through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other tactics of suppression. In 1964, David Kendall was a 20-year-old Indiana college student. In this episode, he recalls coming to Mississippi to participate in the voter registration drive known as Freedom Summer.
Over the course of that summer, Kendall would be jailed multiple times. He shares his memories of that first arrest and being introduced to the best cheeseburger in Holly Springs. In preparing for Freedom Summer, Civil Rights workers received extensive training in a variety of tactics, but he explains how growing up on a farm proved surprisingly useful in helping to gain the confidence of black farmers in the Delta.
Image: Voter Registration Holly Springs, McCain Library & Archives, USM